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CSUMC Friends Newsletter, Spring 2004, Vol. 2, No. 1 Become a member of the CSUMC Friends CSUMC home page Contact us Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures Home Page

Reissue of Café Wisconsin guide soon available through University Press

I left Wisconsin for Indiana in 1990, but I never really left. Although I am Minnesota born and raised, Wisconsin—with its red barns and black and white Holsteins dotting rolling hills—is home to me. Native Hoosiers still confront the long vowels of my native Up North dialect with, “Where are you from?” And I still laugh at their peculiar speech habits such as “Doowa?” in place of “Excuse me, could you repeat what you just said?”

I was in my first semester of graduate work in folklore at Indiana University when Professor Henry Glassie intoned, “You must publish, or you will not make it in this field.” I was already intimidated by the coursework and the quick minds of my fellow students, so Henry’s proclamation shook me to my very soul. I drove home obsessed with the idea that I had to have a book.

Jimmie Laub in front of restaurant
Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin Press
Jimmie Laub, a.k.a. “Jimmie the Greek,” standing in front of "Jimmie's," which is now Monticello Midway Lunch.

The previous summer a few friends and I had risen early on a Sunday morning for our weekly pie ride—a quick round trip bike ride from Eau Claire to a café in a neighboring town. Cadott was our destination that day, and 45 miles later we were hungry for hot coffee, pie, cinnamon rolls, and other breakfast fare. But our favorite café was closed. Not closed for the day. Closed for good. As we grumpily ate cellophane-wrapped baked goods in a gas station food mart, one of us grumbled, “Someone needs to write a book to tell us where the good cafés are so we don’t ride 90 miles for nothing.”

This explains why I, a temporary Hoosier, wrote a book called Café Wisconsin, published in 1993. And why, ten years later, I did it all over again. The second Café Wisconsin is due out from University of Wisconsin Press later this summer.

Café Wisconsin is a guide to one hundred and forty of Wisconsin’s best small town cafés, the kind of mom-and-pop joints that serve the kind of real food you thought no one bothered with anymore. Lumpy mashed potatoes and slow-cooked roast beef swimming in gravy made from pan drippings. Heavy sour cream raisin pie in a rolled-by-hand crust. Yeasty white bread cut into thick slices, smeared with real butter and grilled to perfection with a slice of Wisconsin cheese.

The book is also an examination of the many roles cafés play in small communities and in the lives of individuals. Cafés serve as heritage centers where local history and heritage are presented for public view. They also function as senior centers, where older members of the community gather to socialize, share meals, and pass the time. As chambers of commerce, cafés promote local tourism, support the community by participating in fundraisers and civic organizations, and stimulate the local economy by buying local products.

Such roles are not unique to Wisconsin cafés, of course. This summer will find me eating my way across Indiana for Café Indiana. Fish fries and other Wisconsin specialties will be replaced by traditional Hoosier foods like sugar cream pie, soup beans, catfish or fiddlers, biscuits and gravy, pork tenderloin, and in the German areas, fried brain sandwiches. Whether I eat one of these remains to be seen.

Joanne Raetz Stuttgen received her Ph. D. in Folklore and American Studies from Indiana University in 2002. She earned her M.A. in English from University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in 1988.

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Last updated: August 11, 2003

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