In my last post, I shared some of the highlights of my most recent road trip to Milwaukee. I had too much fun to fit it all in to one post, so here’s the rest of our adventure, featuring some of Wisconsin’s most iconic foods.
Saturday night, we were headed to the Wisconsin State Fair, located just a short drive from downtown Milwaukee. As both a vegetarian and a health-nut, I confess I was a bit nervous about what I might be able to eat at the fair, so we had a light meal beforehand at Brewed Cafe on Brady Street.
I loved the cozy coffee-shop vibe at Brewed, and also their very vegetarian friendly menu which included Breakfast All Day, homemade chili, and flat-bread pizzas in addition to coffees, teas, and desserts.
I ordered a hearty bowl of Vegetarian Chili. Everyone else in our group ordered different variations of the Flat Bread Pizzas, including the one pictured below, with pesto and artichoke hearts. We were totally eyeing the Very Berry Un-Birthday Cake (above), but instead saved room for dessert at the fair.
And then we were off to my first ever State Fair!
Our first stop was the Wisconsin State Fair Cream Puff Pavilion. This was an 18,000 square foot pavilion devoted entirely to Cream Puffs, the iconic treat of the Wisconsin State Fair. Over 355,000 of these Cream Puffs were sold this year, during just the 11 days the fair was open. Kate, Amy, and I split one of these monsters 3-ways.
The majority of the State Fair food lived up to the State Fair stereotype of meat-heavy and fried foods. In fact, I had to laugh at this sign for Dr. Vegetable’s fresh deep fried veggies.
However, there were some healthier foods hidden at the fair in the Wisconsin Products Pavillion… and there were no lines for the healthy treats!
The first stand I visited was the Wisconsin Apple Grower’s Association booth. They had dozens of different apple desserts for sale including apple pies, turnovers, cobblers, etc…and yes, just plain apples too, though the cashier looked confused by my order.
My favorite stand was the Wisconsin Honey Producer’s. I was eager to purchase my first ever jar of Bee Pollen, a food supplement rich in Vitamin B, an important nutrient for vegetarians. Although, to be honest, I probably would have bought just about anything from this guy:
I was also excited to see the Wisconsin Cherry Grower’s Association, where I was able to sample the infamous Door County Cherries. I also bought a perfectly snack-sized pouch of these to bring home for Mike to try.
Other booths in the Wisconsin State Foods pavilion included: grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes, and maple syrup. Overall, there was plenty there to make a hearty, vegetarian meal!
But there was much more to the fair than just eating…
We also saw some of the state’s most beautiful farm animals. After learning so much recently about cruel treatment of animals in factory farming practices, it was refreshing to see such well-cared for animals for a change. These were the cleanest, freshest smelling barns I’ve ever been in, though I think the animals would have much preferred to have stayed at home.
One of my favorite parts of the fair was the Horticulture, Craft, and Culinary Pavilion, where we browsed the prize-winners in various categories including heirloom tomatoes, a bonsai competition, and floral contests.
I especially enjoyed browsing a very long aisle of refrigerated displays of the foods entered in the culinary contest. Entering one of these contests looks like a lot of fun, though from browsing the submissions, it was clear that nutrition was not one of the judging criteria.
Lastly, we made our way over to the Midway to check out the bright lights and Carnival games.
Overall, we had a very fun time at the fair, and I was able to get a true taste of Wisconsin, without over-indulging!
We stayed overnight in Milwaukee, and then continued our foodie adventures the next morning, on the drive back to Chicago.
First, we stopped at the Mars Cheese Castle, right along the side of I-94 about half-way between the two cities. I’ve driven by this place countless times, but thanks to Amy’s curiosity, we stopped in for my first time.
While I don’t think Mars Cheese Castle is a destination in itself, it was a pleasant surprise and made for a great little break from driving. In addition to cheese, Mars Cheese Castle also sells everything that pairs well with cheese, including wines, jams, olives, and breads.
We each bought a couple of cheeses, including a smoked cheddar, a Balsamic BellaVitano, and a horseradish cheese that Amy enjoyed so much, she made a pizza with it later in the week!
Last on our itinerary, just a short drive from the Cheese Castle, we stopped by the Jelly Belly Visitor Center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.
The Jelly Belly Visitor center offers FREE tours to learn more about the history and manufacturing of Jelly Belly jelly beans. The tour involves a ‘train’ ride through the ware-house, with large screen video monitors narrating throughout. It’s really nothing too exciting, but it’s just 15 minutes long, and for participating you get to wear a fun hat, and take home a complimentary bag of beans.
The Jelly Belly Visitor store is also fun to visit. At the “Sample Bar”, you can sample as many different flavors of Jelly Belly candy as you’d like. The store also sells irregular Jelly Bellys (beans that are too big or too small), called “Belly Flops” at a discount, which make for a fun souvenir.
That concludes my most recent Wisconsin adventure! Stay tuned for my next post about my first social dining experience with GrubWithUs!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever been to a State Fair?
Have you toured any factories or warehouses?