The Wisconsin town of Hudson is a glorious place to be on a sunny summer day. Not to be too chamber-of-commercy about it, but this river town offers residents and visitors myriad ways to recreate in the beautiful St. Croix environs: parks, beaches, boating, patio bars … Ironically, it is on such a rare summer day that we descend into the cool, windowless basement that houses Winzer Stube.
More wine cellar than Rathskeller (Winzer Stube literally means “vintner’s lounge” — thank you Google Translate), the atmosphere is not insistently German. The walls are covered with postcards from German towns, the pillars are wrapped with plastic vines, and the tables are dressed in Continental red-checked vinyl. The bare joists and wood paneling say St. Croix Valley as much as they say Rhine Valley. This is Wisconsin’s analogue to the Rhine: historic Hudson-on-St.-Croix, a burgeoning wine region in its own right.
The menu (a photocopied sheet of paper — rolled up and cinched in a napkin holder — that frustratingly curls up on itself as you try to read it), lists many dishes by their German names, so a deeper read is required, unless you already know words like Kassler Rippchen and Schlemmertopf “Weiskirchen.” A few of the dishes are translated parenthetically, like “Wurstküche (Sausage Kitchen).” Many are not.
The Wurstküche ($15 for 3 sausages) is where we began our meal. What better litmus test for a German restaurant than a triad of sausages: an herb flecked bratwurst, a coarse-ground and smoky mettwurst, and a finely ground knackwurst. Served on a platter with caraway sauerkraut, German potato salad, and grainy mustard, all three sausages were grilled and sliced lengthwise. They were good, but the mettwurst was the favorite, standing out from the common bratwurst and the wiener-like knackwurst
The sausage litmus test was passed. Next we learned that at Winzer Stube, all the entrees are shockingly large. Each comes with a bevy of sides: spätzle, tangy red and / or white cabbage (to cut through the protein and fat), and a choice of potato (our favorite was mashed — we are biased toward cold potato salad with mayo over Winzer Stube’s warm potato salad with vinegar dressing).
The Paprikaschnitzel ($15), a pork cutlet pounded so thin and so wide that it covered the entire plate, was breaded and fried and smothered in a delectably savory sour cream and paprika sauce. Topped with sweet red peppers, the pork was moist and tender, salty and sweet, and the breading retained its crunchiness all the way to the next day’s leftovers.
The Rinder Rouladen ($17) was an order of magnitude tastier than what we expected from the menu’s description. Like a higher-class version of a ham and pickle rollup, the rouladen was two thin, browned but tender steaks, wrapped around dill pickle spears with bacon, onions, and mustard. Covered with brown gravy, this dish was the very pinnacle of comfort food. Caramelized meat, crunchy pickles, a hint of bacon, and the zip of mustard — this dish had it all.
The Ungarischer Goulasch (Hungarian goulash, $14) was an enormous bowl of rich, shimmering stew, thick with sizeable chunks of toothsome beef and pork and abundant bell pepper. Heavily spiced with caraway (a deal breaker for some) and served over spätzle with a dollop of sour cream, this is some serious stick-to-your-ribs fare.
With one rich and hearty dish after another, the surprise of the night was the chicken with cranberry and pecan chutney ($15). The chicken breast was grilled with picture-perfect crisscross char lines. The chutney was made from real, sweet and tart cranberries, and it had a great nutty taste and texture. It paired perfectly (if out-of-seasonally) with the chicken.
Winzer Stube serves the kind of food that would be so easy to phone in, but that’s not how they roll, and they say so on the menu. These are mother’s recipes, and indeed everything we ordered had a homemade feel to it. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole when they boast the “most authentic and delicious German food and spirits this side of the Rhine.” The food would by all rights be delicious year round, but we’d recommend Winzer Stube as a destination for the chillier months. Warm summer days are precious in these parts and are ideally spent on picnic blankets eating stone fruits and berries, or at least in restaurants with trendy retrofitted garage doors, hoisted to let in the summer breezes. But when the leaves turn and the winds blow out of the north, Winzer Stube’s food is just what a body and soul needs.
Everything about Winzer Stube, from the small-town-cafe-style service to the outdated tap beer list to the typo-laden, photocopied menu (is that a knockoff Comic Sans font?), was casual. We had the impression that we were surrounded by regulars. The accordion player was all smiles, and so was everyone else. And why shouldn’t we be? We were drinking lager by the liter and eating outstanding homemade German food served in unreasonably large quantities for unreasonably small prices, and when we walked up the stairs after dinner, the sun was still shining on a summer evening.
516 2nd St
Hudson, WI 54016
Owner / Chef: Marie Schmidt
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / Ask