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Vegan Finds in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

The tiny Midwestern town of Elkhart Lake has a population of only 965, yet is remarkably vegan-friendly. I spent a few days in this tiny resort town an hour north of Milwaukee, and fell in love with the lake and the town’s pretty Victorian buildings.

 

Elkhart Lake kayaking
Cruising around in kayaks on Elkhart Lake. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Osthoff Resort

The Osthoff Resort was my home base during my late summer stay. It originally opened in 1886 and remained a popular resort hotel until the 1950s. Then the property operated as a performing arts-themed summer camp for 30 years. In 1995, it reverted to its roots. After a major facelift, it reopened for business as a Victorianish, all-suite hotel.

The Osthoff has two restaurant – Otto’s, its casual place, and Lola’s on the Lake, a fine dining restaurant. My first night in town, I ate at Otto’s. Being far from my gourmet home of Portland, Oregon, I braced myself for iceberg lettuce. But no. Otto’s delivered a glorious salad full of fresh and healthy greens. I later learned that much of the Osthoff’s produce is grown in its own garden.

Elkhart Lake Otto's
Gorgeous greens at Otto’s. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

One morning, I joined a small tour of the Osthoff organic gardens, guided by Lola Roeh, the resort’s general manager. She explained how back in 2009, she started worrying about feeding her guests GMOs and other possibly icky substances. “We knew we could control this food for our guests,” she said, showing us the original patch of ground.

They started with 2,000 square feet of herbs, rhubarb, tomatoes and peppers. Soon they added 300 asparagus plants, then chamomile and lavender to use in their delightful Aspira Spa. The garden grew and grew, until now there are small satellite gardens near the restaurants, herbs outside the resort’s cooking school, and even rows of spearmint outside the bar for mojitos.

Mark Roehrig, the grounds manager, is philosophical about organic gardening. Since you can’t fight nature unarmed, it involves a lot of acceptance. He remembers one sad morning: “Our four-legged friends came in and nibbled everything down. We came back in after a weekend and all that was left were stalks.” Still, plenty of food survives. Their most recent garlic harvest yielded 100 pounds. Last fall they reaped 3,000 pounds of butternut squash.

Elkhart Lake Osthoff organic garden
Radishes, fresh from the ground. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

I benefited from this bounty my last night in Elkhart Lake, at Lola on the Lake’s farm dinner. The tablescape was so lush with greenery, I expected a squirrel to pop out. We feasted on intricate creations. I sat with the one other vegan at the dinner, and we marveled at the ingenuity of each dish, especially a salad topped with frozen tomato granita.

Elkhart Lake Osthoff
Awesome tablescape at Lola’s on the Lake. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Other Places for Vegan Meals

With its own organic garden, the Osthoff was impressive. But everywhere I went, I found something vegan to eat, and often something pretty good. A few highlights:

The Victorian Village’s Back Porch Bistro made me an excellent Portobello sandwich with the best sautéed spinach I’ve had in a long while. They’re also a good spot for beach recreation. On their private beach, I rented a stand up paddle board, and had a lovely afternoon paddling around the lake.

The Stop-Inn Tavern at Siebkens Resort offers a couple of hearty vegan appetizers. I got the hummus and vegetable plate and some decadently puffy homemade tortilla chips and guacamole.

Elkhart Lake Stop Inn Tavern
Appetizers at the Stop-Inn. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

The Paddock Club is a super happening restaurant on Elkhart’s main strip. It packs in customers for Tuesday’s small plates night. Three or four of the plates were easily converted to vegan, including a veggie coconut curry.

The Quit Qui Oc Golf Club restaurant gamely made me a Portobello quesadilla without cheese. And Off the Rail, a darling train-themed café, brewed a fine soy cappuccino.

Off the Rail Elkhart lake
Off the Rail makes a good soy cappuccino. Photo by Teresa Bergen.

Elkhart Lake is a sweet place to do all sorts of lake activities – kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, or cruising around on a pontoon boat. And there’s plenty of good vegan food to keep you going.

 

Read the full article on Chic Vegan.

