While the crush of tourists line up at Sprecher's Restaurant & Pub, Popeye’s on Lake Geneva and Gino’s East (for the same pizza they can get in Chicago), wily tripsters aren’t fearful of a 10 minute drive to land flavorful finds minus the crowds.
Finch Tavern & Taqueria, open the summer of 2016, is on Geneva Lake but far from the fudge shops in vicinity and tourist vulgarity. Just across the road from Big Foot Beach, the beachy restaurant and bar serves modern tacos and adult beverages made with fresh locally sourced ingredients. Order guacamole and the smashed avocado and pico de gallo smartly arrives table side separated so one can add as much or as little of the oniony mixture as the palate permits. The accompanying chips are fresh fried every day. Finch is attempting Mexican street taco fare and hitting the mark: big, fat shrimp spill from the shrimp tacos; carne asada is tender, sans fat and simply dressed with onions, cilantro and salsa roja; red snapper (the most popular) is tucked under lime, red cabbage, onion, cilantro, ancho chili, mango and Chipotle mayo; and the Taco de Costilla de Res (Beef Short Rib) is perfectly prepared with a smatter of pickled jalapenos, queso fresh and crema. There are dozen tacos from which to choose, a couple of sandwiches and salads, super fresh oyster shooters and seafood ceviche. Have a cold beer orany of the freshly squeezed Margarita cocktails and snag a seat outside with a view of the beach, far from the chattering touristas. Prices are on par with the quality - you won’t be disappointed unless On the Border or Taco Bell are more your style.
Finch Tavern & Taqueria, N2062 S Lake Shore Dr Lake Geneva, WI. 53147
(262) 203-5137 www.finchtavern.com
There are plenty of fancy, schmancy spots in which to dine in the southeastern Wisconsin tourist town but can there be anything more infuriating than dropping serious coinage for a merely mediocre meal? When you want that one elevated dinner in Lake Geneva, try Crafted Americana in the Ridge Hotel and you may revisit before you leave town - it’s that good and reasonable priced. It offers requisite Wisconsin menu items like a slow roasted Saturday night Prime Rib ($26.95-$29.95) and a Friday Fish Fry ($12.95) for two pieces of baked or fried cod, one potato pancake or seasoned fries, coleslaw and house-crafted applesauce and tarter sauce. But Chef Ricky Lund’s technique shines from apps (shrimp n grits with crispy pancetta and stone ground mustard grits for $11 and big enough for two) to perfectly charred Strip steak and a stellar Chilean Sea Bass atop bulgar wheat and charred sugar snap peas dotted with pancetta and a squeeze of lemon for brightness. Entrees range from $15-$38, with big city inventiveness and quality. A winner.
By the way, save more money and hitup the Crafted Happy Hour, Monday to Thursday 4pm to 7pm for half price drinks
Crafted Americana The Ridge Hotel W4240 State Highway 50
Mars Resort has existed since the 1920’s and although it isn’t a “resort” with cabins or rooms for visitors, the restaurant oozes old-fashioned Wisconsin campinessfrom the woozy elderly couples at the bar to its mid century renditions of the catch of the day. The traditional Friday Fish fry offers a variety of options (bluegill, walleye, perch, potato pancakes) and others make the short trek from downtown Lake Geneva for the house specialty - slow roasted beef ribs. It’s dark, dated and fabulous. There’s live music weekends, well-poured cocktails, two-fisted burgers and pretty sunsets on the shores of Lake Como.
Mars Resort W4098 S Shore Dr Lake Geneva, WI 53147-3438
Lake Geneva Fun
Insane in Galena
The building which housed the first version of Fried Green Tomatoes Restaurant in Galena, IL was an insane asylum. It was torn down (much to the chagrin of ghost hunters) and the Italian eatery now serves insanely good food to conga line of customers on Main St. After ingesting your full pound of mussels plus warm bread dipped in butter and dusted with Parmesan, walk up to the second floor dining area and notice the stained glass fragments and wooden door hanging on the brick walls - artifacts snatched from the asylum. The Main St. locale has plenty of its own historic mojo previously serving as a small town pharmacy.
It seems as though everyone orders the titular app - breaded green tomatoesfried in olive oil and capped with cheese and marinara. It’s most def Italian and not a southern Paula Deen construct. Chilean Sea bass was expertly pan seared alongside tenderbroccolini and the smoked Gouda mac ’n’ cheese dotted with discs of sausage was a comfort food standout. Main St. dining in a tourist town is often disappointing but winning service and fine food at Fried Green Tomatoes will have you humming “Love Her Madly” on the way out.
