Mar 5, 2018

A commoner visits The Elegant Farmer, Mukwonago, Wis.

I must confess that before I went to The Elegant Farmer for the first time, I wasn’t quite sure what The Elegant Farmer really was.  I just heard about this place located somewhere on a highway that follows Interstate 43 in southern Wisconsin between the towns of Mukwonago and East Troy and its reputation for incredibly delicious locally grown and produced food. 

Some called it a bakery.  I heard their apple pies were famous to the point of being legendary.  Others described a deli.  Their sandwiches and soups got consistently excellent reviews on the foodie sites I frequent. Eventually, I decided to stop for a late lunch on my way home from working on the road to find out who was right.

As it turns out, The Elegant Farmer is a bakery.  And a deli.  And a gourmet grocery specializing in Wisconsin-made goods.  And a bit of a tourist attraction that celebrates the bounty of the farm year-round, although the fall harvest season is obviously when it’s “peak” season for visitors. In that regard, I felt somewhat unfortunate for my first visit to be in the middle of winter, but I figured I’d make the best of it nonetheless. 

Finding The Elegant Farmer isn’t as difficult as you might think.  Just take the Mukwonago exit on I-43 – about 30 minutes outside of downtown Milwaukee, turn north, find Main Street, turn east and look for the gigantic barn with a smiley face at the Y intersection just outside of town. 

The barn is just the centerpiece of the whole farm. The facilities are spacious, and parking is plentiful, especially during the off season.   

Once inside, signs will guide you through a small maze of store displays until you hit the main section where the majority of the grocery, along with the bakery and deli are located. 

You’ll surely also notice plenty of shelves stocked with proprietary branded dry noodles, salsas, salad dressings, fruits and nuts.  I was fortunate enough to visit in February when they were devoting an entire display to products made with cherries grown in Door County, that little peninsula of Wisconsin that looks like a small arm waving into Lake Michigan.  

For the time of year, The Elegant Farmer had a surprisingly well-stocked fresh produce section as well.  And the meat market centered around locally sourced bacon, brats, ham (cider-baked!), jerky and beef sticks. 

If you’re in the mood for a quick lunch like I was, their deli has a decent variety of soups and sandwiches – both classic and unconventional – along with brats and side salads to make a meal.  Next to the display showcasing the deli meats and freshly prepared cold salads is another featuring a variety of cheeses from all around the state –extra temptation if you’re placing a lunch order.   

As you pick up your order, you face further temptation from the ice cream freezer on the left and pie counter on the right.  Without a doubt, they take their sweets very seriously here.  After all, their baked goods are arguably what really gave The Elegant Farmer its fame.  They’ve even trademarked Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag®.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not a huge dessert guy.  But I do love a good sammich, and that’s just what I got that day – more specifically, The Elegant Farmer’s grilled black forest roast beef sandwich, served with chips and a pickle spear.  It came loaded with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and gooey melted Wisconsin cheddar cheese wedged between two slices of toasted rye bread.  I probably should have just sat at a booth inside rather than devour this thing in the car, but shockingly I managed to finish it without getting it all over myself.  

I also got a couple of take-home items before I left.  I simply couldn’t resist the dried cherries from Door County, and their Vidalia onion tomato salad dressing intrigued me.  Although the makers confess they bring the onions from Georgia (one of the few Elegant Farmer branded items not made predominantly with local products), it’s still reportedly house-made.  I later discovered the dressing was still outstanding in quality and a wonderfully zesty topping to a summer salad. 

Admittedly, The Elegant Farmer is not the type of place I would make a habit of visiting every time I’m in the area.  But it’s still worth the detour if you’ve never been before or if you’re craving some down-on-the-farm gourmet goodies. 

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