Posts Tagged: The Mint

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!

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

Driftless Day Trip: Coulee Region

DDT_Coulees_TopPic1

Driftless Day Trip: Winter in the Coulee Region!
Adventuring to Mt. La Crosse, Snowflake Ski Club, & Kickapoo Valley Reserve

By Benji Nichols

Winter in the Driftless is a fickle season – cold and dark, but not always enough snow to have all the fun. So what’s a Midwesterner to do? I learned to ski at the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Nor-Ski hill in Decorah (rest in sweet peace, you glove-eating monster). Literally, my first downhill runs were with duct-taped boots on just enough natural snow to cover the corn stubble – but it was enough to plant in me a lifelong love of skiing and snow sports. For this Driftless Day Trip, we’ve decided to round-up a couple of our favorite places to swoosh, snowshoe, and take in the incredible winter light of the Coulee Region. Buckle up and get out there to explore the hills and coulees this winter!

What’s a coulee? The word coulee comes from the Canadian French coulée, from French word couler meaning “to flow”. West central Wisconsin, aka the Coulee Region, has been dissected by water erosion into a series of narrow ridges separated by steep-sided valleys called coulees.

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Driftless is a term we use a lot here at Inspire(d), as we feel like it truly encompasses this amazing region of ours. The term has come to be used fairly widely, but if you really want to be in the heart of the Driftless, Western Wisconsin – particularly in and around Vernon County – is where’s it’s at. It also happens to embody a few of the more alluring and unique winter activities in the region. A mid-winter drive along the Mississippi River valley in any direction is almost guaranteed to produce bald eagle watching of epic proportions, and the scenic views only get better as you leave the river and wind up through the coulees.

MtLaCrosse

SPOTlight: Mt. La Crosse

Just north of Chipmunk Coulee on River Road (really – it’s a place! … leave it to the Bohemians!), but south of La Crosse proper, is the turn-off for a special set of hills tucked perfectly off the Mississippi. Back in 1959, Mr. Ted Motchman saw these 200 acres of hillside and thought they looked just about right for strapping a couple of narrow boards on your feet and whooshing downhill. An ‘A’ Frame was erected, and adventurers of all ages flocked to show their support of alpine (downhill) skiing. Mt. La Crosse has been in continuous operation since, now with three chair lifts, a beginner tow-rope, and modern snow-making and grooming. They provide a fantastic regional skiing outlet that is family friendly and won’t break the bank. Terrain includes Wisconsin’s longest ski run (Mileaway), and Mid-America’s steepest trail (Damnation – really, it’s a doozie!). Action park and snowboard features also change up over the season to provide seasoned riders even more reasons to keep coming back, as well as high school ski racing action and state competitions. Throw in various special evening rates (the hills are all lit up!), as well as gear and lesson packages (snow boards too!), and these hills keep the adventuring alive as long as temps allow. We’re also fans of the St. Bernard Room, where you can enjoy a cozy view of the slopes with a Spotted Cow or warm beverage in hand. Always check the website or call ahead for conditions and hours – particularly for season opening and closing dates, which typically run from late November to early March.

Details: Mt. La Crosse
N5549 Old Town Hall Rd
La Crosse, Wisconsin
(608) 788-0044

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If you think swooshing down the snowy slopes is adventurous, you’ll want to hang on to your stocking cap for what’s up next! Just up River Road you can catch Highway 14 toward Coon Valley. We’re headed to Westby, another well-known Norwegian enclave, then just past it on County Road P. Keep an eye out – you’ll see a large scaffolding structure jutting off one of the hilltops. What could be a better dead-of-the-winter Norwegian activity than – yep – Ski Jumping?!

SnowflakeSkiClub
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Special thanks to Chad Berger/Lone Wolf Studios, Westby,WI for images)

Spotlight: Snowflake Ski Club

Friends, we’re not talking about sledding buddies mounding up a pile of snow here; we mean the real deal: Skiers in full suits gracefully swooping down an enormous (65 Meter – seriously!) jump and sailing off the end to hover over a snow covered hill that disappears beneath them. Really, its just like the Olympics – only in rural Wisconsin, and with bonfires, and music, and beverages, and… anyhow. The Junior Ski Jumping Competition is Sunday, January 10, 2016 where youngsters compete on all four sizes of ski jumps, while the Snowflake Ski Club Jumping Tournament runs February 5-6 with competitors participating from around the world. Friday night kicks off with opening ceremonies, followed by competition on the lighted course, and more fun continuing Saturday during the daylight. And if spectating isn’t enough, Snowflake offers memberships for youth and the young-at-heart that actually allow you to train to ski jump. Yep. Put that on your bucket list. Or just enjoy the festivities from the safety of the sidelines with a crowd that assumes you’ve all been friends since Shep was a pup.

Details: Snowflake Ski Club
E7940 County Rd P, Westby, WI 54667
(608) 634-3211

Junior Ski Jumping Competition – Sunday, January 10, 2016

Come see junior ski jumpers from around the Midwest compete on the 10, 20, 40, and 65-meter ski jumps. Competitors on the 65-meter jump will be qualifying for a spot on the Junior National Team to compete at the 2016 National Ski Jumping Competition. Free admission for spectators!

Snowflake Ski Club Jumping Tournament – February 5-6, 2016

Professional skiers come from around the globe to compete in this Olympic-like event on the 65-meter jump. Friday opening ceremonies are at 7 pm, with competition following at 7:30 pm. Saturday’s fun starts off at noon. Admission buttons are for sale on site.

