Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bottled apple pie and Amish butter in Tomah November 2, 2011

UP UNTIL SUNDAY, Tomah, Wisconsin, meant little to me except as the half-way point between my home 2 ½ hours away in southeastern Minnesota and my daughter Miranda’s home 2 ½ hours away in eastern Wisconsin.

Located near the intersection of Interstates 90 and 94, this town of around 10,000 has been the ideal place to stop and stretch before jumping onto two-lane, wood-edged Wisconsin State Highway 21 which runs through umpteen mostly tiny towns all the way to Oshkosh. Not that I have an issue with small towns and woods and such. But if you want to make time and avoid deer, this highway is not the one to take.

Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a minute thinking of the long stretches of woods without a home in sight, miles and miles without cell phone service, cranberry bogs hugging the roadway, dead muskrats and dead deer.

Oh, and one other tidbit you should know about Highway 21. Amish travel this narrow and busy state highway. In their buggies. Day or night. And especially on Sundays.

But back to Tomah, which, by the way, also happens to have a fabulous cheese shop, Humbird Cheese, conveniently positioned right off I-94 at its intersection with Highway 21.

Humbird Cheese, a popular tourist stop at Tomah, Wisconsin.

On Sunday, I wasn’t looking for a cheese shop, but rather a place where my husband and I could meet our daughter and her friend Gerardo for lunch and a car swap. That’s how we ended up at Burnstad’s European Restaurant, Village and Pub. I found information about this shopping and eating complex online and determined it would be the ideal place to connect. If one or the other of us had to wait, we’d have something to do.

Burnstad’s, as it turns out, offers plenty of time-killing shopping options. I was most happy to see Amish products sold here as I am fascinated by the Amish. Not that I bought anything Amish, like a log of Amish butter or cheese or chocolate candy or egg noodles or preserves.

Amish Country Roll Butter from ALCAM Creamery Co. and sold at Burnstad's.

But…I could have…if my husband hadn’t dropped money on a bottle of semi-sweet cranberry wine from Three Lakes Winery; Travis Hasse’s Original Apple Pie Liqueur produced by Drink Pie Company in Temperance, Michigan, but originating from the Missouri Tavern near Madison (and which we may serve to our Thanksgiving dinner guests if there’s any left by then); and blueberry craisins, which I thought were dried blueberries (they’re not; they’re dried cranberries with grape and blueberry juice concentrate). Lesson learned here—read ingredient lists and know the definition of “craisin.”

Wisconsin cranberry wine displayed in, of all things, a high-heeled shoe. Huh?

"People are looking at you," my husband said when I asked him to hold this bottle of Apple Pie Liqueur so I could photograph it. I replied: "I don't care. I'll never see them again."

All that aside, Burnstad’s rates as one impressive place. Impresssive to me primarily because of the atmosphere—including a cobblestone pathway meandering past the restaurant and pub and gift shops—and cleanliness. Honestly, in the European market/grocery store, the spotless, shiny floor reflected like a lake surface on a calm and sunny summer afternoon. I’ve never seen such a clean floor in a grocery store, or maybe anywhere.

I didn't photograph the floor of the grocery store, because shoppers really would have stared at me. But I did photograph this sign, which so impressed me with its support of Wisconsin farmers.

Then there’s the pie. Oh, the pie. Typically my family doesn’t order dessert in a restaurant. But the pie in the rotating display case proved too tempting, especially when I inquired and learned that the pies are made fresh daily. So Miranda and Gerardo each selected a piece—Door County cherry and rhubarb/raspberry—which the four of us promptly devoured. We were celebrating Gerardo’s October 29 birthday and Miranda’s soon-to-be birthday. If you like pie, Burnstad’s pie is the pie to try. I wonder if it’s made by the Amish?

Speaking of which, right outside the gift shop entrance you’ll see an Amish buggy. I wanted Miranda and Gerardo to pose for a photo. My daughter was having none of that. Since I’m the one semi-possessed by all things Amish, she insisted I climb into the buggy for a photo op. I refused to wedge myself inside the close confines of that buggy. So instead, I stood next to it and smiled a tourist smile like any good Minnesotan would.

I put on my tourist face for this Amish buggy photo. Just down Highway 21 you'll see authentic Amish buggies.

Packers fans will find Packers fans for sale in Burnstad's gift shop, in the Packers section.

A particularly amusing sign I spotted in the gift shop and suitable for either a Minnesotan or a Wisconsinite.

SORRY FOR FAILING to photograph exterior and interior shots of Burnstad’s. I was just too excited about seeing my daughter for the first time in three months that I didn’t get carried away with photo-taking like I typically do.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling