Posts Tagged: la crosse

Ice Cream, You Scream: Driftless Treats

RoxieIceCream_Logo

by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Photos by Inspire(d)
Originally published in the Summer 2014 Inspire(d)

Deep in the recesses of the Library of Congress lies a treasured document authored by Thomas Jefferson – and, no, it’s not a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

This document, handwritten by Jefferson himself in the 1780s, calls for “two bottles of good cream,” “six yolks of eggs,” “a half-pound of sugar,” and “one vanilla bean.” It is, according to the library, one of the first recipes for ice cream recorded in the United States.

Today, more than three centuries later, the International Dairy Foods Association ranks Americans as the top consumers of ice cream in the world, with more than 48 pints of ice cream downed per person per year. So pervasive is our passion for ice cream, in fact, that Ronald Reagan declared July as National Ice Cream Month exactly three decades ago.

Luckily, area residents will find plenty of ice cream shops eager to satisfy their cravings for this delicious frozen concoction throughout the summer months. Whether your preference is soft-serve or hand-dipped, chocolate or vanilla, go on, read on, and then treat yourself to a cup or cone of ice cream at one (or all!) of the following Driftless Region establishments.

WhippyDip

The Whippy Dip
121 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa
Owners: Rosie and Greg Carolan
Open seasonally

It may not rank up there with Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, but make no mistake about it: Opening day at the Whippy Dip is among the most anticipated days of the year in Winneshiek County.

Owner Rosie Carolan estimates a couple thousand people indulged in a soft-serve ice-cream treat – cookie-dough Tornado, anyone? – at the Whippy Dip on opening day last March. “We had long lines stretching both directions along College Drive for hours,” she says.

There’s nothing fancy about the Whippy Dip, but therein lies its (considerable) charm. Whether you crave vanilla or chocolate (or both!), served in a cone or cup, this iconic Decorah business – marking 60 years this past spring – sticks to the basics, dishing up ice cream plain (or with any number of toppings) sure to please even the most discriminating palates. “We’ve heard very few complaints,” says Carolan, who, with her husband, Greg, has owned and operated the Whippy Dip since 1985.

According to Carolan, the Whippy Dip’s fans have a former Decorah milkman, Derwood Baker, to thank for opening the shop back in 1954. “He delivered milk early in the morning and then worked here in the afternoon,” says Carolan, the fifth Whippy Dip owner. And while the ice cream machines, menu, and milk supplier have changed over the years, the bricks and mortar have remained the same.

“We have a great building in a great location,” she says. “We’re near the campground, the bike trail, the movie theatre, Luther College, the local schools, the swimming pool, and, of course, the Upper Iowa River.”

Still, location – or the contagious Whippy Dip nostalgia – doesn’t entirely account for the establishment’s staying power. “We use premium dairy products to ensure our ice cream is rich and creamy; we offer other fare like tacos-in-a-bag and foot-long hotdogs; and we have unbelievable help,” says Carolan, who employs nearly two-dozen high school students as well as a handful of adults. (Her husband, Greg, power-washes the premises every morning and serves as its go-to mechanic.)

Carolan admits that those sunny summer Friday nights when lines stretch down College Drive do generate a bit of stress, but that comes with the terrain of running such a well-known and loved business.

And the feeling is mutual, says Carolan: “I love running the Whippy Dip – I love my employees, I love our customers, and I am very grateful to be doing what I am doing.”

SugarBowl

The Sugar Bowl
410 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
www.sugarbowlicecream.com
Owner: Brittany and Nathan Todd
Open seasonally

Craig Running knew a good thing when he saw it.

A longtime Decorah resident – he was raised in the town – Running believed buying retail space along the town’s main Water Street was a “win-win situation” when he seized the opportunity in 1999.

“I tore down the rental building that was here and then spent eight years designing and building this space,” he says of the Sugar Bowl, the balconied, two-storied ice cream parlor he opened in 2008. “I thought that there was a niche market for quality, hand-dipped ice cream, and I was pretty sure it would work…who doesn’t love ice cream?”

