The Little Village Cafe in Baraboo, WI

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

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.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

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.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

There’s a seared tuna (blackened or sesame crusted on the outside, but not quite icy cold on the inside, unfortunately). There’s a Moroccan chicken with a luscious Kalamata aioli (purple and tangy). There’s a jerk chicken with a nice heat to it, cooled by a side of authentic black beans and rice. Because we’re in supper club land, every entree had a very supper club feel: a salad to start, with a starch and sautéed veg on the side. Normalcy — just what we were craving.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

The very best things we ate came at the beginning and end of our meal: a positively slurpable bowl of warm, garlicky, peppery olive oil surrounding an island of goat cheese — ostensibly for slathering on slices of bread, but a few patrons were glimpsed just spooning it up. Despite its generous size, it barely made it around the table twice. The house-made hummus plate was good, but it languished in the shadow of the goat cheese.

And, for dessert, it was like we had come home to the Dells at the end of our meal: outsized and impossible rich portions of chocolate torte, chocolate pecan pie, and grilled Bundt cake (above). The perfect note on which to usher ourselves out of our little oasis of normalcy and back into the land of excess.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

The Little Village Cafe
146 4th Ave
Baraboo, WI
608.356.2800

HOURS:
Sun 11am-3pm
Mon-Thurs 11am-8pm
Fri-Sat 11am-9pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / in the high season
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $16–22

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About the Author

Tricia Cornell

Tricia has been called the mother of “world-class veggie eaters” in the Star Tribune (that is patently untrue) and an “industrious home cook” in the New York Times (true, but was it a compliment?). She loves Brussels sprouts, hates squash, and would choose salty and sour flavors over sweet just about any day. She is the author of Eat More Vegetables, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2012, and The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook, published by Voyageur Press in 2014.

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One Comment

  1. Nice article. You should check out The Cheese Factory in the Dells. It is the strangest place ever. It is literally an old cheese factory turned into a vegetarian restaurant. The exterior looks like an old house and the interior is decked out in 1950′s ice cream parlour decor. With old doo-wop hits on the jukebox, an Eastern European staff, and tons of Jesus paraphernalia at the door, the entire vibe is very David Lynch-y. To boot, they have really good food and fantastic Yelp reviews!

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