You know those spring mornings when the sky is that unbearably bright, gorgeous blue and all the world seems to be blossoming? They make me want to get in the car and drive. Just get out there, anywhere, no destination in sight. On those trips, one often finds herself, at some point, hungry, and part of the fun is stopping at a new place to eat. If you too find yourself impetuously headed east on I-94 this spring, visit Water House Foods in Lake Mills.
Water House sits on the town's main square, which is populated by interesting old storefronts and faades, across from a shaded park with a gazebo in the center. The cafe itself is also picturesque and unassuming. Exposed brick, brightly colored paintings and a living-room-like seating area in the front window create a casually welcoming feel. Water House is also a bakery, and all around you as you walk toward the counter in the back are cellophane bags of cookies, dark, sweet loaves of chocolate bread and boxes of coffee cake.
It's no surprise that the baked goods take center stage here; there are also scones, croissants, bars and artisan breads for sale. The cafe's sandwich menu emphasizes Milwaukee-area producers, including Brightonwood Orchards, Oly's Oats and First Garden, a maker of seasonal jams. Plus Tyranena Brewing, from Lake Mills itself. All the sandwich bread is made in-house, and the variety makes a solid foundation for a creative sandwich menu.
My favorite sandwiches were the Desdemona, a roast beef sandwich with buttermilk blue cheese and a strawberry glaze, and the Kate, ham on soft, floury sourdough with rosemary mayonnaise. (All the sandwiches are named after Shakespearean women, and the upcoming summer menu will bring in new combinations and more testosterone - think Petruchio and Romeo.) Other good choices are the Juliet, turkey with provolone and mustard, sweetened by cranberry sauce and cranberry walnut bread, and the Titania, which layers Wisconsin cheddar and Braeburn apples between complex, hearty 12-grain slices.
Water House serves a seasonal brunch on Sundays until noon (reservations welcome but not required), and it's a lazily unfolding, enjoyable meal meant for lingering over with a friend. Mine began with a parfait of Sugar River Dairy yogurt, granola and fruit, followed by two palm-sized quiches with puff pastry crust. I picked two vegetarian options, the mushroom with raw milk Parmesan and the broccoli; a crab and asparagus quiche was the third choice.
On the side was a slice of honey brioche French toast and fruit. Although I did get the expected maple syrup dispenser, I loved that the French toast also came with a palette of rhubarb sauce, lemon curd and sliced strawberries - much more tasty and fun. The pièce de résistance was the "market plate," a lovely little wooden board with bites of Bolzano pancetta, slices of Saxon Creamery's raw milk Evalon goat cheese, a delectable red onion jam, a few nibbles' worth of whole-grain wheat bread, and a salad of spring greens. It was an elegant and refreshing way to end the meal.
Coffee or tea and milk or juice are included in the brunch. As one of those who is always torn about "choosing sides" - savory or sweet - at breakfast, I liked that the meal included a little bit of both. Small but noticeable touches like the lemon curd and the red onion jam made the meal something to savor.
I would be remiss in not commanding you, should you make the trip, to take home at least one bag of Water House's cookies. Molasses, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip - it doesn't matter. They're all wonderful, not to mention gigantic and inexpensive. Some people come home from a spontaneous road trip with a new tattoo - it doesn't always have to be like that. Cookies will make your mama happy.