Empty Nest Travel: Elkhart Lake's Vintage Charm

Empty Nest Travel: Elkhart Lake’s Vintage Charm

Whether you’re empty nesters celebrating your newfound freedom or someone just looking for a great destination where you can plug and while away the afternoons together, I may have found the Holy Grail in an Elkhart Lake vacation. As we drove past vast, wide open spaces on the one hour drive from Milwaukee airport, I could literally feel my shoulders drop and my breaths lengthen. Within minutes of arriving on the lakefront, I knew this place was going to be special.

 

Eklhart Lake vacation offers peace and tranquility

 

As I stood at the water’s edge taking in the scattered lakefront homes and stillness of the environment, I felt like I had just stepped onto the set of Dirty Dancing, the old school family summer vacation destination. I knew my Elkhart Lake vacation was going to be memorable. There was nothing but silence, save for the lone fisherman in his canoe and a paddleboarder exploring a nearby cove. I mean, where can you go these days where and find such solitude? The lake has only 970 full-time residents so it’s not unusual to find yourself alone on the waterfront, especially during off-peak seasons.

 

Paddleboard is part of an Elkhart Lake vacation

 

First, let me tell you a little bit about the history of Elkhart Lake. The Native Americans who first settled in the region, and named the lake for its shape resembling an elk, believed that the water had curative powers. German entrepreneur Otto Osthoff and his wife, Paulina, moved to the lake for its healing powers and in 1886, opened the Osthoff Resort where for decades, it survived as a gambling haven and a Prohibition-era hideaway for gangsters. Don’t you just love places that have such history?! In the 1950s, the resort changed hands and became a theatre arts camp for children of wealthy Midwest families, where its arts influence is still prevalent today. In fact, a few of the business owners I met along the way attended the theater arts camp as children and have such an affinity to Elkhart Lake, that they returned and built businesses. Many of the resort’s summer vacationers are also adults who spent time at the camp as children.

 

The Osthoff Resort, despite its luxury amenities and AAA Four Diamond status, really felt more like a cozy retreat and proved to be the perfect place to leave my cell phone behind as I headed out to explore the lake.

 

Elkhart Lake vacation: Empty nesting on the lake

Spa – The Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort offers treatments that are reflective of the history of the area, many incorporating Native American practices and ingredients. They’re all designed to encourage living in the present moment and heighten your spirituality. There’s a Yin Yang massage, chakra balancing massage, and the one I opted for, the “Mind, Body & Spirit Alignment”. It’s described as a “mix of intuitive massage, Reiki, reflexology and craniosacral techniques that balance the body’s energy centers.” It was simply amazing! And there’s a beautiful meditation space in the center of the spa where you and your spouse and contemplate your empty nest time together.

 

the whirlpool at the spa at Elkhart Lake

 

Golf – I started playing golf about 20 years before my husband took up the sport, but I quit playing when the bambinos came along because what Mom can take off five hours to play golf? So one of our goals as empty nesters is to start playing golf together, something we’ve only done a handful of times in our 28 years of marriage. Fortunately, Elkhart Lake has a great golf course for duffers and pros alike.  Quit Qui Oc is a 27 hole course run by Todd and Rachel Montaba. The course had been in Rachel’s family for decades and the couple has turned it into a beautiful place to spend the day. And they’re both golf pros who offer instruction for those of use feeling a bit rusty.

 

Wine tasting – If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that wine is a central part of my life and travels. And even this tiny hamlet in rural Wisconsin can not escape my need for a wine adventure. Vintage is owned and run by Jaclyn Stuart, a sommelier who caters to the locals and vacationers with a selection of 250+ handpicked wines from around the world. If you’re in need of a gourmet gift, this is the place with a selection of Wisconsin cheeses, gourmet chocolates, olive oils and vinegars bottled in-house, and other artisanal trinkets.

 

Vintage wine shop wall of wine

 

Cooking is such a great couple’s activity so spend a day at the Osthoff Resort culinary school L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School. Under the direction of the resort’s Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, you can prepare an elegant multi-course meal together and learn a few new culinary skills along the way. Many of the ingredients come straight from the resort’s garden so be sure to take a little side tour.