Who indeed – especially when that ice cream is made by the Chocolate Shoppe, an award-winning producer of hand-dipped ice cream headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to Running, it was more than serendipity that led him to select the Chocolate Shoppe as his ice cream vendor. “I had a conversation with a man who made it a point to mention that the best ice cream he had ever had was from the Chocolate Shoppe,” he says. “I called up the company and told them I was opening an ice cream shop, and they immediately sent 16 different pints to my front door. By the time I polished off the first pint, the decision had been made.”

In 2016 Running decided it was time to hang up the scoop – and when across-the-street neighbors Brittany and Nathan Todd shown interest, a smooth transition of delicious ice cream serving continued! The Sugar Bowl currently dishes up 24 different flavors of the Chocolate Shoppe’s ice cream from his dipping station, with choices ranging from Old Fashioned Vanilla to Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (cheesecake-flavored ice cream with raspberry flavoring, Oreos, and chocolate chunks). The most popular flavors? Zanzibar Chocolate (containing three kinds of cocoa) and Zoreo (made of Zanzibar ice cream, marshmallows, Oreos, and chocolate chunks).

And while ice cream remains the star of this Water Street establishment, its décor – described by Running as “industrial deco” – has garnered plenty of admirers as well.

The bright-white building contains a treasure trove of antiques, from a 1952 Whizzer motorbike to a Popsicle Red Ball Express train (one of only about 200 made). “It was a long process, but I enjoyed acquiring these items,” he says. “I had collected and restored cars, trucks, and motorcycles for a long time so it wasn’t such a stretch to start collecting and restoring things that were displayable here.”

As Running envisioned when he opened the Sugar Bowl, the combination of rich-and-creamy ice cream and eye-catching antiques has proved irresistible for many a Decorah resident and visitor. “It’s been quite successful,” he says with a smile. “And business gets better every year.”

HomesteadDairy2

Homestead Dairy
850 Rossville Road, Waukon, Iowa
www.wwhomesteaddairy.com
Owners: Tom Weighner, Paul Weighner, and Tom Walleser
Open year-round

Homestead Dairy has dished up ice cream for less than three years, but it already serves a frozen treat literally fit for a king.

The dairy had been making ice cream for only a few months when Luther College’s general manager of dining services presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Would the Homestead Dairy accept a commission to make cinnamon ice cream in honor of Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja for an all-Iowa-foods banquet?

They jumped at the chance.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” admits Angela Weighner, who makes the dairy’s ice cream using only milk produced on its two Northeast Iowa dairy farms.

She need not have worried: King Harald gave the cinnamon ice cream an unequivocal thumbs-up at a news conference held at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum a few hours after the banquet.

Few would disagree with that assessment. The dairy has created 40 ice cream flavors to date. “We take the time to ensure we produce a quality product,” says Weighner, who credits the rich taste and creamy texture of its ice cream to the fact that it uses pasteurized, not homogenized milk, meaning the milk is less processed. “We also figure out the right amount of flavorings and mix-ins and make only small batches at a time.”

WW Homestead opened the Waukon dairy in 2012, and it has quickly become a “must stop” in the region for cheese curds, ice cream, and soon – coffee! In addition to seating both inside and out, the parlor offers 16 different flavors in its dipping station – coffee toffee is Weighner’s favorite – and most of its other two-dozen flavors (including the cinnamon!) are available in take-home pint cartons too. The dairy also sells fresh creamline milk, cheese curds, butter, block cheese, and ice-cream cakes. A full coffee bar addition should be open for RAGBRAI riders in July 2017, making this a “midwest delicacy one stop shop”!

“It’s hard work but very fun to come up with new flavors that people really like,” says Weighner when asked the best part of running an ice-cream shop. “There’s really nothing that compares to seeing families spending time here together enjoying our ice cream.”

