Bayfield or Bust: Our 10-Stop Dining Roadtrip to Wisconsin’s South Shore

Delta Diner outside of Ashland, Wisconsin // Photo by Becca Dilley

Delta Diner outside of Ashland, Wisconsin // Photo by Becca Dilley

If you’re one of the thousands of people heading north and east to Wisconsin’s famous Bayfield Apple Festival this weekend, wear some stretchy pants—the crescent-shaped land of Chequamegon Bay has a lot more than fruit to offer its visitors.

The South Shore community is relatively small—about 30,000 people living in the coastal counties of Ashland and Bayfield that include the communities of Ashland, Washburn, Bayfield, and Madeline Island. Despite that, there’s no lack of seriously interesting places to eat and drink. This 10-stop roundup isn’t exhaustive—we could’ve easily expanded it to 20 spots given the time and budget.

A word on route: rather than riding up 35W for the bulk of the trip from Minneapolis, we took the far more scenic trip north on WI-63. This route also offered us the opportunity to stop at Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland, Wisconsin. Louie’s is a powerhouse: When we arrived on a Sunday, it was packed with locals buying dozens of varieties of freshly made bratwurst, smoked hams, Wisconsin cheese, jerky, summer sausages, frozen stuffed bacon-wrapped chicken breasts, locally made chocolate confections, and more. The place is practically wallpapered in sausage- and meat-related awards; they take their craft quite seriously. Louie’s Finer Meats, 2025 Superior Ave., Cumberland, WI, 715-822-4728

Ashland Area

Photos by Becca Dilley

Talk to anyone in Ashland about where to eat and the Delta Diner will inevitably be mentioned early in the conversation. This classic diner is located about 30 minutes south of Ashland, more or less buried in the woods. Despite that, it gets busy quickly, so show up when it opens at 8am or be prepared to wait. The food, it must be said, is worth both the drive and the struggle to get through the doors. The first thing on the menu are the Norwegian Pancakes ($8.75), five little, malty, perfectly chewy, almost crepe-like discs that are among the best we’ve had (right up there with Al’s Breakfast, to give you a sense of scale). We ordered the Dutch Baby (on special, $13) and were charmed by the browning, egginess, and chew of this strawberry, whipped cream, and lemon curd-filled bowl of souffle-like pancake. And our Blueberry Stuffed French Toast ($9), while unremarkable, got the job done. Complimentary sides of bacon were excellent—crispy, light, and full flavored. And our side of hash browns ($4) was beautifully browned and sported a tremendously tender, creamy potato center.

Our only mild complaint? It wasn’t clear when ordering that the restaurant’s “no tipping policy” was really a mandatory 20 percent service charge on the overall bill. We don’t have any kind of philosophical objection to service charges, but it should be more transparently presented to diners. Delta Diner, 14385 County Highway H, Delta, WI, 715-372-6666

The Ashland Baking Company in Ashland, Wisconsin // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Ashland Baking Company in Ashland, Wisconsin // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Ashland Baking Company takes baking seriously. Its Pain Au Chocolat ($3) was crispy, tender, wonderfully buttery, and filled with seriously rich and cocoa-forward chocolate. The Raspberry-Cheese Danish ($3) was similarly flakey and rich, with a natural-tasting jam filling and a perfect chew to its texture. And our orange iced Cardamom Croissant ($3) was a marvel of subtle flavor combined with wonderful butter texture. These guys know their laminated dough. Ashland Baking Company, 212 Chapple Ave., Ashland, WI, 715-682-6010

Photo by Becca Dilley

Baked goods from Ashland Baking Company // Photo by Becca Dilley

 

Washburn Area

The North Coast Coffee shop // Photo by Becca Dilley

The North Coast Coffee shop // Photo by Becca Dilley

We rolled through North Coast Coffee (yes, they have a drive through!) and grabbed a triple Ghirardelli Mocha ($4.65), and were not at all disappointed by what we got: a silly-sweet chocolate bomb with enough dark chocolate and real espresso flavor to balance out the sugar and create something legitimately delicious. Three shots of espresso kept us going through the afternoon, too. North Coast Coffee, 509 W. Bayfield St., Washburn, WI, 715-373-0241

Left: The Rueben Sandwich. Right: The Falafel Sandwich // Photos by Becca Dilley

Left: The Reuben Sandwich. Right: The Falafel Sandwich // Photos by Becca Dilley

Café Coco is the kind of community spot that makes total sense in the (Chequamegon) Bay Area: it’s earthy, it’s homey, it’s rich in gluten-free and vegan options, and it’s clearly a hub for locals as much as it is a welcomed stop for visitors. Their Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie ($1.25) was rich as the dickens, with a serious double blast of chocolate flavor. The restaurant’s Falafel Sandwich ($10.50) erred on the side of vegetables at the expense of carbs and could have used more crispy crunch to the falafel itself, but it was ultimately wholesome and satisfying. Better was the Corned Beef Reuben ($10), which sported super-tangy, rich Russian dressing and tender beef on tender bread with legit caraway flavor. And our Raspberry Lemonade ($3) was just stellar—a lot of natural raspberry and lemon flavor, but enough sugar to create a balanced, thirst-quenching drink. Café Coco, 1131, 146 W. Bayfield St., Washburn, WI, 715-373-2253