 

the cooking school at Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake

 

A special note: If you’re in Elkhart Lake during the holidays, there’s a European-style Christmas market at the Osthoff. When we lived in Milan, one of my favorite winter excursions was driving up to the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany. If you can’t get to Germany, this is as close as you’ll get!

 

Read the full article on Mom Uncorcked.

Old-fashioned resorts in Elkhart Lake are only part of Wisconsin vacation spot’s charms

Elkhart Lake, Wis., is an old-fashioned resort town, in the best sense of the term. You’ll find no Hyatt, Radisson or Hilton hotels here, no chutes-and-ladders style waterparks and no neon-signed chain restaurants. Instead, it’s a locally owned and operated place, full of small shops and attractions, chef-owned restaurants and a unique and genuinely interesting history.

 

A group of immigrant German hoteliers first came to Elkhart Lake 150 years ago and built the nucleus of resorts from which this traditional holiday spot grew. Of the six or so large hotels that once existed, three still stand, and they are more than holding their own.

 

The locals are always happy to talk about the colorful history of the place. The area has had ups and downs, traveling a corkscrew path to get where it is today. Elkhart Lake has been a sacred Native American gathering spot, a gangster hideout, a gambling town, a motor racing mecca and, through it all, a (mostly) quiet place where people go to hangout by the lake. Visitors today might find it a bit Brainerd-like, a bit like the Catskills of the 1940s, and maybe, if you narrow your eyes and squint, even a little bit like Monte Carlo. But mostly, Elkhart Lake is a destination unique onto itself.

 

THE LAKE OF ELKHART LAKE

By Minnesota standards, Elkhart Lake itself is not big. It’s only about a third of the size of White Bear Lake, although with a maximum depth of 120 feet, it is the fourth deepest lake in Wisconsin. The lake is entirely spring fed, so coupled with the fact there is no other water inlet, the water is extremely clear. Geologists call it a “kettle lake,” so named because of its bowl shape, which was formed during the Ice Age by the scouring action of stadium-sized chunks of glacial ice.

In the early 19th century, the Native Americans who lived here revered the lake, calling it the “Lake of Thunder” because in cold months the flowing springs underneath caused the winter ice on the lake to crack with tremendous booming sounds.

 

Moreover, the Potawatomi Indians who lived nearby believed the lake had miraculous healing powers, and it was this claim that attracted the notice of the German-born hoteliers who ultimately built the area’s resorts.

 

Among the first to come was Otto Osthoff and his family, who built a large resort here in 1880. The story goes that the curative powers of the lake restored the once sickly Mrs. Osthoff to robust health. Along with the Osthoffs came the Siebken and Schwartz families, all of whom built large all-inclusive or “American Plan” hotels. All catered to a mostly well-to-do Chicago and Milwaukee clientele who took the train to Elkhart Lake and spent weeks each summer relaxing here. The Osthoff, Siebken and Schwartz (now called the Victorian Village Hotel) resorts still remain with much of the grandeur (and in some cases, more) of the golden age of resort tourism.

 

That isn’t to say that things have always been smooth sailing. All of the resorts have weathered tough financial times, fires and changes in the way people take vacations. Over time, resorts like the Osthoff have found their niche, offering luxurious yet unpretentious service, four diamond accommodations, fine food and outstanding service. Visitors come not just from the Midwest, but from all over the world to take in the attractions of the area.

 

KETTLE MORAINE

The natural assets of Elkhart Lake, from the lake itself to the gentle, rolling hills that made it the perfect place for the road races for which the area is well known, are due to the glaciers that covered this region about 10,000 years ago. That piece of geologic history is best understood by hiking through the Kettle Moraine, which is conserved in a vast tract of forest just north of Elkhart Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

 

The forest contains a prime, 30-mile portion of the much longer Ice Age Trail, which winds for 1,000 miles through most of Wisconsin. The trail more or less follows the topology of the terminal moraine built up by the receding glacier from the last Ice Age.

 

In her career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, park ranger Jackie Scharfenberg has led countless visitors through the area she loves to hike.

