Posts Tagged: Chef on the Block

Chef on the Block: Simply Coffeehouse


Chef Doug Tesar, Simply Coffeehouse

By Inspire(d) • Originally published in the Fall 2012 Inspire(d)

Simply Coffeehouse and Eatery in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, is right at home in the charming downtown Blackhawk Avenue area. From the high ceiling interior to the rustic furnishings, Simply is a great place to stop and take a break. Part coffeehouse, part cafe and bakery, owner Doug Tesar’s eatery has become a local favorite and a must-stop for out-of-towners like us (and soon, hopefully, you too).


They serve up an ever-changing breakfast menu, and for lunch, offer homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches – seriously – as big as your head! From Simply grilled cheese on housemade bread to the Kick-N-Roast Beef made with their own roasted meat, the options are seemingly endless. Always suckers for chicken salad, we gave Simply’s a try – it certainly did not disappoint. It was – simply put (haha) – delightful: a wonderful made-from-scratch mixture of sweet, crunch, and salt that complimented the chunky chicken perfectly (that’s only half the sandwich pictured below!). We suggest you also try their chocolate frappe, plus the cookies, bars, and cupcakes are killer, too, and often sell out by noon! So get there early, curl up with a coffee in a street-front window or with a magazine (may we suggest Inspire(d)?) by the giant aquarium where the “pet” (and giant) fish swims happily every day, and enjoy some time for yourself. Or stop by for an early morning coffee before hitting the river and grab lunch to take for a picnic in the park – it’s simple!

sandwich frappe

doug1Name & Age: Doug Tesar, 41
Restaurant: Simply Coffeehouse and Eatery
Number of Years Cooking: 25!

Formal Training or Live and learn?
Live and Learn… From short order cook, to sous chef, and somewhere in there a food and beverage purchasing agent. I’m now owner and operator of my own restaurant!

What’s your most significant memory of cooking?
I would say my earliest (professional) memory was cooking stir fry and broiled tilapia for Bill Clinton and his campaign staff. Recently, it would be an auction for the hospital to raise money for their hospice program. I and my superstar helper, Carly, were auctioned off to cook and serve a group of 6 to 8 people in their home for $3,400! (What to make right? Haha!)

baristaWhy did you decide to become a chef?
I really didn’t decide, I just started off on dishes and kept on rolling ­– before I knew it, I was getting moved up in positions, making money, and just really enjoyed doing it.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
Sea Bass with a mustard and balsamic crust.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Sauerbraten with an 18 pound prime rib!

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
Cheap hot dogs, peanut butter on a spoon, and mac and cheese without the butter and milk.

What’s your favorite…

Ingredient: Course salt and pepper
Dish: Broiled Scallops
Cooking Tool: Rubber spatula
Vegetable: Corn
Fruit: Strawberry

Chef on the Block: Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery


Intro by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2013 Inspire(d)

Between Stewartville and Spring Valley, Minnesota, just off the intersection of Highways 16 and 63, there sits a beautiful, modern, barn-red building. You might wonder what crops they grow…that is until you notice the grapevines rolling out past the patio situated under a giant, gorgeous pergola. Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery combines what they call “Minnesota-nice and casual elegance” to create a unique dining – and, of course, wining – destination.

Inside, the tasting room/restaurant is well designed and fun. Big chalkboards announce the wines to taste ($5 for a flight!), and they are indeed tasty – not just by Midwestern standards.


Also tasty? The food. The kitchen is open whenever the winery is open, and the menus (which change frequently) feature plates ranging from chicken fried olives to burgers hand ground (with bacon!) fresh in the Four Daughters kitchen. You can also get French Onion dumplings or classic deviled eggs or even an Italian grinder pizza (just to name a couple).


If you’re lucky, you might even catch the Four Daughters’ father cheerfully walking around the tables, greeting guests like a host in his own house making the whole experience feel even more of a family affair. (Above photo courtesy Four Daughters.)

Four Daughters’ head chef, Erik Kleven, really shines at their Dine in the Vines events, a special full moon series of dinners that only happen four times a year. It’s served up – you guessed it – right in the vineyard, under a full moon to boot.


Another dinner series they host is Thursday night Chef’s Dinners. These happen every week, all year long, and each meal – ranging from five to six courses – is literally never the same. (Above photo courtesy Four Daughters.)

As the family is known to say, Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery isn’t just a restaurant; it’s an experience.

ChefEricName:  Erik Kleven (pictured at right, photo courtesy Four Daughters.)
Age (if you’re willing): 42
Restaurant: Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery
Number of Years Cooking: 20

Formal training or live-and-learn?
I choose the formal training route and attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland Oregon. Culinary school teaches you the passion and professionalism, but learning on the job gives you the skills for the day to day work.

What’s your earliest or most significant memory of cooking or being cooked for?
I grew up in the restaurant business and my best memory is of my dad teaching me to make meatloaf when I was young.

