Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has always been on my bucket list for places I can drive. Admittedly, my interest was initially piqued by the promise of a 75-year-old store full of the best cheese Wisconsin has to offer, specialty meats and made to order sandwiches, appropriately dubbed, The Cheese Box. So surprisingly, after very little convincing, my fiancé agreed to hop in the car with dog in tow, and head to Lake Geneva for the weekend.
As someone who has family in Michigan, I know that driving on the I-90/94 corridor, among what seems like every semi truck driver in America, can feel like fresh hell. I was mentally prepared that driving to Wisconsin would yield the same stress headache. Thankfully, I was wrong. Comparatively speaking, if driving to Michigan is like driving to get a Christmas tree with Clark Griswald, then the trip to Lake Geneva is like hopping in a rowboat with Noah Calhoun — a trip you would welcome over and over again.
THE RIDGE HOTEL
After dropping our dog off at a private sitter we headed straight to The Ridge Hotel. What might seem trivial to non-city folks, but was a welcomed surprise to me, was the ease of parking. No pay to park, no valet, we just parked our car in front, unloaded the luggage and walked in (it was a nice no muss, no fuss change). At check-in, we were welcomed warmly into the expansive, sleek and modern lobby, outfitted with a fireplace, several comfortable seating areas and a coffee and wine bar, fittingly called, Bean + Vine. For this trip, we elected to get a junior suite, which featured a king-sized bed, a seating area complete with fireplace, a small dining table, refrigerator, two televisions and bathroom. It was comfortable, cozy and perfectly pleasant for a simple weekend getaway.
After reading that The Ridge had recently undergone a $4.5 million renovation I was eager to explore. In addition to the redesigned lobby and new coffee and wine bar, the hotel boasts a large backyard veranda with an adorable little bar and a 12-foot-long fireplace that overlooks Lake Como (it’s truly stunning), a redesigned ballroom with French doors leading out onto the patio, an indoor pool with a poolside sports bar and hot tub, and most notably, a brand new dining concept with panoramic water views, stunning decor and farm-to-table dishes, called Crafted Americana.
The Ridge Hotel, W4240 WI-50, Lake Geneva, WI 53147
Upon a recommendation from a local foodie, we decided to visit Crafted Americana for drinks and appetizers and then head over to The Hunt Club for dinner (more on that later). The modern space had an expansive bar area and a separate dining room with stunning chandeliers and beautiful views. We sat at a table right next to the window and our knowledgeable server made a few drink recommendations from the craft cocktail menu. Upon her suggestion, my fiancé ordered the Crafted Old Fashioned. Filled to the brim with Copper & King’s brandy, this pungent cocktail had notes of lemon, Angostura bitters, a splash of citrus soda and a filthy black cherry garnish. I was drawn to the all encompassing book of wines and selected an Argentinian Malbec.
My taste buds will forever crave this seasonally inspired dish. The bread had a slightly crunchy crust and a softly toasted interior. The diced butternut squash was mixed with red onion, rosemary, and topped with a generous drizzle of aged balsamic. With an abundance of squash topping, it was easy to eat the rest like a small salad after the bread was gone.
Wisconsin Cheese Curds
These flawless fried cheese curds were a thought provoking game changer. Made with house crafted beer batter, the golden-brown exterior was filled with pillowy Wisconsin curds. Every sumptuous bite was complemented by the slightly spicy chili aioli – I would go back here just to eat these again. It made me wonder why these aren’t on every bar menu in Chicago. I would skip mozzarella sticks and opt for these any day.
Johan Crab Cocktail
Served chilled, the crab cocktail was a refreshing addition to the heartier appetizers on the table. Accompanied by lemon and curry ketchup, it was light and easy to eat, although a little messy to crack. At one point my fiancé sent a crab claw flying (think Vivian Ward, escargot style). Thankfully it flung towards me and not at any of the surrounding diners. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the finesse of the garçon in Pretty Woman, so it ended up flying past me, forcing us to surrender any kind of polite discretion.
Crafted Americana, W4240 State Road 50, Lake Geneva, WI 53147
THE HUNT CLUB STEAKHOUSE
Once the crab shells were swept away, it was off to The Hunt Club. Located 2 miles from The Ridge Hotel, it was a quick Uber ride. Housed in a stunning Palladian-style two story home, the rustic space was surrounded by lush trees and featured a wall of panoramic windows overlooking Lake Como. The friendly and attentive hostess showed us to our seats and went over the regionally expansive wine menu, which featured over 400 wines. Upon recommendation from our conversant waitress, I ordered the Cardwell Hill Old Vines Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. This bold Pinot had a smoky finish, which was an amiable contrast to its fruit-forward berry notes.
HC Lobster Bisque
Even though we had had our fill of appetizers at Crafted Americana, with the cozy atmosphere and the chilly weather it seemed like a sin to pass over soup. My fiancé opted for the HC Lobster Bisque. Served with roasted Maine Lobster, tarragon sherry cream and herbed puff pastry croutons, the velvety soup was luscious. With creamy, buttery notes and thick chunks of lobster, it was a seafood lover’s dream.
The French Onion
If there is ever a time to overconsume cheese it is in Wisconsin. The French Onion Soup was decadent and bursting with hearty flavors. Gratinéed with Gruyere and Emmental cheese, it housed a generous portion of caramelized onions, beef broth and thick-cut pieces of toasted brioche. This would have been enough for an entire meal and made me feel grateful that I opted for tights instead of pants.
Filet + Broiled Lobster Tail
With a “when in Rome” attitude my fiancé dived right into the 28-day aged 8-oz. filet, accompanied by a split and grilled lobster tail. Each corn-fed Sterling Silver steak is personally inspected before being served to guests and falls into the top one percent of choice and prime. While I generally don’t eat beef, he told me it was juicy, flavorful and cooked with precision. The grilled lobster tail was a lavish addition, served with melted butter, it didn’t stay on the table for long.
Cedar Roasted New Zealand Ora King Salmon
The salmon was an explosion of rich flavors. With a candied pecan crust, the fish was adorned with thinly sliced spiced carrots and sat in a luxurious pink peppercorn Beurre Blanc sauce. To take in its sumptuousness, I ate it slowly to cultivate a full appreciation for the complexity of its ingredients and how they worked together while floating along my taste buds. It belongs on the tables of a Utopian society.
One of the things I appreciated most about The Hunt Club was the cordial and relaxed atmosphere. The waitress allowed us to take our time but was prompt when we needed something. With a superlative dining menu, I had expected the dress code to be upscale when in fact, it was very relaxed. And doesn’t it always feel better to indulge in leisurewear?
The Hunt Club, 555 Hunt Club Court, Lake Geneva, WI 53147
THE NEXT MORNING
The next morning, we checked out, picked up our dog and decided to explore the town. With ample shopping (ladies, stop in JAYNE), walking trails and other adorable little shops, I was blown away by how dog-friendly the downtown area was. Our pooch was allowed in every store, where many had treats waiting. Our walk along Lake Geneva was breathtaking and it made me wish we had another night to stay. Nevertheless, we headed back to the city and went to bed that night with visions of cheese curds, red wine and flying crab claws dancing in our heads.
Featured Image by Crafted Americana