 

“Over 600,000 people a year visit the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine,” Scharfenberg told me as we hiked through a U-shaped glacial valley. “Our visitors can do so many things. They hike, they ride horses, ski and snowmobile. With that volume of people, our main focus here is recreation. We manage all the human beings in the forest.”

 

The rangers manage this splendidly scenic area well, especially in fall when the trails are uncrowded, the bugs are few and the colors of the maple-oak-hickory forest are bright and beautiful. Once you know what to look for, you can identify the peculiar glacial landforms of this area: the glacial valleys, snaking eskers and unusual hill-like landforms called kames, drumlins, and swales.

ROAD AMERICA

Just a few miles away from the north entrance of the Kettle Moraine forest is the vast Road America motorsports complex. Unlike the one-mile or so oval tracks familiar to most auto-racing fans, Road America’s track is a mammoth 4.1-mile road course. Full of both left and right turns, inclines, hills and corners (including the infamous “Kink”) it is among the best road tracks in the world, holding its own against other road racing venues such as Watkins Glen in New York and Nurburgring in Germany. In fact, it was at Road America in 1969 that actor Paul Newman first began auto racing.

 

Racing officially began in Elkhart Lake in 1950, when Jim Kimberly, a millionaire sportsman who made his money in the paper industry, began looking for a local place to race his cars. He chartered an airplane, and after a long search, decided the winding, hilly roads surrounding Elkhart Lake were the ideal spot. He floated the idea with local officials and it caught on.

 

From 1950 through 1952, races were held in the streets of the village. The first race in 1950 drew 5,000 spectators. It drew 50,000 the next year, and 100,000 the year after that. As the cars became faster and more powerful, town officials felt that despite the safety barriers and crowd control measures installed, racing on public roads was untenable. But the racing seed was planted, so in 1955 the Road America course was built. Now, drivers, crews and spectators pack the town several weekends each year for NASCAR, Indy Car and vintage car racing events. Even when there’s no racing going on, the track is worth a visit to experience ATV rides, racing schools and even zip lining.

RESORT LIFE

If one tires of hiking or racing, there are specialty shops, small museums and hands-on activities to explore.

 

One of the best is the cooking school called L’ecole de la Maison at the Osthoff Resort.  When you first step into the polished, gleaming kitchen, full of granite counter tops, restaurant-style gas stoves and rows of hanging stainless steel pots and pans, you immediately sense that a genuine culinary experience is in the offing. At L’Ecole de la Maison you don’t sit and watch a chef prepare food for you. Instead, you don an apron, scrub your hands thoroughly and learn to cook in the style of Auguste Escoffier.

 

Chef Benjamin Sommerfeldt, who trained in Europe and has cooked at some of the best restaurants in the Midwest, gets you and your co-chefs fully involved in culinary adventuring. On the day I attended, we made a meal from the best foods Wisconsin has to offer – walleyed pike, garden fresh vegetables, beef tenderloin, and of course, cheese.

 

Similar to being a sous chef in a French restaurant’s kitchen, each student has a job to do and a recipe to follow. One student chef tackled French onion soup with Gruyere and croutons, while another made potato-crusted walleye with a fennel. I prepared a baby spinach salad with pickled mushrooms and Dijon vinaigrette, which involved coaching on how to include crispy lardons cut from a slab of pork belly. The final result of the four-hour experience was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever enjoyed.

 

EVENING RELAXATIONS

There is never a problem finding a place to relax with an adult beverage in any small Wisconsin town, and the opportunities in Elkhart Lake are even better than most.

 

Sure, beer is poured nearly everywhere, but more interesting perhaps is partaking of Wisconsin’s favorite mixed drink, the brandy old-fashioned.  Mixing it correctly involves a technique called “muddling,” which basically entails smashing fruit and sugar in the bottom of a glass with a pestle. Every bartender gets good at this quite quickly.

 

Kicking back and relaxing, either in a local tavern or on the balcony of one’s hotel room, with a brandy old-fashioned in hand, is a wonderful way to end any day in Elkhart Lake.

 

Read the full article on Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Vintage Goes Vroom

Vintage Goes Vroom was published in AAA Living’s July/August 2016 issue. They also suggested places to dine and sleep, if you go.

