'Tis the season to take a drive, isn't it? What with all the fall colors and the hot sun and the cool breeze that leads to spontaneous open car-window karaoke? I like to think that if you spent all summer heading north, you should spend fall going south. Like a goose. And there's no better pit stop on your southern trawl than Chef Shack in Bay City, Wisconsin. The cute little burg is situated just on the other side of the river, across from Red Wing. If you've ever tripped it down to Lake Pepin, you've gone through it.
Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, the ladies who basically pioneered the local food-truck movement, decided it was a perfect location for their first non-mobile venture. The joint, just a block off the main road, used to be karaoke bar but has been transformed into a homey, kitsch-filled stop with a welcoming bar and a great patio/backyard with a pizza oven. The food is undeniable; it strikes that perfect balance between high quality technique and down-home eating goodness. A carload of us headed down on a Thursday after work for pizza night, when the oven in the back was cranking. We were welcomed by pitchers of tart and refreshing sour cherry sangria on the bar and sturdy-crust pizzas topped with seasonal squash, corn, tomatoes, and local pork sausage. "We've had to get to know a whole new bunch of sources here in Wisconsin. It's been great meeting all these new farmers and discovering new ingredients," says Summer. The food hit that flawless sweet spot between creativity and comfort.
Head down for dinner on the weekends—your best bet is to call ahead and reserve a table—and you'll find everything from steaks, mussels, and Arctic char to Thai green curry, veggie-forward pastas, and seasonal picks on the weekly changing menu. Brunch is cozy, restoring, and well-paced with deliciously stacked bloodies, scrambled eggs with foraged mushrooms, crisp walleye sandwiches, man-hash, or whatever seems to make sense for that particular weekend's mornings. So head to the bigger cities to shop for antiques or climb rocks, but don't forget to turn off at Main Street in Bay City, You won't be disappointed. 6379 Main St., Bay City, Wis., 715-594-3060, chefshack,org —S.M.