Palmyra's Trout House perfects farm-to-table dining
PALMYRA—Located in the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine State Forest's southern half, Rushing Waters is Wisconsin's largest trout farm.
As you drive up the gravel road, it doesn't look like much. The Trout House restaurant is attached to the “working” parts of the complex, and the metal building looks industrial. Once you pull into the parking lot, however, you get a glimpse of the floor-to-ceiling windows, pergola-covered terrace and the urban lodge décor inside.
It might feel as if you have driven to the middle of nowhere, but the Trout House is downright chic. If you're into farm-to-table dining, this is about as close as you can get.
We tried both dinner and brunch and found the food to be consistently excellent.
Our Saturday dinner started with cocktails. Robyn had a Moscow Mule, a vodka, ginger beer and lime concoction served in a copper mug. Richard and I enjoyed “lux” Old-Fashioneds—mine bourbon and his rye—that were outstanding. All of our cocktails were $8. They have a fairly ambitious cocktail, craft beer and wine menu, and the prices were reasonable.
We started with the smoked salmon fonduta ($8), a warm cheese and smoked salmon dip served with house-made crackers. The serving was generous, enough for the whole table of five to sample, and it had a rich, round flavor with a nice balance of cheese and salmon flavor.
A pound of Prince Edward Island mussels ($10), steamed with white wine, garlic, shallots and butter, served with big slices of grilled bread, also disappeared quickly. The white wine sauce and the bread were good on their own, but the mussels were big, meaty and perfectly steamed.
The fried mushrooms ($7), coated in cornmeal and served with red pepper remoulade, were a table favorite. I snagged a couple before they disappeared. I confess that I was so obsessed with the fonduta that I didn't give the locally grown mushrooms their due.
Several of us tried the smoked trout chowder ($3 a cup), a robust blend of potato, leeks, celery, smoked trout, cream and fresh herbs. It was a thicker, more flavorful soup than expected.
Lisa ordered the golden beet and feta salad ($10), featuring barley and kale that added texture to the sweet and salty. The sesame tahini vinaigrette tied the ingredients together nicely.
For some unknown reason, I was fairly sure I wouldn't like trout. I won't make that mistake twice. Lisa's pecan-crusted rainbow trout ($16) was melt-in-your-mouth divinity. I had a taste of that mild, flaky filet coated with light, sweet nuttiness. Wow. It was served with exceptionally good potato pancakes and sautéed green beans.
Mitch had another winner with the chef's special ($21), a New Orleans-inspired mixture of sweet corn maque choux, shrimp and andouille atop creamy cheddar grits.
Robyn's pan-roasted maple salmon ($16) was a glorious-looking piece of fish, served with a baked potato and creamed spinach. The fish, not surprisingly, was perfectly cooked. The creamed spinach, while tasty, was watery.
The pasta dishes, while both good, were the weakest links. Richard's mushroom and garlic linguine with shrimp ($17), had bits of mushrooms, shallots, kale, preserved tomato and parsley in the sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the mushrooms fresh, but it lacked seasoning. I ordered the blue crab mac and cheese ($17), which was quite one-note. A breadcrumb crust or sautéed mushrooms would have added some complexity and texture.
For dessert, we all enjoyed a hot chocolate chip cookies and milk ($2), which was a cozy end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Our server was professional, prompt and extremely helpful. It was pretty close to a perfect evening.
When we returned a week later for Sunday brunch, the service was bumpy. Looking out into the woods as big snowflakes drifted down, drinking really good coffee ($2) and catching up with friends more than made up for the lapses.
Brunch is $14 and includes family-style mini bagels with a deliciously mild smoked trout spread, potato hash and your choice of bacon or smoked trout. You can choose two entrees from the menu.
Jim and I both had crab cake Benedict and Creole omelets with shrimp. The delicate hollandaise over the thick, meaty crab cake and poached organic egg was outstanding. The Creole omelet was stuffed with red pepper maque choux, jack cheese and diced shrimp. The menu mentioned andouille sausage, but I didn't see or taste any in the omelet, which is too bad. It was good regardless.
Kat and Nancy ordered the steak and egg, which featured slices of grilled, marinated skirt steak topped with an egg to order. Their second entree was the blueberry buttermilk griddlecakes with warm maple syrup. Both raved over their plates, especially the sweetly moist pancakes.
Richard, Jen and Jason ordered the smoke house scramble, which included smoked trout, caramelized onions and Gouda cheese. It was surprisingly rich and subtle. Richard's second entrée was the seared salmon with hollandaise that he wanted to lick off the plate. I did notice most plates were gold-star clean.
The Trout House has a nice assortment of brunch cocktails, although they were slow getting to the table. I'm not sure if that was an issue with the bar or our server, who was clearly rattled by placing orders on her smartphone and didn't know the menu.
Given how hard the owners are working, however, I'm betting brunch service will improve significantly by the time summer rolls around. I can't wait to enjoy a cold Moscow Mule on the patio. The Trout House is definitely worth the drive.