 

History is a driving force at the WeatherTech International Challenge in Elkhart Lake, July 14-17. Here, how to enjoy one of the largest U.S. vintage car events.

 

CHEER – From Bugattis, Bentleys and MGs to CAN-AMs and Formula I cars, if it’s ever raced on a track, it’s probably here. On the first three days, spectators watch competitors practice and qualify. The final day brings the actual races, which comprise just seven laps each (the better to protect these valuable automobiles).

 

SOAR – Twin zip lines strung high above the Road America track give visitors a bird’s-eye view of the action on the ground while the drivers race each other to a fun finish.

 

MARVEL – On  Friday and Saturday evenings, 100 of the cars parade into downtown  Elkhart Lake, where they’re parked for two hours so fans can see them up-close, take photos and even chat with drivers (many of whom don vintage racing gear for the occasion).

 

REV UP – Inside the actual racetrack a go-cart track lets would-be speed demons compete with their friends without ever giving up views of the vintage cars whizzing nearby. roadamerica.com

 

IF YOU GO:

 

DINE – AAA Three Diamond-rated Lola’s on the Lake serves elegant versions of American classics – such as lobster bisque with citrus creme fraiche or Norwegian salmon with arugula walnut pesto – against the stunning natural panorama of Elkhart  Lake. For dessert, toasted Swiss meringue adds an upscale note to strawberry-rhubarb tart. lolasonthelake.com

 

SLEEP – Perched on the lake’s sandy shores, the century-old AAA Two Diamond-rated Victorian Village Resort offers a melange of rooms, suites and condos. Some rooms have private decks or porches overlooking the water, all with access to the resort’s indoor and outdoor pools. Also on the lake, the AAA Four Diamond-rated Osthoff Resort which is famed for its private swimming beach, where guests gather on select summer evenings to toast s’mores over a bonfire, or on any sunny day to swim, canoe, kayak or fish. vicvill.com, osthoff.com

 

Downtown Night in Elkhart Lake

The full Elkhart Lake experience in one night with fun for the entire family!
Get a Taste of Elkhart Lake by trying restaurant favorites served all evening long.
Featuring:
All Seasons Restaurant
Bettersweet Bakery
Blind Horse Restaurant & Winery
Paddock Club
Siebken’s Resort
Quit Qui Oc
SwitchGear Brewing Co.
Back Porch Bistro
The Osthoff Resort
Lincoln Street Bar & Grill
Lake Street Cafe & Bier Garden
Gessert Ice Cream & Confectionery
Off the Rail
Old Fashioned Ice Cream
Gear Box
Community United Church of Christ
Chamber and Fire Department Dessert stand

 

Kids Activities
Pettin zoo, fire truck & police car tours, pony rides, climbing rock wall, Dunk tank, fishing and basketball shooting games, ladder golf, face painting and more!
Silent Auction
Don’t forget to check out the silent auction items from 5-9 pm. This year you will be bidding on original art creations made from small wooden boat paddles.
Things you need to know!
Events runs from 5 to 9:30 pm with live music by II Cool from 5:30 to 9:30 pm.
Enjoy FREE shuttle service from boarding at Elkhart Lake High School courtesy of Lake Street Cafe.
This very popular event is organized by the Elkhart Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. No pets please.
For more information, call 920-876-2922 or toll free 1-877-355-3554. This is a Chamber of Commerce and Community-wide event with much help and support from so many. It takes a village!

Tough Mudder Comes to Road America!

It’s going to get wet and wild at Elkhart Lake in 2017. Tough Mudder Wisconsin Presented by Merrell is headed back to Road America for “The Coolest Course” in North America. Whether trekking through the woods or speeding over blacktop, Elkhart Lake is the muddy track – and adventure – you won’t want to miss. Be sure to get your team ready for this once-a-year challenge at Elkhart Lake’s Road America, September 9th and 10th.

Musical Revues Every Wednesday Night

The live shows at Victorian Village Resort’s Theater are a summer favorite! Treat yourself and the family to SUMMER NIGHTS from Screen to Stage.