Here it is: The only local food and drink gift guide you’ll need until roughly a year from now. We’re pleased to present a roundup of some of the best-tasting, classiest-looking, cleverest, coolest goods and eats for your holiday gifting pleasure.
The Appetizers: Gifts <$10
As far as charming stocking stuffers go, the miniature-sized bottle of BLiS Bourbon Barrel Matured Maple Syrup ($6) from Golden Fig is way up the list — it’s compact, it sports a charmingly designed label, it says “bourbon” but can be enjoyed be all ages, and it goes great with pancakes. The slightly boozy front to the syrup’s flavor is a nice offset to its sweetness, and its multidimensional flavor profile raises the bar for things to pour on sweet breakfast foods. And if you’re committed to the bourbon maple syrup lifestyle, you can always get the big 12.7-oz. bottle for $26. -James Norton
The bakers in your life will chuckle at the Minnesota-shaped cookie cutter ($1.75) — attach it to an index card with your favorite sugar cookie recipe. Or, if they’re more inclined to bake a cake, pick up the table saw ($7.25), which can slice through several layers with ease. Either gift can be paired with a whimsical 2014 calendar tea towel ($8.75). All items are available at the Mill City Museum gift shop. -Jill Lewis
Wooden spoons typically aren’t gift-worthy, but these serving utensils ($7.50 each) are carved by local artists at Talisman Designs with intricate nature-inspired designs. Pick up several at the Mill City Museum gift shop (don’t forget the ultra-cute measuring spoons), along with a bottle of wood conditioner ($9) to keep them looking fresh. And with a slightly bigger budget, add a Wood from the Hood cutting board ($31 for the 8″x14″ size), made from locally reclaimed wood. -JL
Editor’s note: the next edition of The Tap will appear on Dec. 17.
We were intrigued by the emails. Dispatches from a place called QUARTER/quarter have been coming our way since its founding in 2010, telling the story of a fine dining outpost in bluff country, where smart, intriguing, appetizing-sounding food is being served amidst the hills and streams near Lanesboro, MN.
So late this autumn, we made the 130-mile trip to Harmony, wisely also visiting the Aroma Pie Company on what turned out to be their last weekend of operation until spring.
When we found QUARTER/quarter, we found a place neither rustic nor urban, but rather a bright, airy, minimalist haven incorporating the simple warmth of the rural along with the spare sense of openness of the city. Its unusual name comes from a confluence of two different ideas. The first: “In 1832 the smallest area of land that could be purchased by settlers was reduced to 40 acres or, a quarter-quarter section, making it possible for many more people to afford to start farming.” The second: its address, 25 Center Street.
Chef Stephen Larson greeted us upon arrival, and not long thereafter, plates of food began sailing out of the kitchen to our table. In the interim, he told us about how he got started.
In the Dells, nothing is normal — which is why we love it, of course.
As you drive through town, you pass a full-size replica of the Coliseum. A Trojan horse. The White House — upside-down.
In the off-season, the streets are gray ghost towns, while 6,000 or more people pack themselves into a single water park, of which there are dozens. Adults wander the halls with goblets of syrupy margaritas the size of bowling balls sawn in half. A blinking red sign advertises a bar’s daily special: 70-ounce steaks.
Then, toward Baraboo, 10 miles south, the weirdness starts to thin. Ordinary clapboard houses appear, and then an honest-to-goodness main street with an ordinary corner cafe.
This is the Little Village Cafe, a transplant from Madison, where it held a strong reputation as an early harbinger of gourmet sensibilities. Today it’s an oasis in this weird little corner of the world — quiet, dim, friendly, and mercifully grown-up.
The menu bears the touch of a curious cook who has passed through decades of fads and accumulated the best parts. There are Mediterranean notes and Cajun notes and Southwestern notes, as well as some relics of 1990s fine dining.