By Jenny Ivy
An hour north of Milwaukee, in America’s dairy heartland, there is a spring-fed lake that calls to locals and tourists as the epitome of Christmas charm.
While Elkhart Lake, and its flagship resort, The Osthoff Resort, are enjoyed by thousands during the summer, the magic of the charming village really comes alive during the holiday season. With less than 1,000 residents, Elkhart Lake is a small town that attracts so many visitors with small artisan businesses, cheese and wine shops, and internationally inspired cuisine.
Straight out of a Victorian painting, The Osthoff Resort was originally built in 1885. A rebuild in 1995, along with adding more square footage over recent years, has helped the hotel become a setting for conferences, weddings, events and luxurious spa services. Every year at Christmas, the resort hosts a German-style marketplace, complete with schnitzel, potato pancakes and the best sauerkraut you can find in the Midwest.
Certainly, the highlight of the marketplace, as well as in the village shops and local restaurants, is the assortment of cheeses that makes Wisconsin an international cheese destination.
Want the full Elkhart Lake experience? Start with the local fare. Off the Rail is a cozy café that offers breakfast, lunch, specialty coffee and tea drinks. Set in Elkhart’s original railroad depot, the restaurant offers eclectic décor inspired by owners Daniel and Kelley, who met in London and brought their European quirkiness to Wisconsin. Try the Trolley, a breakfast bagel featuring scrambled egg, sausage and local sharp cheddar, or enjoy the popular Flying Scotsman Bagel, with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, onion and cucumber.
In the afternoon, pop into Vintage Elkhart Lake Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, where you can select from more than 250 handpicked wines from around the world as you enjoy cheese and other tasty treats.
Before dinner, start with appetizers at the Paddock Club, a historic building that was once a hopping gambling club at the turn of the 20th century. Round up a few appetizers for the table, including gluten-free grilled broccoli, mushroom risotto fritter with a white truffle dip, and hearty meatballs that reflect the restaurant’s Italian inspiration.
Then, walk next door to Lake Street Café, where you’ll appreciate menus folded into classic books, fine wine and a California Bistro-style dinner.
Back at The Osthoff Resort, Lola’s on the Lake features an elegant and fresh regional menu created by an award-winning culinary team. You may be able to spot Lola herself, sitting at her favorite table in the restaurant’s back corner, surrounded by a bay window that overlooks the lake and resort property.
If all that eating gets you in the mood to cook, book a cooking class at L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School, where the resort’s in-house chef, Benjamin Sommerfeldt (left), will work hands-on with you to create a multiple-course meal with traditional French or German cuisine. In the French fare class, you’ll learn to cook traditional Nicoise Salad with Tuna, Beef au Poivre with Gratin Dauphinois, and Lemon Tartlet with Toasted Meringue.
End your family winter trip with even more Christmas overload at the resort, including breakfast with Santa, cookie decorating and a stroll where you can take in the floor-to-ceiling holiday decorations to satisfy your winter wonderland fantasy.