Somewhere in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, on Highway 16 just outside the center of town, close to the shores of Lac La Belle is a small piece of heaven:
It may not seem much when you see it on the road: a faded forty-something year old sign and small one-story building. The front windows sport old neon advertising featuring old Wisconsin beer brands.
The door is nondescript.
You walk inside to darkness. Amber Tiffany-style fixtures above, old brown vinyl booths, chairs, a Formica bar. You seem … disappointed.
The walls are adorned with Green Bay Packers paraphernalia and impressively outdated paneling. A walk back past the bar brings you to the bowling alley. Eight fantastic half-length bowling lanes fill the back area, all done in beautiful wood, all in the old style. The electronic scoring does not match the décor, but offsets the 1960’s construction and early 70’s interior.
[pullquote]We enjoyed our visit with Honesty, a big ‘ole basket of Real & a generous serving of Authentic. The experience was so refreshing, so modest, that we can’t wait to go back again. In fact, July seems a pretty good time to me.[/pullquote]You are greeted by locals – people who look right at you. Wisconsin natives don’t try to be anyone they are not; and they expect the same from you.
And let me tell you, in this world it is very refreshing.
Mapleway Bowl has been owned and managed by Rodger and Joel Maerder for the past 28 years. It is still the wonderful place I remember from 1979. It is where I had my first beer at 18 (but ahhhh, the drinking age is higher now.)
And oh, the Fried Mushrooms.
It was a chilly, rainy spring afternoon when we opened the door and walked in. A quiet young man (well, younger than I) greeted us with a kind face, a kind smile. We sat in the booth nearest the window and ordered.
At quite modest prices we ordered four baskets of fried treasures: breaded cauliflower fried with cheese, onion rings, fried green beans and the mushrooms (we ordered two sets of those). Each generous basket was a whopping $2.85.
The food was all good….but those mushrooms: Those Magical Mushrooms…
These were the mushrooms for which Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored in 1673, for which the French sought when they colonized Wisconsin and established Fort St. Nicholas at Prairie du Chien in 1685.
They are the mushrooms for which the dog jumps across the cliffs at the Wisconsin Dells.
It was for these mushrooms that I drove way off my route, 840 miles from home.
When you first bite into them, the crust is heavy-bodied but light. The mushroom underneath is so hot and juicy you can barely take it into your mouth.
You wash it down with any one of the local beers they have on tap — or with a little more of that special drink they call “childhood”.
They also serve menu items along the lines of pizza, burgers and beer batter cod and fries.
As we sat eating that hot, amazing snack, we looked out at the rain and felt like we were back in a place that didn’t care what kind of car we drove, what was the label in our clothing or what school we attended.
Back in a place that was the spirit of America.
We enjoyed our visit with Honesty, a big ‘ole basket of Real & a generous serving of Authentic. The experience was so refreshing, so modest, that we can’t wait to go back again. In fact, July seems a pretty good time to me.
A great time, to bowl a few games and torture my arteries a little bit more, and to be greeted by kindness looking me straight in the eyes.
* Editor’s note: The Morel Mushroom Festival celebrating Wisconsin mushrooms is held every spring on the weekend after Mother’s Day in the town of Muscoda, Wisconsin. This year’s event will be held on May 15 & 16, 2010 in Muscoda, located on the opposite side of Madison from Oconowomoc.