Pearl_icecream

The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor
207 Pearl Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin
www.pearlstreetwest.com
Owners: Michelle and T.J. Peterslie
Open year-round

Not all that long ago, bikers were a familiar sight at 207 Pearl Street in downtown La Crosse. “It was a very popular biker bar,” recalls T.J. Peterslie. He and his wife, Michelle, bought the building in 1990. “On a nice Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t unusual to see more than 80 choppers parked outside.”

Today, the location attracts a very different clientele. Gone are the choppers. In their place? Tables and chairs packed with ice cream lovers of all ages enjoying a scoop from The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor.

Peterslie describes the transformation as a labor of love.

“Ice cream parlors were a prime social meeting place from the 1800s into the 1900s,” he says. “We wanted the Pearl to be a place where people could bring the whole family, enjoy a treat, and step back in time to when things were simpler and less stressful.”

To evoke the feel of an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, the Peterslies scoured the Midwest, picking up the tables, chairs, mixers, sundae dishes, dipping cabinets (circa 1940s), and a bubble-gum machine that all help give the Pearl its unique charm. “You can’t just order these things,” he says.

It was Peterslie’s late father, Oscar, who created most of the ice cream flavors – from Mississippi mud and butter pecan to the bestselling vanilla – as well as the fudge and other sweet confections for which the Pearl has become so revered in and well beyond La Crosse over the past two decades. (The Peterslie’s daughters – Dani, Azia, and Tara – have followed in their grandfather’s footsteps and make much of the ice cream and candy sold at the Pearl these days.)

“My dad was adamant that we serve homemade ice cream, and he is why the Pearl is here,” he says. “We enjoyed designing the Pearl, but once we opened it, running it was like running any other business. My dad took ice cream-making courses at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, researched recipes online, bought our ice cream-making equipment down in Texas, and was just magic working behind the counter.”

While remaining tight-lipped on their ice cream making process – “We can’t really talk too much about how we do what we do,” he says – Peterslie says they’ve reaped nothing but rewards since entering the ice cream biz more than two decades ago.

“It’s a happy business,” he says. “When customers come in, they have the attitude that they are going to treat themselves to something good, and you in turn feel good knowing you are selling them something that they really want.”

ALSO WELL WORTH THE TRIP

Barrel Drive In
2014 Highway 150S, West Union, Iowa
Open seasonally

Top off a burger and fries with a shake, sundae, or cone served by carhops at this classic drive-in restaurant.

Country View Dairy
15197 230th Street, Hawkeye, Iowa

Wonder where the popular Yotopia Frozen Yogurt in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, procures its frozen yogurt? Look no further than Country View Dairy, purveyor of many flavors of yogurt found in stores throughout the Driftless Region.

Culver’s
904 Short Street, Decorah, Iowa

It’s not just the home of the ButterBurger. This restaurant serves fresh soft-serve frozen custard with a variety of toppings.

Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream
105 East Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Sundae anyone? Follow up a tasty pizza with your choice of classic hand-dipped ice cream flavors and treats.

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Sara Friedl-Putnam, an avid ice cream lover, thoroughly enjoyed doing “research” for this article and highly recommends readers sample a treat from all of the friendly Driftless Region establishments profiled in it.

 

Live Generously: Lucas Zellmer

Lucas ZellmarLucas Zellmer had no idea the extent of poverty in La Crosse, Wisconsin – where more than 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line – until moving there in 2012.

“The first time I rode through the city, I noticed far more homeless or impoverished people than I had ever seen in my hometown of Blooming Prairie,” he says. “The poverty was impossible to ignore.”

Wanting to “make a difference,” Lucas soon began to split his time between studies at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, where he majors in biology, and volunteer service at the St. Clare Health Mission free clinic and the Place of Grace soup kitchen, which serves some 250 meals a day. He learned not only about the missions of both organizations but also about the people they serve – men and women without reliable transportation who are often able to land jobs but unable to get to them consistently.

“It was clear to me that there was a real demand for accessible, reliable transportation among the homeless and impoverished populations of La Crosse,” says Lucas. “Sometimes getting to jobs is more challenging than securing those jobs in the first place – I wanted to do something to fill that transportation void.”

