Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Wisconsin’s northwoods for some rest and relaxation. During my time there I dined at some of the popular restaurants in the Minocqua-Boulder Junction area. I also visited some other interesting spots for food and drink and even checked out Minocqua’s Beef-a-Rama. Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be posting about the trip. The first installment is about the Outdoorsman Restaurant.
Located in Boulder Junction, the Outdoorsman has been a downtown fixture for years (albeit with different owners) . I actually recall eating here years ago while on a fishing trip with a college buddy. A few years ago a new couple bought it and transformed the menu into something that can only be described as one of the most ambitious and unique menus I have seen not only up north but probably in the state, the Outdoorsman offers so many interesting dishes that I cannot wait to go back.
Looking through the menu I was intrigued by the Confit of Pheasant with pasta, mushrooms and Pheasant prosciutto as well as other wild game offerings including boar, elk, ostrich fillets, roasted duck, rabbit, and bison. I don’t recall all of the details of each preparation and the menu on their website is not updated. I have e-mailed them to get the latest menu so I can do justice to it. I will update this posting when I get more information.
Trying to whittle down my choices, I asked the waitress what she would recommend. When she said the pork chop or the chicken I knew I was going to have to chose on my own. No doubt the chicken and the stuffed pork chop are probably great dishes and I am guessing in a place like northern Wisconsin, quite popular given the meat and potatoes leanings of its inhabitants and visitors. But when a waitress recommends those dishes over the wild game specialties that are the restaurants hallmark, I simply cannot trust that recommendation. I asked her about the Wild Game Combination and I could tell by her reaction that she had never tried it and had no intention of ever trying it. Undeterred and unable to figure out what one of the many dishes I wanted to try (honestly there were at least 10 dishes I wanted) I took the easy way out and went for the combo so I could try three different meats.
With dinner you can get soup or a salad bar. The soup was either roasted cauliflower or squash with blue cheese. Recalling that a poster over at the Chicago based LTH forums raved about the squash soup, I tried that. I was rewarded with some of the best butternut squash soup ever. It was pureed and had a light but creamy consistency. There was a nice kick from what I am guessing was cayenne pepper and the blue cheese crumbles were so tiny they practically melted into the soup. I was worried that the cheese would overpower it, but it worked flawlessly. I loved this soup. I was also given a basket of bread and some oil for dipping, but I’ll address that later.
Shortly after finishing every last drop of the soup I was presented with a little cup of Merlot peach sorbet (I had completely forgotten that it was offered with dinner). It was a refreshing change of pace and it helped cleanse my palate for my entree which arrived as I was finishing the sorbet.
The entree presentation was impressive. The plate included a Venison Chop, Elk Loin, and Ostrich Fillet. The perfectly prepared meats were all medium rare and covered with roasted pistachios and a a tart blackberry sauce. The blackberry sauce served two purposes. The sweetness and tartness of the sauce cut through the rich taste of the meat and it also tied the three different meats together, unifying the entire dish. Under the meat were some delicious garlic mashed potatoes. There were also zucchini and some other vegetables. The Elk Loin was spectacular. It was rosy-red, moist, and flavorful and was the star of the plate. It didn’t even need the sauce it was that good. The ostrich was also very good. To date I had only had ground ostrich and I was glad to try it in its most simple form. The venison chop was the protein that benefited the most from the sauce. Venison has has a slightly gamey taste and the sauce cut right through it. The pistachios added a nice crunchy textural element.
I only had two very minor complaints about the restaurant. First was about the bread and oil that is served with each dinner. The bread was actually very good but it was cut so thin (maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch) you really couldn’t enjoy the crispy crust and chewy interior. They should at least cut it a 1/2 inch or more. It was served with some very bland olive oil. The oil was very light in color and didn’t taste like extra virgin leading me to believe it was regular light olive oil (and not very good light olive oil at that). They cracked some pepper over it, but it didn’t help. They probably could have added some Italian seasonings or balsamic vinegar and gotten away with it but if you are going to serve straight up olive oil for dipping at least make sure it tastes good. I should have just asked for butter instead.
My second complaint, and its a minor one, was with my server’s lack of knowledge in the menu and ingredients. She called the bread garlic bread but I couldn’t detect a hint of garlic. Maybe she worked at an Italian restaurant prior to here. I also overheard her tell a nearby table, who asked what capers were, that capers were fish eggs. I turned around and was about to tell her and them what capers really were but to her credit she saved herself and told them she would check with the kitchen. Someone came out (maybe one of the owners) and explained to the customers what capers were and how they tasted. They ordered Walleye Sandwiches instead. I think the initial thought of eating fish eggs turned them off and they couldn’t get that idea out of their head. I know that decent help is hard to find, especially up north, but if you don’t keep your staff informed it will ultimately hurt business. What she lacked in knowledge of the menu (she also seemed to know nothing about the wild game offerings) she more than made up in service, which was impeccable.
I think that the Outdoorsman is one of the best, if not the best restaurant I have eaten at in the Northwoods. The menu is unlike anything you will find up there, yet there is enough stuff to satisfy the picky eater in your group.
EatWisconsin Rating: 4 out of 5.
Rating Guide: 0=Absolutely terrible, avoid at all costs, 1=Bad, 2=Mediocre/Average, 3= Admirable, 4=Excellent, 5=Sublime
The Outdoorsman Restaurant is located at 10383 Main Street in downtown Boulder Junction . Phone: 262-785-0858 http://www.outdoorsmanrestaurant.com/