Grey Rock Restaurant Review

at the Heidel House Resort
643 Illinois Avenue
Green Lake, WI 54941
Review originally posted 2/13/03

Nestled against the shore of the deepest lake in Wisconsin – Green Lake – the Grey Rock Mansion at the Heidel House Resort boasts one of the most picturesque settings I have visited and is truly an adventure in fine dining. From the outside, and even upon entering, it is hard to believe that the present restaurant has roots that date back to 1873, although the building itself was actually constructed in 1949.

A great view of the lake from any table

I can understand The Grey Rock’s reputation as one of the top restaurants in the state – it was definitely in the top ten of the best restaurants in which we have had the pleasure to dine.

From the moment that you set foot inside the door, prepare yourself for one of the finer dining experiences that you may ever have. Heidi and I had the pleasure of a dinner there in early January and I was amazed that the place was so empty. Usually an empty restaurant is not a good omen. Au contraire, mon ami. We started the evening with a cocktail in the bar area where an incredible panoramic view of Green Lake is available. We relaxed on a semi-circular leather sofa fronted by a huge round table before a blazing gas fireplace that was about four feet long with a marble hearth that was framed with matched vases filled with tall, dried prairie grasses.

Relax by the fire

We were escorted down a long, carpeted, spiral staircase flanked by whitewashed brick. At the bottom of the stairs was an entryway leading to one of four dining rooms that I could see. We were directed to a table in a room with glass on three sides that also overlooked the lake. The white tablecloth was covered with a sheet of pristine white paper and adorned with small, crystal salt and pepper shakers.

 Angela was to be our waitress and her warm smile was relaxed and confident. She brought us menus and explained the specials for the evening. As we began to study the choices, my mouth literally began to water, for every single appetizer and entree – even though not embellished with a fancy description – was begging me to order it. Perhaps I was hungrier than I had thought?? We inquired about possibly trying a combination of two appetizers: Oysters Rockefeller and Maryland Crab Cake. The Grey Rock chef obliged. The Oysters came complete with the difficult-to-find Neuske Bacon and were fresh, juicy and tasty. The Crab Cake was about 2 ½” in diameter and the flavor was rich and spicy with just a hint of heat and an indescribably delicious sauce.

Fresh bread with a butter trio

A trio of Dill, Rosemary and Focaccia bread was then brought to the table, flanked by a trio of spreads: Salmon Mousse, Sun-Dried Tomato and a mash of Niçoise olives. Each bread and topping was a taste treat. I could have made a meal of the bread alone but decided to try to save some of my appetite for the main course. Heidi had decided on the Sushi-grade tuna, seared and drizzled with a rich Madeira reduction sauce with mushrooms and served with fois gras, root vegetables and horseradish-whipped potatoes.

Veal Oscar

The tuna was a just a tad past perfectly done, but the premium tuna flaked easily and the flavors were excellent. Talk about rich! I ordered the Veal Oscar, which I have not ordered since I lived on the left coast many years ago. It was slightly different from the “traditional” style in that it was several slices from two nearby bones of a baby veal cutlet tucked neatly beside a pile of Alaskan king crab – each the length and size of my little finger – and asparagus, topped with a delicate hollandaise sauce and accompanied by sautéed potato fingers.

The flavors here were exceptional; the presentations were outstanding! Two glasses of wonderfully crisp and light Chardonnay put the exclamation point on the dinners. Neither of us could quite finish the sumptuous feast and were quite full when Angela returned with an alarmingly large array of tempting dessert choices.

Against the cries of protest from of our sated stomachs, we decided to split a Key Lime pie. Two, small semi-circles of pale green ambrosia, a walnut-sized scoop of tangy lemon sorbet and a fresh strawberry were delivered to our table. The dessert was picture-perfect… but only for an instant. A single sample confirmed the tartness and the taste-temptation was quickly devoured.

Suffice it to say that our dinners were fit for a King and a Queen and were very reasonably priced.  The whole evening took about 2 ½ hours and not once were we rushed. And when one considers the quality of the meals, the professional and competent level of service and the beautiful venue, the price was as reasonable as one could imagine.

Add the excellent service, attractive and appealing dinner/plate presentations to the incredible views of the lake and you have the makings for a marvelous evening. A hearty round of applause goes out to Executive Chef Scott McFarland and his entire staff! Tonight, as the snow fell, the lake setting took on an almost surreal beauty.

We saw only a few tables of diners although it was a Saturday night. This really amazed us, but perhaps no one knows of the Grey Rock. No, that is impossible, isn’t it?? Do yourself a favor and plan to dine at the Grey Rock – soon – before the line to get in stretches all the way to Madison. We drove 165 miles to stay at the Heidel House Resort and have dinner at the Grey Rock. I would do it again… in a heartbeat!

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