 

Bayfield Area

The Fat Radish // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Fat Radish // Photo by Becca Dilley

Sushi? In Bayfield? Our expectations were low, but The Fat Radish delivered some of the tastiest maki we’ve had in years—brilliantly tender, fresh, and light in flavor, and remarkably neat in presentation. The Cali Rolls ($15) brought together legit lump crab (not fish-based crab sticks), avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, and a skillfully made house sushi rice, plus a Sriracha mango sauce applied with discretion. Also outstanding was the Hot Artichoke + Banana Pepper Dip ($9), an updated and markedly improved version of the hot artichoke dip appetizer that is a staple just about everywhere in the region. The Fat Radish version brings the heat and tang of banana peppers to the creamy, cheesy, artichoke-y party and balances everything skillfully. We couldn’t stop eating it.

The Cali Rolls // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Cali Rolls // Photo by Becca Dilley

Our entrees fell short of our stellar appetizers but not by much. The Lake Superior Cobb Salad ($15) united Locally Laid hard-boiled eggs with lake trout, avocado, bacon, Wisconsin blue cheese, and a maple-balsamic vinaigrette to create a harmonious landscape of locally sourced flavors. And our Black Sauce Duck ($24) was a lot: its sweetness (from the house hoisin sauce) and saltiness (from the tamarin) were both really intense, and if you didn’t get cooling vegetables or pickled kimchi in your bite, either could overwhelm your palate. The duck had a chew to it but wasn’t undercooked, and the meat itself was deliciously full flavored. The Fat Radish, 200 Rittenhouse Ave., Bayfield, WI, 715-779-9700

The Blueberry Peach Pie // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Blueberry Peach Pie // Photo by Becca Dilley

This is no secret to anyone who has been to Bayfield before, but Judy’s Gourmet Garage is still selling some of the region’s tastiest pies from a garage attached to a house just outside of town. You’ll never stumble into a bad pie, but if you see the Blueberry Peach Pie ($14) you can feel extra-good about your choice—we loved the tart kick of the fruit paired with the firm, almost crunchy sweetness of the pie’s crust. The pie looked pale and underbaked, but it tasted like a dream. Judy’s Gourmet Garage, 85130 WI-13 Trunk, Bayfield, WI, 715-779-5365

Kickapoo Coffee // Photo by Becca Dilley

Kickapoo Coffee // Photo by Becca Dilley

Viroqua, Wisconsin-based Kickapoo Coffee has built itself into a regional brand and is well-regarded for its roasting prowess. It is therefore awesome to see them set up a physical cafe in the heart of Bayfield—the bright, roomy shop is a perfect spot for a bit of downtime and a roasty, complex cup of joe ($3). Kickapoo Coffee, 117 Rittenhouse Ave., Bayfield, WI, 715-913-0330

The exterior of Copper Crow Distillery // Photo by Becca Dilley

The exterior of Copper Crow Distillery // Photo by Becca Dilley

When cocktail hour arrives (on Friday through Sunday), consider a short drive north to the newly opened Copper Crow Distillery. It’s one of the nation’s few American Indian–owned distilleries on reservation land, according to owners Linda and Curt Basina, who members of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The distillery’s charming little cocktail room serves a diverse cocktail menu revolving around the house spirit, a vodka made from Wisconsin wheat. The champion of the four cocktails we tried was the Frog Bite ($8), which unites vodka, lime, agave, and jalapenos. While the cocktail sported a palpable heat, the real heart of the Frog Bite was the fruity character of the jalapeno, which was extracted by the vodka and transformed into the mellow, joyful soul of the drink. (We’ll have a longer article about Copper Crow coming out later this month—there’s quite a story to tell.) Copper Crow Distillery, #37395, 54814 State Hwy 13, Bayfield, WI, 715-779-0275

The Frog Bite sits in the forefront of the image // Photo by Becca Dilley

The Frog Bite and other cocktails at Copper Crow Distillery // Photo by Becca Dilley

Madeline Island

Seiche Cafe // Photo by Becca Dilley

Seiche Cafe // Photo by Becca Dilley

Located on the lake and a mere biscuit’s throw from the ferry terminal on Madeline Island, Cafe Seiche delivers a surprising amount of class and production value considering its humble, converted-cabin feel. Our Caramelized Fennel-Orange and Whitefish Corn Chowder on Herbed Jasmine Rice ($24) came with a creamy vegetable sauce and was mellow, lively, and nourishing.

Plum-Balsamic Reduction Pesto on Lake Superior Trout // Photo by Becca Dilley

Plum-Balsamic Reduction Pesto on Lake Superior Trout // Photo by Becca Dilley

The fish was cooked beautifully and almost sweet. And our Plum-Balsamic Reduction Pesto on Lake Superior Trout ($25) brought together a couple of bold flavors (olives and the balsamic) that drove the dish. The fish had to fight a bit to get a word in edgewise, but when taken with the white wine Parmesan sauce and linguine, it was easy to get some delicious bites. Cafe Seiche, 794 Fort Road, La Pointe, WI, 715-747-2033


Correction: Delta Diner is 30 minutes outside of Ashland, not 15 minutes.