In April, Lucas launched Wheels for All, a small nonprofit that provides single-speed bicycles – they require less maintenance than those with multiple gears – to those who need them the most. To date, he has fixed up and given away more than 20 bicycles, most of which have been donated by his family and supportive community members. As word of the organization spreads – WKBT-TV in La Crosse profiled Lucas and Wheels for All last July – Lucas hopes to help even more individuals who would benefit from having their own two wheels.

“I founded Wheels for All because I love knowing I have helped someone in difficult circumstances,” he says. “We may only be providing bikes, but seeing the recipients’ faces when they receive them – and hearing them describe how those bikes will help them – is such a powerful thing.”

To learn more about the organization – or make a donation – visit Lucas’s Go Fund Me page.
– by Sara Friedl-Putnam

Sometimes getting to jobs is more challenging than securing those jobs

Read More “Live Generously”

Driftless Day Trip: La Crosse, Wisconsin

River and sunset in La Crosse

Driftless Day Trip: La Crosse, Wisconsin
By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Winter 2011-12 Inspire(d) • Updated January 2016

Within the high ridges and narrow coulees of Western Wisconsin, a wide plain nestles up to the Mississippi River. First spotted by Native Americans and French fur traders, “Prairie La Crosse” (named so by Zebulon Pike in the early 1800s) is a fun, colorful river town to its core.

From the days of fur trading and timber to the brewing industry and today’s education and health care economy, La Crosse has been a regional hub for more than 150 years. It holds the only passenger rail access for 100+ miles in most directions, serves as a major transportation route for barge traffic and river enthusiasts, and it was even claimed, at one time, to host the “highest number of drinking establishments in a single-mile stretch of road” in the country. While 3rd Street still has its fair share of fun, this river town offers a lot more than that!

Mt. La Crosse Skii Resort

Photo courtesy Mt. La Crosse

La Crosse really is a four-season destination. With easy access to the Mississippi, several hiking and biking areas, and a variety of festivals, it’s not hard to get outdoors in the Coulee Region – even in the middle of winter. Downhill skiing and snowboarding destination Mt. La Crosse lights up its 18 slopes – including one of the Midwest’s steepest runs, “Damnation!” – and opens for the season as soon as enough snow flies (don’t miss the St. Bernard room for an après ski beverage!). Upper and Lower Hixon Park offer great opportunities to get out and take in the views as well, with hiking, snow shoe trails, mountain biking, and even a pump track at the Upper Hixon parking lot. And there is a ton of fun – no matter the season – waiting in La Crosse’s downtown district.

Plenty of local lodging options can put you right in the heart of things – The Radisson and it’s Three Rivers Lodge restaurant are perfect for walkable dining, shopping, drinking, and entertainment. Looking for something special? Check out the new Charmant Hotel just steps from Riverside Park and the Mississippi – it is amazing!

8CharmantRooftopBar

Styled to perfection, the Charmant is the epitome of luxury, but without being stuffy. We love it. The rooms are beautiful and efficiently designed, their check-in counter doubles as a colorful macaroon shop, and there are local goods in the mini-bar (even WiscoPop!). Grab a tasty Kickapoo Coffee and a croissant in the morning in the parlor, and head out on the town.

Charmant Coffee Bar, La Crosse

Charmant Parlor and Coffee Bar

One of the first places our family hits is a kid favorite: the La Crosse Children’s Museum. With a climbing wall and rotating children’s exhibits, the museum is sure to keep your kiddo busy for at least part of a day. Also check their calendar for ‘Night Out at the Museum’ evenings, usually offered once a month. Parents can drop their kids at the museum for a couple hours of structured play and then go out and enjoy a meal, shopping, or fun themselves – all for a very reasonable price.

Want to get really hands on? Go hands in…the clay! Generous Earth Pottery offers classes on the pottery wheel, and then you can head over to All Glazed Up (once your piece has dried) to paint it up! The friendly instruction and atmosphere is great for beginners and kids, as well as seasoned wheel throwers looking for studio time. Try the “Wheel Deal” to get started!

