It is easy to forget local culture while traveling on the Interstate. The whole purpose of the great American highway is to expedite travel; in the process of smoothing out the wrinkles of coast-to-coast travel, national chain restaurants have spawned and thrived, making one stretch of Interstate almost indistinguishable from another. The part of I-94 between Minneapolis and Madison is a noteworthy exception: not only is every truck stop is full of fresh cheese curds and homemade sausage, but there are several supper clubs that have persevered and continue to provide a nice locally grounded respite for travelers.
The Target Bluff German Haus in Camp Douglas, WI (between Tomah and Wisconsin Dells) is a German supper club of the old style. The decor has an old-world feel — hand-painted dark wood trim or German country murals dot the walls and giant wrought-iron chandeliers crowned with warm orange halos of light hang from the ceiling. Think of Nye’s Polonaise, remixed and plunked down into the middle of the Wisconsin countryside. Inevitably, groups of locals hang out eating a meal or sitting at the bar. It’s a pleasant surprise to leave the highway and find a place where real people eat and interact, and it’s even better when the food is worth the stop.
Beyond the more recognizable Wiener Schnitzel (lightly breaded veal) the menu offers Zigeuner Schnitzel — a lightly breaded and pounded pork tenderloin, pan fried and covered in a mild olive/mushroom/tomato sauce. At $17 it is not a cheap option (though it is served with a salad bar and choice of potato) but it is expertly crafted. The pork is very tender and has a lightly fried but not oily crispness to the outside.
More reasonably priced lunch fare includes a $6 brat with sauerkraut on a buttered hoagie (the sausage is available fresh or smoked), or a variety of sandwiches. Sides, such as German potato salad or spaetzle, make sharing specialties more enjoyable, and the table always includes local Düsseldorf mustard. The full bar also has German beers on draft, including the dark and delectable Spaten Optimator for a very reasonable $2.50.
The German Haus also offers easy access to the Juneau County Omaha Bicycle Trail [PDF], and the attached gift shop rents bikes during the summer.
German in Camp Douglas, WI
208 State Road, Hwy 12/16
Camp Douglas, WI 54618
OWNERS/CHEFS: Rolf and Lynette Kurandt
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED?: Yes/Yes for Weekends
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: No/Hell No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-19