Elkhart Lake, Wis., has a population of 900+ by the Census Bureau’s count, but by the locals’ estimates, that balloons to 10s of thousands during big tourist weekends in the summer.
I know this because I just got back from Elkhart Lake. I accompanied Beth, who had multiple gigs at the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival, which she’s likely to report on later this week.
Meantime, I was reminded that despite all the homogenizing forces in modern life—mass media, chain stores, interstate highways and drive-thrus, distinct local culture continues to withstand all those forces.
From those looong Northern Plains oooooooooohs made famous (and exaggerated) in the movie Fargo, to drink specials at local joints offering $3.00 Old Fashioneds (do you want brandy or whiskey, sweet or sour?), to the Friday night fish fry featuring fresh Blue Gill, we knew we weren’t in Printers Row anymore. And it was glorious.
We stayed at a really big resort called the Osthoff, which is a nice place, but like all the best of Wisconsin, not so nice that you would ever feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. It sits next to the water, and the famous Road America race track is less than a mile away. Saturday and Sunday mornings brought the muffled distant roar of sports cars screaming around the four-mile circuit, but even that wasn’t really unpleasant, as it didn’t last, and it beat hell out of the sound of garbage trucks in the morning, which is our neighborhood’s version of the rooster.
The trees, according to the local newspaper, were at peak autumn color. I certainly wont argue. Speaking of the paper, it was delivered outside our door each morning. It’s a Gannett paper, but not the USA today. No, the Sheboygan Press. And I was happy to see that local print journalism is healthy and alive. And any question I had about Sheboygan, Elkhart Lake, and the Kettle Moraine area losing their identities was set straight when I read the round-up of coming events. It included:
- A fundraising dinner put on by an animal welfare agency to benefit its Trap, Neuter, Return program—which is pretty much what it sounds like: a way of managing feral cats. Featured: a Spay-ghetti and No-balls dinner.
- Juxtaposed in the next column, a Norwegian Lutefisk dinner, presented by the Sons of Norway Vennskap Lodge #5-622. This one promised meatballs—Norwegian ones, among other Norse delicacies.
And one other thing regarding cuisine: around Chicago menus often include “Sheboygan” style bratwurst. As far as I can tell, Sheboygan has meant a course grind, and not the whitish, veal based kind of bratwurst. And I assumed it was the pride an joy of, well, Sheboygan.
Well, Beth was chauffeured around by a volunteer and she kept asking about where to get a good Sheboygan brat. Finally, the volunteer, a great guy who was fearful of sounding rude, told her that they didn’t know of anything called Sheboygan style bratwurst. They just knew bratwurst. Served on a really good roll. They finally stopped for one between gigs, and Beth brought hers home to share.
Whatever it’s called, it was really, really, really good.