If you’re looking to bliss out, we’re also fans of the Iyengar yoga classes at The Yoga Place downtown – where Chris Saudek has been offering authentic instruction and practice since 1988. And what’s a date night without a dance? The Moonlight Dance Studio with Kellen and Kathy Burgos offer ongoing couples dance classes – 30+ years of instruction won’t get you off on the wrong foot.

With or without the kiddos, a stop at The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor is hard to beat. This La Crosse landmark makes all of their ice cream on-site and also has a fantastic old time candy counter. (The homemade waffle cones dipped in chocolate and sprinkles are totally worth it!)

The Pearl Ice Cream La Crosse

Satisfy a sweet tooth at The Pearl.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves with dessert – La Crosse has no shortage of great dining spots. Recent favorites include The Mint on State Street by UW La Crosse (farm-to-table rotating menu), the Charmant’s restaurant (French-inspired cuisine), Kate’s Pizza Amore (casual but classy pizza and more) The Waterfront (Upscale) The Breakfast Club and Pub (breakfast, tots, & John Hughes), and the Root Note (crepes) – to name just a few!

the Root Note La Crosse

Creperia by day, chill bar by night.

Four Sisters Wine Bar and Tapas near the river is also a fabulous place to enjoy the company of good friends (the flatbreads are great for sharing!), and they are also opening a second location on 4th Street which will include catering and a self serve wine bar! Speaking of 4th Street, Fayze’s is another perennial favorite with an easy, kid-friendly atmosphere and solid choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a great bakery counter. And of course, you can’t forget the local, organic food mecca, the People’s Food Co-op. Order up something delicious at the deli inside, check out Hackberry’s upstairs for a tasty sit-down setting, or buy a nosh for a hotel picnic of your own.

Pheasant at The Mint in La Crosse

Pheasant at The Mint

Once you’ve filled your belly, La Crosse can, of course, still live up to its reputation – there’s plenty of 21+ fun to be had. Some of that may have stemmed from a beer culture long-fostered by the G. Heileman Brewing Company (famous for Old Style, amongst other beers), which called La Crosse home from 1858 to 1996. These days, you’ll find more craft-style beers in La Crosse (no offense, Old Style). Pearl Street Brewery has a taproom that is open most evenings and allows you to drink and talk hops. They’re located just northeast of downtown in the old La Crosse boot factory and worth searching out. (We love the Me, Myself, and IPA and the flagship Downtown Brown is an easy tipper.)

The newest hop on the block is Turtle Stack Brewery. Located right downtown, their micro-brewery highlights local hops and community-thinking. Try a seasonal tap and take in a sunset from their giant front windows!

And the really giant beers live at the Stein Haus – you could grab a (small or huge) stein, a brat, and if it’s nice out, a lounging chair on the patio. We love the chill atmosphere!

Turltle Stack Brewery La Crosse

Since you’re going out, you should probably catch some live music – there are plenty of excellent venues hosting great shows around town. We suggest you steer clear of the bigger neon-lit joints in favor for some of the smaller taverns. On 4th you’ll find The Bodega – a favorite spot to grab a great beer and a small show – and just across the street is one of La Crosse’s coolest spots, the Root Note (we mentioned their crepes earlier). Order one of their amazing taps or a pour of their select craft spirits and see what’s going on. They feature some of the regions best performers in an intimate setting. A few blocks over The Cavalier Theatre is bringing some great regional and national artists to the region. Support live music, friends! And amidst all that fun, make sure you swing by The Casino – it is neither a casino, nor does it usually have “Lousy Service” as the sign reads – but it has been there forever, and we love them for it.

15Casino

Feeling a little rough the next day? We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of our favorite meals/salads/breakfasts/drinks: the Bloody Mary. La Crosse and many of its fine establishments have pretty much perfected it. Ride your bike up the La Crosse River State Trail to the Nutbush City Limits in Onalaska, grab a local favorite at Del’s or one of those meal-in-a-glass offerings at Fayze’s, or head up the bluff to Alpine Inn. If you’re hitting up the latter, make it an outing and trek out onto Grand Dad’s Bluff ­– the most recognizable landmark from any vantage around the city –to check out the view of lovely La Crosse below.