Why did you decide to become a chef?
I have always liked the restaurant business and had many front of the house jobs. When I graduated high school I tried college for a couple of years and that didn’t hold my attention enough, because I always found things to do that were more fun than classes. So I decided that pursuing a career in the restaurant business would offer a bit more excitement and I have loved it ever since.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
I think that my best things have come in some of the specialized dinners that we do at Four Daughters. The Dine in the Vines dinners that we do every summer are my favorite. We do multiple course dinners down the middle of the vineyard under the full moon. We create fun dishes for these and the Lobster boil that we do at the end of the summer is a blast.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Probably my most frequent fail is putting things in the oven and forgetting about them…I do this more often than should. My great kitchen staff usually saves me so that it is not always lost.

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
I will eat anything in the refrigerator wrapped in a tortilla, like most leftovers, leftover spaghetti is my favorite.

What’s your favorite…
Duck or Bacon Fat
Dish: pan fried sunnys at the lake
Cookbook: All of Charlie Trotter’s books – interesting ingredients and awesome pictures
Random (or not so random) kitchen tool: Hand blender
Vegetable: Potato
Fruit: Tomato



The Mint La Crosse


Introduction byBenji Nichols • Photos by Inspire(d)

The Mint in La Crosse sits on a snug little corner of State Street – just across from the UW. It’s a cozy home for one of the Driftless Region’s freshest restaurants – literally. Specializing in farm-to-table fare, the food couldn’t get much fresher. From local pheasant (“I used to drive past the farm where it was raised on my way home,” says Chef Anthony Swartwout) to oyster mushrooms to, of course, lots of in-season produce.

Add to that exquisite craft cocktails – think cayenne and cinnamon on the lip of a tasty tequila concoction or house-made marinated cherries in a yummy Manhattan – plus amazing homemade desserts like the best-ever angel food cake made by Mint pastry chef Jen Barney, and you might never want to leave.


Plus, the place is pretty darn charming. This button of a building and dining patio (previously home to Kate’s On State) is rustic, country, and modern at the same time. Bright blue dining chairs, brick walls and chalkboards, and metal barstools bring together an ambiance that feels just right.


Behind that magic? The dynamic duo and management team of Corrie Brekke and Dane Gonzalez. (They’ve also brought the downtown creperie / coffee shop / craft beer bar stronghold, the Root Note, to life!) They’ve also joined forces with Cody Cottrell of the Ground Up Coffee Shop as part of the “Driftmore” group of establishments. All three of these joints represent grassroots businesses that have done their best to serve amazing products in fun environments – which Inspire(d) loves!

But this feature is about chefs – and Chef Anthony Swartwout (pictured below on the right) of The Mint is the real deal. Coming from haunts like Lucia’s in Minneapolis and The Waterfront in La Crosse, Swartwout and his sous chef, James Foreman, have fully embraced the local concept, connecting with producers like Hoch Orchards, Second Cloud on the Left, Driftless Meats, River Root Farm, Willow Creek Ranch, Driftless Organics, and more.


The menu often features fresh trout, local poultry, incredible vegetarian options, as well as locally raised beef and pork dishes – and the beauty is that it changes seasonally – heck, sometimes weekly depending on what it fresh, fun, and tasty.

We suggest you check it out for yourself. If you’re lucky, the lovely Caite will be your server – tell her Inspire(d) sent you!

Plan your visit:
1810 State Street
La Crosse, Wisconsin
(608) 519-5011

Lunch: Tues – Sat / 11 am – 2 pm
Dinner: Tues – Thurs / 5 – 9:30 pm
Dinner: Fri – Sat / 5 – 10:30 pm
Sunday Brunch: 10 am – 2 pm  / Dinner: 5 – 9 pm
Reservations for parties of 6 or more – otherwise just walk on in!

Chefs3Name: Anthony Swartwout (pictured on right; sous chef, James Foreman on left)
Age: 41
Restaurant: The Mint
Number of Years Cooking: 18ish

Formal training or live-and-learn?

Both. Live-and-learn for the first seven or so. Then Culinary School at 30.

What’s your earliest or most significant memory of cooking or being cooked for?

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was when my mom was teaching me how to make oatmeal for my sister and myself. I would make it for us before we went to school in the morning. I was getting bored with plain oatmeal and started playing around with the spices in my mom’s pantry. I came to the realization that a little cinnamon andChefs1 raisins can completely change the final outcome!!! Then I discovered cardamom and have been hooked ever since.

Why did you decide to become a chef?

To make a very long story short, I was way better at cooking then I was waiting tables. After bouncing back and forth between the two for years, I decided I was going to make one of them my life long career. So, off to Culinary School I went.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?

The first time I ever tried cooking with ground cloves when I was a kid!!! I still remember how bad that tasted. I had no clue how little you needed.

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about?

Sugar or Sweets in general… I have a horrible sweet tooth!

30_ProfiteroleWhat’s your favorite:
Pork. Anything that comes off of a pig.
Dish: Anything that I didn’t have to cook for myself a.k.a. my wife’s cooking.
Cookbook: Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland by Lucia Watson
Random (or not so random) kitchen tool: Knife sharpening stones
Vegetable: Heirloom tomatoes
Fruit: Raspberries or perfectly ripe strawberries


Benji Nichols is a huge fan of local food – and, heck, most food. He has also been a huge fan of the style and tone of the Root Note in Downtown La Crosse for years, and can’t wait for his next trip to The Mint to see what Chef Anthony and the crew have dreamed up. Cheers!