By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave (Pictured: Lark)
The spirit of summer invokes the spirit of getting out and exploring. Why not have your next mini-excursion revolve around food?
Just a short, easy drive from Madison, Janesville’s bustling Main Street runs alongside the Rock River. Make your way into Lark, a fine dining spot with a prix-fixe menu that changes monthly.
You won’t be disappointed with the dressed-up mac ‘n’ cheese and fried chicken: a bowl of cavatappi pasta bathed in a creamy gouda sauce with fried chicken nestled in it, topped with bacon onion jam and crispy pork rind crumble.
In celebration of their five-year anniversary, co-owner Joan Neeno says they’re offering free champagne pours and amuse bouche the week of July 17, as well as a late-night happy hour with burgers (which aren’t normally on the menu) and a special reserve dinner on July 21. There’s also live music every Tuesday evening through August.
If you’re looking for a more fast casual vibe, visit their almost-next-door sister restaurant, Sandwich Bar. Enjoy creatively-named sandwiches while admiring the Anthony Bourdain mural adorning their wall. larkjanesville.com, sandwichbarjanesville.com
While You’re There: Speaking of murals, there are over 20 throughout Janesville, mostly concentrated downtown. One is even on the side of Lark’s building. There’s also more public art, the river walk and a splash pad to keep you busy. downtownjanesville.com
Sunshine Brewing Company, Lake Mills
How often do we travel between Madison and Milwaukee? Next time, stop in Lake Mills and head to Sunshine Brewing Company, which opened their taproom in October 2018. Brewmaster and owner Lane Smith says they have a wide selection of beer on tap, but they’re known for their Belgian-style ales.
“Our Belgian Tripels, Golden Strong and Saison are fan favorites, with Diablo’s Sun being so sought after we can never keep it on tap for more than a week,” says Smith.
Patrons come for the beers, but stay for the sheet pan nachos, loaded with melted cheese, black beans, jalapenos, house-made pico de gallo, lime crema and cotija cheese. They’re topped with your choice of protein: pork carnitas, chicken tinga, carne asada or jackfruit. Growing up in Southern California, Smith’s parents owned a Mexican restaurant. Now he enjoys bringing SoCal-style Mexican food to the area.
Smith’s daughter Gracelyn manages the kitchen, and two of his sons are involved in aspects of the business as well. Located in downtown Lake Mills, their outdoLoark biergarten faces west towards Rock Lake on Mill Pond, so it’s an atmosphere worth making the stop for. sunshinebrewco.com
While You’re There: The Glacial Drumlin Trail is just a mile away from Sunshine Brewing Company and offers a lovely spot to hike, bike and take in nature. If water sports are more your thing, Rock Lake offers it all: boating, skiing, fishing and swimming.
Broadway Diner, Baraboo
Food history buffs will geek out at Broadway Diner in Baraboo. One of the 1,500-plus original Silk City diners built in Paterson, NJ, between the 1920s-1960s, Jeff and Vonnie Castree had the structure relocated to Baraboo where it has been serving up diner fare since 2012.
“Broadway Diner is unique in so many ways, from the moment you walk through the doors you are filled with nostalgia as if you were walking into a time capsule or a living museum,” says Jeff.
Their menu is full of diner favorites and a whopping five Benedict offerings. The Southwest Benedict Scramble features homemade potato cakes, house-smoked pulled pork (Broadway roasts and smokes most of their meats in-house), scrambled eggs and pepper jack cheese, topped with chili verde hollandaise and sliced avocado. Or go meatless with the Farmers Market Benedict: grilled Portuguese cornbread topped with mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach, scrambled eggs, melted havarti cheese and sundried tomato hollandaise.
There’s also a wide selection of salads, soups, sandwiches and smash burgers, as well as traditional dinner platters like chicken fried steak and hand-breaded shrimp. broadwaydinereats.com
While You’re There: When in Baraboo, head to Circus World Museum. Experience an outdoor thrill show or a performance under the big top, learn about the animals that make the circus special or hop on a circus wagon tour. circusworldbaraboo.org
Homecoming, Spring Green
A scenic drive west out of Madison will bring you through the rolling hills and green valleys of Spring Green. Tucked into a bend of the Wisconsin River, there are ample reasons why the area has drawn so many artists and creatives to its majestic landscape.
Homecoming is housed in an historic white school house downtown. Owners Leah Spicer and Kyle Beach wanted to build upon the ever-popular White School Pizza Night, a weekly community tradition another local business owner began and they are carrying on.
Brunch, lunch and dinner are available. Who wouldn’t want to feast on shrimp and grits, made with wild-caught Gulf shrimp and local favorite Meadowlark grits, or green Shakshuka, a Mediterranean dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato and harissa-seasoned sauce, topped with feta, spinach and herbs?
Dinner is a long list of rotating, seasonal delectables, but pizza is always on the menu. Try the chicken pie with foraged oyster mushrooms, Cedar Grove mozzarella, and pesto and red sauce.
Special events and guest-chef pop ups also happen regularly and have included an Indian night, Piedmont wine dinner, and a whole hog barbecue. homecomingspringgreen.com
While You’re There: Walk a few blocks down to Arcadia Books, Spring Green’s wonderful, locally-owned bookstore. And a visit to Spring Green is not complete without a stop at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home, to appreciate Wright’s talent in earnest. readinutopia.com, taliesinpreservation.org