Speaking of biking, you might want to plan your La Crosse visit around the La Crosse Bicycle Festival (held each Labor Day Weekend) or one of the Beer By Bike Brigade (BBBB) outings. For a few years now, a skeleton crew of folks have been organizing monthly BBBB rides. They also host special off-season rides and fundraisers for great local causes. What’s not to love about beers, bikes, and like-minded camaraderie? Check the “Beer By Bikes Brigade La Crosse” Facebook page for meet-up details. There’s no registration, no fee, and lots of fun included. The only rule is that you have to be 21 to participate as the Brigade hops from establishment to establishment with stops between (and you gotta bring bike lights, of course!).

BeerByBikes2

Photo courtesy BBBB

It was through BBBB that we heard about La Crosse SOUP – and let us tell ‘ya – it’s seriously soup-er (c’mon, you gotta do it, people)! La Crosse SOUP is another monthly, community building event, but this one is about micro-granting! Community members come together to eat soup (and bread and dessert) in a designated location, celebrate the best of La Crosse, and provide funding to folks planning creative projects that will make La Crosse an even more awesome and fun place to be. The first project funded – a bicycle fix-it station where people can share tools to repair their bicycles – was built at Riverside Park with the help of the SOUP funds (funded May 2015). Cool!

While you’re at Riverside Park, go old school and pop over to check out the La Crosse Queen schedule. She’s a modern-day replica of the grand river boats that traveled the Mississippi in the late 19th century – one of the few authentic Mississippi River paddlewheel river boats still on operation in the US. And if you’re into paddleboats and river history, swing by the Riverside Museum as well.

 

The Mint Bartender La Crosse

Careful crafting at The Mint Bar

If your idea of fun doesn’t involve drinking, biking, boating, or kids museums, don’t despair: check out some of the coulee “culture” that’s so prevalent in La Crosse.

The Pump House Regional Arts Center features great exhibits and some of the best in folk and solo performers, while across the street at the new Webber Center you can catch shows from both the La Crosse Community Theatre as well as Viterbo University. The La Crosse Symphony can be heard several times throughout the year (including Decorah’s own Nori Hadley!), and The UW La Crosse Art Gallery is also worth a visit. Or if your idea of a good show is one on a screen, check out what’s playing at the Rivoli Theatre (would a beer and pizza during the movie trip your filmstrip? It does ours!)

Deaf Ear Records La Crosse

You’ll also find unique shopping from local merchants in downtown La Crosse. Kroner’s Hardware is truly an old fashioned gem with modern merchandise beyond the typical hardware store. Meanwhile just down the street and around the corner on 2nd Street you’ll find The Toy Shop – filled to the brim with fun stuff! The Deaf Ear record store on 4th is still a beacon of music, comics, tons of vinyl, and various sundries. Beyond downtown, you might (okay, definitely) want to hit the hugely-expanded Habitat for Humanity “Re-Store” in its new location on the outskirts of town. Inventory of used home and construction wares changes by the day and varies incredibly (Aryn loves it!).

And, finally, if you like a good festival, this river town will definitely like you! From Oktoberfest to Irishfest to the annual RiverFest, Great River Folk Festival, Labor Day weekend La Crosse Bicycle Festival, and the Rotary Lights holiday display alongside that great Mississippi River, truly celebrate the seasons in this amazing river town.

So drive up, down, or over and park the car. Historic downtown La Crosse is made for walking – besides, a little fresh air between juke-joints is perfect, and a bit of exercise is the perfect excuse to enjoy that late night slice at Polito’s.

9Third_Street

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Benji Nichols has been digging around downtown La Crosse since he was a kid and loves to escape now and again to a handful of favorite haunts along the Mississippi River. He is thrilled to see La Crosse continue to re-invent itself.