Spice up your day with a little adventure! Grab a willing co-pilot, prepare your road-worthy tunes and take a short road trip to explore these unexpected communities that offer a pleasantly surprising mix of heritage, local cuisine, and boutique galleries and shops.
Mazomaine is about twenty minutes from the west side on Highway 14. It’s often overlooked because the highway doesn’t run through town, but if you turn down Brodhead Street and drive over the railroad tracks, you’ll find buildings dating to the late 1850s—and barely touched by time.
Surprising find: Some may have already stumbled upon it, but check out The Old Feed Mill (pictured above). Originally the Lynch and Walker Flouring Mill of 1857, where records remain of flour shipped as far as Belgium, it has been carefully preserved and converted into a restaurant, bakery and gift shop. As it strives to remain true to its past, you should expect to experience a mill—rather than just a restaurant—complete with open beams and worn wood floors, stone walls, flour shafts and old machinery used in production. Your food, which comes mostly from local farmers, will be reminiscent of an old farmhouse kitchen (in portion size, type and presentation) with a few modern twists. Make sure to save room to share a dessert of bread pudding or a warm apple dumpling.
While you’re here: Drive a block west to the downtown. Frommer’s Budget Travel listed Mazo among their “10 Coolest Small Towns” because they happened upon the downtown on their way to Spring Green (we’ll say it wasn’t for the clothing-optional beach). Mazomanie actually boasts thirty-four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and they’re in the process of being painstakingly preserved. Park your car and stroll through the shops displaying vintage clothing, local art, and locally produced food and preserves.
Old Feed Mill, 114 Cramer St. 795-4909, mazomaniemills.com
Cambridge is a little blurb of a town you might notice on your way to Fort Atkinson, with a downtown so small that by the time you decide to stop you’ve already passed it. Ripe with history and personality, Cambridge is bright and welcoming no matter the day you go.
Surprising find: Tucked in a century-old building in the middle of the downtown strip is Ripley’s Bakery and Eatery. Formerly owned by Fosdal’s Bakery in Stoughton (where they still get their donuts and bread), they now make other baked goods in the shop daily. You will feel like a child with your nose pressed to the glass looking at cream puffs that fill two hands, cannolis, cookies and indulgent selection of brownies, to name a few delights. Oh, yeah, they also serve a variety of coffee drinks and make lunch sandwiches, pot pies, soups and pasties, all with as many local ingredients they can find. The building has an old charm, but the workers make the place as they greet their regulars by name and offer a smile and warm commentary as you struggle to decide what to eat now and what to smuggle home for later.
While you’re here: Wander through the Wood Shed, both upstairs and down, to find Amish crafted goods and other novelty items and décor. If you walk to the other end of the block, you will find Cambridge Stoneware Co. by Jim Rowe, who incorporates green practices into his pottery business. Make sure to cross the street for another row of notable shops, all of which have a degree of original flooring, woodwork, windows and stone walls, lending to the charm of the town.
On the way to Milwaukee on the interstate, Lake Mills is just another sign, or maybe a quick stop for gas. You may even know it for the Tyranena Brewery. But it truly is a hidden gem; you just have to drive a bit deeper—under a mile—to discover the treasures within.
Surprising find: A block off the main drag, Sweet Lips Arts and Gifts (pictured at right) shares a space in a former bank with Ephraim Faience Pottery. Both are notable in their own right, but together make a power team. Sweet Lips is a coffeehouse/art gallery/boutique, showcasing myriad creations from more than 220 artists, most from Wisconsin. They have a cozy nook with plush seating and reading materials available, and serve specialty drinks and Ancora Coffee. Ephraim’s is the front for seven artists who work beneath the shop to spin delicate and one-of-a-kind pottery creations that have inspired collectors worldwide. You can even watch the potters throw if you happen by on a weekday when they are working.
While you’re here: Meander in every door. The downtown, built around the triangular Commons Park, is so old and carefully preserved that advertising and place names are largely minimal. A stately house (which could be interpreted as a mansion in its heyday), serves as the L.D. Fargo Public Library and deserves a closer inspection simply for the architecture and design. Most of the remaining shops line the two other sides of the strolling park, and if you explore down the adjacent blocks you may stumble upon a new favorite, like The Rose Gallery, which houses everything from rocks, jewelry, figurines, cards and books to tarot cards and homeopathic supplies.
Tyranena Brewery, 1025 Owen St. 920-648-8699, tyranena.com
L.D. Fargo Public Library, 120 E Madison St. 920-648-2166, lakemills.lib.wi.us
Sweet Lips Arts and Gifts, 103 Church St. 920-648-1000, sweetlipsgallery.com
Ephraim Faience Pottery, 203 W. Lake St. 920-648-3534, ephraimpottery.com
The Rose Gallery, 118 S Main St. 920-648-3973, therosegallery.net
Jess Campbell is a Madison freelance writer currently living in Hawaii.