Oconomowoc, WI - A Lot to Like

Can you say Pasty? I knew you could! But more on what is thought to be a Cornish creation a bit later... The purpose of the weekend was originally a plan to meet family members, one of whom -- my wife's cousin -- was to be married this summer in New York. Unsure as to whether we would be able to make the trip east, we planned to join the clan for a luncheon in Okauchee, Wisconsin, a small town on a lake of the same name near another small town, Oconomowoc.

Cornich pasty

A Great Place to Stay

The destination is only about ninety miles from home in the Fox Valley, and getting there was once a fairly easy undertaking. However, one of the most direct routes forces one to use State Route 47, a road that has seen an incredible increase in traffic over the last dozen or so years; an additional half-hour of drive time is now required.  We had decided to head up on Friday and take advantage of one of the fish fries that Wisconsin is so adept at providing.

Hilton Garden Inn

Leaving at 10:00 am, we had expected to encounter less traffic; it still took almost an hour and a half just to get to Lake Geneva. But there was no hurry and the late February day was filled with bright sunshine and an azure sky to boot. We had booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn on the outskirts of town and right off Interstate 94 (the exit was just opened in early 2011). Located on a plot of land called Pabst Farms, the hotel is a relatively new addition to the area, open for perhaps only three or four years (as of this writing)

According to their website, Pabst Farms is "a unique and inviting 1,500-acre master-planned community unlike any other development in Southeastern Wisconsin. It offers all of the conveniences and amenities of an urban area in a breathtaking Lake Country setting which is only 40 minutes to downtown Milwaukee and 45 minutes to Madison."

Pabst Farms

Brennans Market Place

Unfortunately, the Pabst Farms development appears to have taken a direct hit from the economic downturn before it was totally developed; plenty of open space remains... Nevertheless, the area offers many recreational, dining and shopping opportunities, and the hotel has 100 comfortable and new rooms.

Early check-in allowed for us to settle in to our room and head down for a brief workout in the exercise room, followed by a relaxing session in the spa. A change of clothes and we were ready to do some exploring!

Brennan's Market

Beautiful Fresh Vegetables at Brennans

Within easy walking distance is the Market Place at Pabst Farms; with a Pick & Save food store, Huntington Learning Center and a Starbucks (they seem to pop up everywhere) -- to name just a few -- the Hilton is nicely located and convenient. And just around the corner from that is Brennan's...

For the uninitiated, Frank Brennan opened a fruit stand in Monroe, Wisconsin in 1942. He later added cheese and then other items like wine, beer, bread and vegetables; all were -- and still are -- purchased direct; freshness and quality were a guarantee. Now in five locations and still growing, Brennan's offers some of the finest food items available. I have a very hard time passing one if I see it; even if I go in "just to look", I always come out with something.

pasty cut open, revealing the tender ingredients inside

This time was no different. In addition to about five pounds of various cheeses and some other items, I purchased my first pastys. Yep -- that's the "Pasty" mentioned in the very first sentence above. Its history is unclear, but the pasty is sort of a pot pie without the pot... so to speak.

Consisting of ground meat, onions, potatoes, carrots and rutabaga that are folded into a pastry that is crimped on one side, it was supposedly a favorite lunch of Cornish miners. I had heard of a "pasty" but never tasted one. And I was excited to have found them at Brennan's and bought a pair to try for dinner when we got back home... They are now a favorite of mine and I hope to find some locally that I can try. 

Golden Mast

Exterior veiw of the Golden Mast restaurant

A little help from a map of Oconomowoc and, of course, a GPS and we located the restaurant where we were to enjoy the luncheon on Saturday. Out of several other interesting possibilities, we decided to try dinner there as well. Nestled up to the southwest corner of Okauchee Lake was a restaurant called the Golden Mast. Complete with dockside mooring for summer boaters, the restaurant was a study in dark wood, massive beams and great food.

A touch of German lineage ensured that the dinner was replete with tasty rye bread, cole slaw and potato salad to accompany the fish fry -- which, by the way, also came with French fries and a potato pancake! Both our dinners (lake perch for me and steamed cod for Heidi) were excellent and we departed the restaurant quite sated. The following day's luncheon was just as good, and more time needed to be spent in the exercise room to ensure that at least some of the excess calories were burned!

Frozen Lake Okaucheejust outside the Golden Mast

We also took advantage of the Hilton's kitchen and dining room to enjoy a great breakfast before departing on Sunday morning. Heading south on Route 67, we noticed a collection of cars in a parking lot near a small lake just south of Oconomowoc. I made a mental note to be sure to plan an ice-fishing excursion to this area in the near future. There are several more restaurants I'd like to try, and I know that I'll be planning another stay at the Hilton Garden Inn.

It was a fun and relaxing journey; nice to be away from work for a few days. Sort of an out-of-the-way place, to be sure. But if you're looking for a getaway with lots to do in any season -- a place that isn't too far from the Fox River Valley -- Oconomowoc might just be the place you're looking for!

R. Karl