A visit to Minocqua wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Ann Marie’s Fine Coffee and Tea in downtown Minocqua. Its hard to miss this unique store because it is setback from the street and the front yard has a very impressive garden, as you can see by the photo above. As you approach the door you may catch a whiff of the unmistakable scent of roasting coffee. Ann Marie’s roasts all of their own coffee and anyone who has tried some will attest to just how good it is. They have a lot of traditional style coffees like Jamaican Blue Mountain, Colombian, and Sumatra and they also do a great job with flavored coffees, my favorites being the Sinful Nut and Maple Nut. They always have samples available and after one sip, you will find yourself picking up a pound of their flavor of the day. They also have sample packs that make about 2 pots so you can try flavors before you commit to purchasing a whole pound. The great thing about Ann Marie’s are the employees. They are extremely friendly and helpful. Aside from coffee, Ann Marie’s has teas, pottery, and a lot of gourmet items.
Another must-stop for me is the Meat Market in Lake Tomahawk. Located around 8-10 miles southeast of Minocqua on Highway 47, the Meat Market is famous for their beef jerky. While the price of the Jerky is getting obnoxious (they are up to 18 or 20 bucks a pound now), it is hard to resist. Smoky, salty, and full of beef flavor, grab yourself a bag and you will see why almost everyone in the store orders at least a 1/4 pound. Their Onion and Pepper Cheese Brats are outstanding and their steaks are big, fresh, and very good. They also have smoked fish and poultry which I really enjoy. It is located at 7259 State Highway 47.
The Island Cafe has been a Minocqua institution since 1957 and I have eaten there a handful of times over the years. My recent visit was the most memorable. I had the Vegetarian Eggs Benedict which was 2 eggs poached on an English muffin with eggplant, tomato, fresh spinach, topped with their our own creamy hollandaise sauce. I added a side of American Fries which were perfectly browned and served with onions (or without if you prefer). These eggs Benedict were nothing short of outstanding. The menu brags that Gourmet Magazine wanted the recipe. I could see why. These could have been served at an upscale brunch for twice the price (which is around 7 bucks) and I would still be happy with them. Everything was expertly seasoned. With food like this I am still amazed that their are 30 min to 1 hour waits for tables at nearby chains Country Kitchen and Perkins. The Island Cafe blows anything they could even dream of offering away. It just goes to prove that many Wisconsinites just like bland, crappy food as long it is served in mass quantities. The Island Cafe also serves lunch and dinner and has an impressive selection of Greek entrees. The Island Cafe is at 314 Oneida Street in downtown Minocqua.
Another great place in Minocqua is the Baker’s House. Located on Front Street, just off the main drag, there is almost always a line of people waiting to buy some of their awesome baked goods. The best thing about this place is their unabashed use of butter in their recipes. Their website even states “Everything we make is handmade with real butter (no shortening) and all natural ingredients. Sadly, the “Real Thing” is hard to find these days – there are fewer than a dozen bakeries in the United States who make everything this way.” While I would dispute their claim that there are less than 12 bakeries that are doing this, they are still a rarity. Coconut macaroons are a real standout as are their chocolate chip and other cookies. People love the Cinnamon bread (myself included) and cheesebreads. I was equally impressed with their homemade biscotti which is filled with nuts and drizzled with chocolate. One product that didn’t impress was a loaf of French Bread. It looked like it would be a chewy baguette style loaf so I was somewhat disappointed when I cut into it and it was kind of light and fluffy like standard fare Italian Bread. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I expected. If you want traditional French baguette try LaBaguette, which is located on Highway 51 (accessable fron the northbound lanes) by the AmericInn. They also have good pastries, especially the flaky and buttery croissants.
By far my favorite business in Minocqua is the Minocqua Brewing Company. A couple of years ago there was a fire and it was closed for a while. Then some new people bought it and reopened it. Unlike previous owners and workers the new people are great. They are friendly and knowledgeable. I used to try and go there after 9 pm and the bartenders were trying to close down for the night. They usually didn’t have all of their beers on tap, and the bartenders were not very friendly. Not so anymore. I have been in there 3 times since the new owners came in and every time I have had a great experience. The beer is tasty and best of all, it is non-smoking. They have a sampler so you can try small glasses of all of their brews, which I recommend for the first timer. My favorite is the pale ale, which is a great bitter beer with a nice balance of malt. The Wild Rice Lager is their hallmark beer. They use Wild Rice in the brewing process giving it a nice nutty flavor. The Porter is bold and malty with a bit of an edge from the rye used. If you are trying to convert someone into a microbrew fan I would go for the Wheat or the Red. My only complaint is that they no longer bottle their beer and sell at at Trig’s. You can get a growler, but its just not the same. I haven’t eaten here yet, but some friends have told me their sandwiches and wings (which change daily) are quite tasty. Congratulations to the Minocqua Brewing Company for receiving the Discover Wisconsin Restaurant of the Month award this month!
Want a no frills, but excellent Fish Fry? Head over to Stingray’s Bar and Grill in Woodruff. The Walleye Pike fish fry was great. Two large, moist, flaky and flavorful fillets are battered and deep fried to a golden crispy brown. This was better Walleye than I have had at much more pricey restaurants. The shoestring fries served with it are served hot and crispy. You also get a trip to the salad bar, which is very pedestrian with institutional dressings iceberg lettuce and fake bacon bits. The salad I composed was ok, but its only purpose was to keep me occupied until my fish came. Don’t worry about it. You will soon forget about the mediocre salad after you take one bite of the fish. I have also been informed that they make a pretty good pub burger as well. Better than the Little Musky? I guess I will have to try one and see. Stingrays is located134 Highway 51 North, Woodruff, WI.