Not too insane downtown
Insanity starts here
Lay back, the doctor will be right with you
The Famous Fried Green Tomatoes
South Dakota Rocks
Many of us, from middle school kids to senior citizens, have felt a reawakening about our country - and not via the perfunctory flag waving and barbecue on the Fourth of July - but deeper feelings about what it means to be an American.
Perhaps this is the year to forgo manufactured fun at theme parks, Hollywood tours or the Jersey shore and instead fill our hearts as well as out eyes with the salt of the earth. The splendor of the Black Hills that blister from the surrounding plains; canyons, ravines and the other-worldly nature of the Badlands; miles without strip malls or billboards but bison and meadows; and the incredible visual testaments of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s the All-American vacation in the middle of the country in South Dakota that’s brimming with history, wild geography, Native American culture, iconic monuments and beautiful American nvistas all short drives from one another.
Hill City (www.hillcitysd.com), in the heart of the Black Hills, has a dual history of miners who came to prospect for gold and later the small mountain town became a paleontological and geological center for exploration and discovery. It’s definitely worth visiting for the excellent Museum at the Black Hills Institute ofGeological Research (www.everythingprehistoric.com)
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial
Nearly three million people from across the planet make the trip to see the 60-ft.- high granite faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone (about 24 miles from Rapid City). Celebrating it’s 76th birthday in 2017, the monument is mesmerizing in its grandeur but kids will definitely need a little more than staring at it from afar. Walk the Presidential Trail, an easy half-mile in length to get a tad closer to the sculpture. Breakfast or lunch at the on-site Carver’s Cafe, the only three-star Certified Green Restaurant in South Dakota! A 25-minute drive deposits you at the stunning Crazy Horse Memorial that sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began in 1948 after Lakota Chief Standing Bear.
Custer State Park
The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is also home to one of the world's largest bison herds and if you can wait until late summer to take your bucket list trip to South Dakota, you’re in for the visual treat of a lifetime when the 52nd Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival takes place. Cowboys, cowgirls and crews star in the saddle to move the 1,300 herd. The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is free and open to the public and it roars in on Sept. 29, 2017. Following the roundup, there’s a weekend full of fun via an arts festival and dutch oven cook off.
Badlands National Park
It’s hard to choose between sunset and sunrise at Badlands National Park because each offer different visuals that are equally disarming. One is a lavender and peach settling of the day among the buttes and canyons; the other a glorious awakening to mesas, spires and gullies afire with red volcanic rock. Either way or both, your camera will be clicking to capture the changing colors over the mystic wonderland carved by wind and water over countless years. You’re bound to spy bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and other wildlife.
(800) 4686564 www.columbus.in.us
There IS another town in the Midwest known for its stunning architecture: Columbus, Indiana, boasting buildings designed by the likes of I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, Deborah Berke, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese and others. Don’t miss the Eero Saarinen designed Miller House and Garden, called “America’s most significant modernist house,“ which will catapult you to the 1950s with its conversation pit, fanciful interior decor and checkerboard plantings of native flowers.
Have a Green River at the restored turnofthecentury ice cream parlor and museum, Zaharakos; and don’t leave without trying a Hoosier fave — the pounded pork tenderloin sandwich at The Columbus Bar.
Stay at the boutique Hotel Indigo and walk to everything or sleep amid history at the Inn at Irwin Gardens B & B, an Edwardian mansion built in 1910.
If you’d like to astonish the next hipster bartender you encounter with your knowledge of his favorite drink, get to the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown, Kentucky. You can travel the area’s bourbon trail any time of the year, but spring also brings Bardstown’s inaugural Cocktail Week featuring creative cocktails, distillery/restaurant pairings, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Mixed Drink Challenge and a Spring Sampler
Bardstown offers 16 B & B’s, including some that are kid friendly (put ’em in the jail cell room at The Jailer’s Inn). Couples and girlfriends will go for Springhill Winery & Plantation B&B. Shelbyville, American Saddlebred Capital of the World, is just a half hour north and a dream away for horse lovers. Take a horse farm tour to see how the magnificent animals are trained, enjoy horseback riding lessons or embark on a trail ride in the fresh spring air.