August 1, 2012

West Bend’s One-of-a-Kind Wonders

Wolves at the Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary (Mary Bergin)

Editor’s note: As part of Wisconsin Travel Best Bets’ Shift Your Gears campaign, we asked bloggers, writers and photographers to visit destinations across Wisconsin and share their experiences. Today, Mary Bergin of and Midwest Features Syndicate talks about her trip to West Bend.

Pretty parks, friendly people, historic architecture: These assets build pride and respectability in many communities, but it usually takes more to stand out in the crowd.

Like what? Consider these one-of-a-kind wonders in and near West Bend:

Only the Museum of Wisconsin Art, 300 S. Sixth Ave., totally devotes itself to the lives and creative works of homegrown artists. Think Georgia O’Keeffe flowers and Joe Heller editorial cartoons, weavings and sculptures, prehistoric to contemporary eras. Diverse moods and much talent reside here, and in spring 2013 the museum moves to new digs that will double the amount of exhibit space.

Respect for history also is a priority at the Regal Ware Museum, 18 E. Washington St., a 100-year representation of small household appliances and equipment made in West Bend. No Wisconsin place better explains the average kitchen’s evolution. Volunteers occasionally use Regal Ware to make and share perfectly baked goods with museum visitors. One baker used a stovetop burner – not oven – to create a pineapple upside-down cake. It was a lesson in good taste and the versatility of modern cooking equipment.

Also downtown are the many from-scratch treasures of Café Soeurette, 111 N. Main St. Chef Jodi Janisse loves to use local ingredients in interesting ways. Pair her maple-glazed doughnuts with Farmers Market shopping on Saturdays. On the casual Souerette menu are salads, sandwiches and long-simmering potage. Dinner means fine (but not stuffy) dining, downstairs. Take home soup frozen by the (Mason jar) quart. Also for sale are jams, sauces and veggies pickled at the restaurant: brandied jalapenos, chunky mustard pickles, Amaretto-pear butter, Italian eggplant pickles and more. Add the bounty of goods from local farmers and cheese makers, in a dairy case.

Sustainability counts, too. Some of the café’s pleasantly mismatched furniture and dinnerware comes from Cherry Pickin’s consignment shop, 337 N. Main St.

Candyman on Main (Mary Bergin)

Waddle to Candyman on Main, 121 N. Main St., for all things chocolate (and more). Popular: bear claws, chocolate and caramel, with pecans or cashews. Unusual: chocolate-covered gummy bears. Surprising: melt-in-your mouth angel food (in dark or light chocolate); it isn’t just a Christmas treat at this shop, open since the 1930s.

For dinner, take a 10-minute drive southeast to Old Jailhouse Restaurant, 897 Pleasant Valley Rd., an 1847 building of rough-hewn logs (notice the long-ago hatchet marks). The rural restaurant used to be a general store (but, oddly, not a jail). Start with the signature soup, cream of duck, even if it’s 90 degrees outside, but don’t expect to get the top-secret recipe. Rib lovers will want fall-off-the-bone tender baby backs.

Build an appetite by hiking well-marked trails at the 389-acre Riveredge Nature Center, 4458 Hawthorne Dr., Saukville. Outreach programs and the cozy visitor center earn the attention of children.

The hunt for treasure here is a good introduction to geocaching, and a good way to prepare for the West Bend Cache Ba$h, Aug. 10-12. Riveredge was expected to add a third geocache site by mid-summer.

For another type of treasure, check out the federally licensed Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary, 1901 Shalom Dr. It is home to wolves, albino deer, a bobcat and much more. Signs (and guided tours) provide lessons about nature and Native American history. Added bonus: Throughout the property are brightly colored mailboxes with fun treats – little pinball games, temporary tattoos – for children. Most awesome opportunity: Rent Shalom’s roomy Racoon Den (a one-bedroom apartment with two sofa sleepers). You cook breakfast, but innkeepers stock bacon, eggs, bread, fruit, juice and coffee.

For more about the area’s tourism contact the West Bend Chamber of Commerce or the Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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