The Mississippi. There’s a certain mystique to it. Seeing the fourth longest river in the world is on a lot of bucket lists and the Great River Road (which runs along the Mississippi) sees tourists from over 30 different countries annually in Wisconsin. They come for the scenic vistas, the quaint shops, and of course the great food. Working up an appetite chasing the Mississippi? Try these three stops that are sure to please adults and kids alike.
1. Flat Pennies
The back story on this cute ice cream shop across the road from the railroad tracks could have easily been the onus for Ladies’ Home Journal‘s “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column. Man spots caboose and decides to buy it. Mentions to wife that he likes it and since she doesn’t explicitly say no he brings it home. Man brainstorms on what to do with caboose to prove it was worth the purchase and an ice cream shop is birthed.
Jim and Lorna Ross are still operating Flat Pennies years later, much to the delight of locals and tourists. With soft serve ice cream made with local dairy and amazingly awesome hot dogs on the menu, Flat Pennies (named after childhood memories of laying pennies on the rails to be flattened) has something for everyone. Pet lovers can put Fido in their outdoor kennel to run around and use the free wifi at a picnic table while eating a Caramel Apple sundae (one of their fall bestsellers). A Turtle Sundae hit the spot for me with creamy vanilla ice cream, gooey caramel sauce, rich chocolate sauce, and an abundance of pecans.
Look for Rosie the rescue Saint Bernard to greet you and say hi to Jim (if you’ve read the children’s book about Flat Pennies, Climb Aboard, you may find him more youthful than his illustrated self). Just how much does Jim love the rails? He’s ridden every Amtrak line in the US and will happily give you travel tips on good stops and routes.
And the caboose? It’s still there and you’re welcome to walk through the purchase that started it all.
Flat Pennies W6442 Hwy 35 Bay City, WI 54723 (715) 594-3555
2. Smiling Pelican Bakery
Food and travel. These two loves are woven together in the most delicious way at Smiling Pelican. Baker/owner Sandra Thielman has lived all over and traveled extensively. With more than 20 years experience as a pastry chef she decided to open her own shop. Her Facebook photos make me want to lick my computer. Tastes from around the world are in her display case- from Balsamic Apple Pie, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Mango and Pineapple and Sesame Semolina Sourdough Bread to Blackberry Lemon Buttermilk Pie and Blueberry Danish (danishes…. danishi?). The brownie I tried was one of the richest chocolate-y experiences I’ve ever had. I may fly back just to eat another one.
Originally intending to to just bake in the space and not open to the public, renovations became more costly and extensive than intended so Sandra got a permit and started baking bread to sell to even things out financially and a shop was born. Named after the pelicans in the area (because the eagles already get all the glory), the bakery’s large wraparound porch and gardens are the perfect stop along Great River Road.
Smiling Pelican Bakeshop W3556 Highway 35 Maiden Rock, WI 54750 (715) 448-3807
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3. Gelly’s Pub
This pub along the Great River Road is a family friendly treat. The owners, Wayne and Diane Gelhar, had years between them in the airline industry but as the industry moved away from “making folks happy” they moved to a business where they could please people daily. There motto is “May all who enter as guests, leave as friends” and they take it just as seriously as they take serving great food. Whether you’re just passing through and want to grab a quick lunch or you’d like to experience a real Wisconsin Friday Night Fish Fry, Gelly’s will make stomach’s happy. In your first five minutes through the door Diane will make you feel right at home (and learn everything about you) while Wayne cooks your 1/3 pound burger to perfection. Before you leave make your mark and throw a dollar bill at the ceiling in memory of your time in Stockholm, Wisconsin.
Gelly’s Pub W12128 Highway 35 Stockholm, WI 54769 (715) 442-2023
4. Stockholm Pie Company
Stockholm turned out to be a tasty stop on Great River Road. Written about in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Huffington Post, Splendid Table and on Gourmet.com, The Stockholm Pie Company is well known and I would be remiss if I told you not to stop there. Pies are made by hand and dining is available at red checkered tablecloth tables. There’s a line out the door on weekends and on the day of my visit folks had driven several hours to get a slice of pie. The Coconut Cream and Chocolate Cream had amazing velvety textures and a flaky buttery crust. They were the best of those varieties I’ve ever had and Gourmet was right on the button when they named the Double Lemon Pie one of the 53 Best Things they had eaten that year. Janet Garretson left a career as a nurse and moved around the corner from brother Alan’s shop, Abode in Stockholm after he told her she should sell pies. In this case, brother definitely knew best and is hopefully reaping the rewards of swarms of pie loving customers as they make their way through town.
The Stockholm Pie Company N2030 Spring Street Stockholm, WI 54769 (715)442-5505
Great River Road will be a feast for all of your senses. Be sure to indulge your sense of taste as you drive it!
*Disclosure- I visited Wisconsin on a press trip and visited these establishments as a guest. However, my taste buds cannot be bought. These were the real deal and I salivate just reliving the moments I had and the food I ate along Great River Road!