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Now, if you were to head east on that same County Road ‘P’ out of Westby and just keep going, theoretically you’d end up right about at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We’d give you at least a 65 percent chance of this, simply because the roads are winding, the scenery is beautiful, and you just might decide to get lost in the rolling countryside. But really, you should probably consult a map to find the best way to the KVR Visitor Center from your current location. Highway 82 to La Farge will get you close, or Highway 131 south out of Ontario will take you right through the reserve. Some might say that from this side of the river “you can’t get there from here,” but we’re here to tell you that, like most things, getting there is half the fun – and it’s worth the drive to get out into the wilderness. All that said, if you’ve got 4WD or just a good cross-country sense of adventure, our next destination should be perfect!

Spotlight: Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR)

KVRIf you’re an avid Inspire(d) reader, then chances are you’ve read our praises of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve before. The KVR has a fascinating and controversial history – stemming from the “La Farge Dam Project” that never came to fruition – but did relocate 149 farmers by the early 1970s and left an enormous piece of open country in Vernon County. After much political to-do, the project was forever left behind by the Army Corps of Engineers in the mid 1990s and the land was split between the Ho-Chunk Nation and the State of Wisconsin. Over 8,000 acres make up this incredible span of the Kickapoo River with high scenic hills, bluffs, and rock outcroppings standing several hundred feet tall. A gorgeous visitors center opened in 2004 and is a great starting point for first time visitors. It also houses several exhibits and galleries featuring great displays on geology, Native American history, and reserve information. Winter 2016 KVR offerings include an Ice Cave Hike Series, the KVR Winter Festival on January 9, and the “Dam Phunski” Cross Country Ski Race January 23. The visitor’s center and trails are open all winter for hiking and snowshoeing – but please note that trail permits are required for use and available at the Visitor Center as well as 13 self-registration stations in the reserve.

Details: Kickapoo Valley Reserve
S3661 State Highway 131 (visitor center)
La Farge, WI 54639
(608) 625-2960

Attending one of the following events is a great way to jump into the sprawling KVR and get an introduction into one of our regions most incredible pieces of wilderness.

Ice Cave Hike Series

Visit several spectacular ice caves and frozen waterfalls. Participants will also have the chance to try traditional and modern snowshoes. There will be lots of outdoor discoveries and, depending on the hike leader, the following topics might be discussed: winter wildlife ecology, geology, biology, and history of the Kickapoo Reserve. The hike is rated moderate to difficult. Dress for the weather and don’t forget your camera! Saturdays: January 30, February 20, 27. 12:30 – 4:00 pm

Fee: $10/Person; $9/KVR Friend; $5/Kids 12-18
Registration Deadline: Saturday prior to each hike

Winter Festival
Saturday, January 9, 2016
8:30 am – 4:00 pm

The KVR Winter Festival highlights fun cold-weather-friendly activities such as skating, sledding, skiing, archery, snow sculpture slide, ice cave hikes, birds of prey, face painting, horse-drawn bobsled rides, snowshoe exhibit, and the Tri-state Malamute Club sled dog race. The La Farge Lions Club hosts an annual chili and bread contest for the public and a Kickapoo Quick Auction of goods and services produced in the Kickapoo Valley raises funds for the KVR Education Program. Whoohoo!

Dam Phunski
Saturday, January 23, 2016, 10:00 am

The Dam Phunski is a classic and freestyle cross-country ski course along the scenic Old Highway 131 Trail. Courses include a 1k loop for youth, a 5k point-to-point for juniors and phunskiers of all ages, and a 10k point-to-point for adults.

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It’s worth noting that all three of these winter destinations are in rural locations. La Crosse, Wisconsin, is by far the closest urban hub for this adventure, and a grand place to cozy up on a winter night.

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With such dining and accommodations as the new Charmont Hotel (its amaaaazing!), as well as our favorite cozy eatery The Mint – and fantastic nightlife downtown, La Crosse can be a great jumping off spot for any of the above adventures.

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Viroqua is also quite central to the KVR and Snowflake Ski Jump. Lodging is a bit more sparse, but with outlets like the Viroqua Food Co-op, Rooted Spoon/219 Drinkery, the incredible Driftless Café, and Kickapoo Coffee’s mothership – plus a charming downtown – it’s worth the trip. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention the Kickapoo Valley Ranch. If you really want to get lost in a cozy cabin in the woods – literally next to the KVR – this is it. You can see our Driftless Day Trips for more ideas on both La Crosse and Viroqua at iloveinspired.com.

So bundle up, pack warm, and bring your sense of adventure this winter – The Driftless is waiting for you!

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bike_sunset

Feeling Inspire(d) to get outside? How about on a FAT BIKE?!

If these adventures leave you saying, “what’s next?”, we’d love to suggest you get out on two wheels – even in the midst of winter! If you haven’t had the chance to ride a “fat” mountain bike yet, now is the time! Think of a standard mountain bike, but with frame accommodations to fit tires 4”+. The extra large tires allow you to run at low air pressures giving great traction on snow, sand, and all sorts of terrain. Local trail organizations and systems like Decorah’s DHPT, Upper Hixon in La Crosse, and Vernon Trails in Viroqua are even grooming some trails for winter riding. Conditions vary widely – and day by day throughout winter ­– but believe us: fat biking is a great workout and a fun way to burn off the winter blahs. Several regional shops are now renting fat bikes as well – Decorah Bicycles, Blue Heron Bicycle Works in Onalaska, and Blue Dog Cycles in Viroqua are all great starting points.

The Mint La Crosse

Pheasant

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.

BarCocktailsDessert

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.

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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.

ChalkboardTheMint_Menu

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
www.facebook.com/TheMintLaCrosse

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:
Ingredient:
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

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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!