Every chef worth his or her salad spinner these days forages for homegrown regional produce, but the latest culinary trend takes patriotism one step further. Now stylish cooks are starting to reclaim what used to be considered the most unstylish food - the kind of backroads Americana recipes that lean more toward deep-dish casseroles and shoefly pies than truffle foam and crème brûlée.
Thankfully the trend has surfaced modestly in Madison, led by the Old Fashioned, where some of the arcane Dairyland dishes seem as exotic as any pan-Asian concoction.
But before the Old Fashioned there was the venerable, intrepid Quivey's Grove, and the new taste for heartland recipes demands a return to Quivey's, which has been cooking regional specialties for years.
You know you are going to be saluting Wisconsin before you even open the menu. That's because Quivey's 19th-century Italianate manor house (not to be confused with the Stable Grill, which sits behind the house and offers a more casual menu) is a local landmark. Built in 1855 of fieldstone, its golden exterior glows at dusk. Inside, the warren of dining rooms are a patchwork of unstained hemlock floors, quilts, pine cupboards and antique lithographs of Wisconsin politicians and historic landscapes.
If this sounds too theme park, it isn't. The whole effect is elegant and sparing, like a form of homespun minimalism. And it's worth visiting Quivey's just for that homage to regional craftsmanship.
And then there is the food, which the menu promises is "as authentic as the decor" and which reads like a history lesson. Each entree in fact resurrects both a regional dish and a fun fact from Wisconsin's past, from the Sterling beef, named for John Sterling, who was the sole UW faculty member in 1849, to the Trout Phoenix, which honors the 250 Dutch immigrants who went down with the steamer Phoenix, in Lake Michigan, in 1847.
Like a lot of Quivey's dishes, the trout is heavy, at least by contemporary standards. The boneless rainbow trout filets are baked in a lemon dill caper butter and served with a Parmesan baked potato bigger than the average wooden shoe. And in some cases, that heaviness is too much of a good thing. The Parmesan potato, which resurfaces in some other dishes, is leaden, and a dry pork schnitzel comes wrapped up in a sodden batter that tastes oddly scorched.
But sweet butter and heavy cream deserve their comeback, and most of Quivey's dishes justify their resurrection. Particularly good among the appetizers: a smoked trout salad scooped into airy pastry puffs and a taste-of-Wisconsin sausage sampler that doesn't stint on brats. Among entrees, tenderloin beef medallions served with a Madeira cream sauce makes the case for the return of cream sauce. Just as satisfying: a chicken popover that is like a Dairyland version of Proust's madeleine. Sort of. When you taste the chicken and mushrooms wrapped up in a golden cream sauce, you'll have a visceral flashback to childhood.
Top it off with the kitchen's turtle pie, a big cloud of Bavarian chocolate cream crowning a base of caramel and pecans that is a Quivey's signature dish, and lighter than some of the entrees. It's one more reason to eat seriously local.