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I’ve heard of wine snobs (and avoid their wine-swirling, “raspberry nose with hints of leather” proclamations whenever possible), but last week, while visiting Lamers Dairy, a family run milk-bottling operation in Appleton, Wisconsin, I became a milk snob.
Turns out, there really is a difference between the commercially-produced hormone-laden milk you might get at a big chain and Lamers’ milk, which regularly wins international awards, prohibits the rBGH hormone and works only with farmers who raise “happy cows.”
The four brothers who run Lamers are fourth-generation descendants of Jacob Lamers, who inadvertently started the dairy in 1913 when he began sending milk deliveries with his kids on their way to school.
One of the proclamations on their website, “Our president wears a hairnet,” pretty much says it all. The four hairnet-wearing brothers are hands-on, and on a mission. They work only with small farmers, all of whom farm within 25 miles of the bottling plant and raise what are known in the biz as “happy cows.”
So I could pontificate about how their farmers’ cows are treated so humanely they follow them around like the Pied Piper. Or about Lamers’ chocolate milk taking first place at the 2016 World Dairy Expo. But instead, I’ll just say that the glass I recently enjoyed at their country store tempts me to sue Nesquik for impersonation.
Here are five other must-dos for any foodie who’s lucky enough to get to the Fox Cities:
Sit around a fire table and fall under the great Houdini’s spell.
Even though illusionist Harry Houdini was born in Budapest, he proudly claimed Appleton, Wisconsin as his hometown. His father, Mayer Samuel Weiss, was Appleton’s first rabbi and his famous son’s legacy is everywhere from a grade school (Houdini Elementary) to the Museum at the Castle with an impressive display of the internationally-renowned illusionist’s life along with his handcuffs, leg irons, and lock picks.
The magical dishes at Houdini’s Escape Gastropub, prepared in an open kitchen, are no illusion. I’d don a straitjacket any day for another taste of the tuna crunch with slaw, wasabi, pickled ginger and sesame soy glaze. Posters of the magician are scattered throughout the restaurant, a fire table anchors the dining patio, and (perhaps best of all), the magician’s mirror in the women’s bathroom makes everyone look thinner.
Design your own candy bar at Wilmar Chocolates.
I chose goji berries, roasted coconut, and sea salt for my custom candy bar, but there were dozens of other choices from cayenne, coffee and curry to pop rocks, potato chips and gummy bears. Wilmar has been making small batch chocolate since 1956 when Wilbur and Mary Jane Srnka began hand-stirring, hand-cutting, hand-wrapping and hand-packing the mouth-watering treats. Although Liz Garvey and her brother bought the Srnkas out in the 1980s and added truffles and Wilmarvels (turtles done right), all the chocolates are still made the same way, still under an old-time awning.
Score a table at Fox Valley Technical College’s culinary learning lab.
Three nights a week, chefs from the Culinary and Hospitality program dish up a gourmet feast at their student-operated restaurant. Ione’s Dining Room, named after a former dishwasher who helped fund the program (she still eats there), features theme nights (Mediterranean and California Dreamin’, to name two) and students take turns acting as head chef, host, and wait staff.
I got one of 30 seats (it’s competitive and fills up as soon as phone lines open for reservations) for French Country Fare night which included Riesling shrimp with asparagus, garlic and cream, cooked tableside. Locals try to keep it a secret (it’s hard enough getting a seat without having to compete with visitors) so please keep it on the down low. Whatever you do, don’t tell them we sent you.
Get a lesson in Old-Fashioneds from mixologist Sean Hathaway-Casey at Town Council Kitchen and Bar.
With just 45 seats and a 12-seat bar that doubles as a chef’s table, this downtown Neenah restaurant is worth its star billing. But go for the craft cocktails. Let’s just say Sean Hathaway-Casey is the Bill Nye of mixology. Not only did he school us on Old Fashioneds, providing five different styles including his preference, which happens to be on tap, but he explained the long history of the unofficial state drink. If it wasn’t for Wisconsin, Hathaway-Casey claims, both Korbel brandy and Angostura bitters would have folded during Prohibition. He’s enthusiastic, fun and the perfect complement to Town Council’s outstanding charcuterie.
Have a root beer at Stone Arch Brewpub.
It goes without saying that this historic stone brewpub has an inventive menu of tantalizing beers. But even more noteworthy, as far as I’m concerned, is its line of brewed gourmet sodas. The amber-colored, all-natural root beer (move over A&W!) is perpetually on tap and such flavors as vanilla cream, green apple, cinnamon, ginger ale and wild cherry rotate throughout the year. No artificial sweeteners or corn syrup within miles. There’s live music on Tuesday’s, a mug club for true aficionados and a locally-sourced menu that would easily meet the approval of Portlandia’s finicky Peter and Nance, as well as the chicken, Colin.