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Eau Claire Cancels All Those Quaint Wisconsin Cheese Curd Cliches

After I booked my journey to the little city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I principally considered cheese curds. And beer. The state, fondly often called America’s Dairyland, is legendary for these implausible homegrown merchandise (in addition to copious quantities of grassy farmland). Nonetheless, Eau Claire units itself aside as an artist incubator with an modern foodie scene, all set towards the backdrop of a Hallmark film.

Eau Claire was a metropolis I wasn’t anticipating, particularly contemplating the uneventful drive from Minneapolis—tall concrete buildings gave option to lush inexperienced pastures with small farms scattered all through. Mortgage billboards supplied advert house, out there for buy. The bridge throughout St. Croix River offered a break from the greenery and teased of the numerous bridges I’d quickly discover in Eau Claire.

As we neared town, I may sense a shift within the air. The quiet of the nation street gently rose to the sounds of flowing water from the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers that converge downtown. The scattered farms turned to clusters of homes earlier than lastly making manner for the city’s city coronary heart.

Throughout city are reminders that that is an innovation hub from inventive sculptures to Vietnamese meals vans to employee-owned grocery shops and artisan markets. Forage is an area for native meals creators to develop their concepts, whereas Wonders of Nature ensures CBD will get to those that want it. The extra time you spend within the little metropolis, the extra it appears as if each enterprise is interconnected, every sourcing from the others. It didn’t take lengthy to know that Eau Claire is a thriving city, with greater than its justifiable share of mom-and-pop boutique retailers. Ramone’s, a classic ice cream parlor with native craft sodas, malts, ice cream, and pie, was a private favourite. With gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and vegan choices, the parlor ensures each customer can have a candy deal with.

Fortunate for these of us who aren’t as geographically savvy, Eau Claire’s streets are moderately simple to navigate with grid-like layouts and simply recognizable constructions. With greater than a dozen bridges, Eau Claire’s nickname is the Metropolis of Bridges. From historic wood bridges courting again to 1889 to trendy cable constructions, there appears to be a whimsical river crossing in each nook—a good looking option to expertise the water and the outside.

The Oxbow Resort in the course of city is a perfect place to begin to any Eau Claire getaway. Big lettering on the entrance permits for simple sighting when you occur to get misplaced, although Google Maps could also be simply as handy.

Oxbow treats its visitors to all the standard choices of a standard lodge—complimentary wifi, espresso and tea, and onsite parking—however that is the place the similarities finish. Nonetheless, that’s the place Oxbow’s resemblance to a traditional lodge ends. In-built 1947 and renovated in 2016, the Oxbow has an intimate artist cabin vibe, with native artwork hanging on the partitions and cedarwood furnishings constituted of close by timber. Particulars just like the report gamers within the rooms and the upscale toiletries stood out, subtly elevating a visitor’s expertise.

The property’s artist residency program and the packing containers of vinyl information prepared for checkout are proof of the lodge’s function in nurturing native expertise. It’s no surprise, as one of many co-owners of the Oxbow Resort is none aside from Eau Claire native and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon.

The Grammy winner nonetheless lives in Eau Claire, and whereas I didn’t catch a glimpse of him throughout my journey, his impression in town is obvious in each little and massive methods. For instance, Vernon hosts a two-day artwork and music competition known as Eaux Claires within the summers, drawing 20,000 festival-goers from across the nation. In 2022, he’s bringing the competition downtown. He was additionally a distinguished supporter and donor for the $60 million Pablo Heart, a contemporary arts venue that gives a stage to rising artists.

It was solely becoming that I borrowed one of many Bon Iver vinyl information from the entrance desk and performed it in my room to get the complete expertise, a melancholy soundtrack of nostalgia to my in any other case upbeat journey.

The city itself is trendy and modern, as seen by the inventive ideas that flourish as viable companies. The foodie scene isn’t any exception, with an emphasis on farm-to-table.

The Lakely, hooked up to the Oxbow, serves up a domestically sourced, seasonal menu—traditional Midwestern dishes with a creative twist. At every desk was a be aware: Tipping at The Lakely is now not anticipated. Menu pricing had been adjusted because the pandemic started, and restaurant staff would now be paid above minimal wage. It’s not simply on the Lakely both. A number of eating places round city have this no-tipping normal.

Essentially the most memorable dish on the Lakely’s menu was the Koldtbord, a charcuterie-like, build-your-own board together with your alternative of a dozen Scandinavian meats, cheeses, and different meals. Fortunately, this dish is a staple on the menu and doesn’t change with the seasons. I normally gravitate towards clear spirits for alcoholic drinks, however my waiter insisted I order a Wisconsin Outdated Customary, and thus I did.

This cocktail is not like another you’ll discover in america. Often, an Old Fashioned consists of bourbon, sugar, bitters, and an orange twist. Nonetheless, if you order a Wisconsin Outdated Customary, you’re met with brandy and a splash of 7-Up, squirt soda, or a mixture of 7-Up and membership soda.

Because the unofficial state cocktail, the Wisconsin Outdated Customary has a unique taste at nearly each bar. It’s additionally the drink to strive when you’re within the state.

Not removed from my lodge was the brightly lit Haymarket Plaza pedestrian bridge. You would spot the romantic arches from far off within the distance, because of tons of of LED lights throughout the bridge.

I went for a stroll over to the Haymarket bridge one night. Leaning over the sting to observe the watery reflections on the darkish Chippewa river, I may nearly think about myself as the principle character of a Hallmark film, prepared to maneuver to Eau Claire to revive the household bakery. All I wanted was some snow. And a bakery. In fact, the fantasy ended after I bought to Haymarket Plaza on the opposite finish of the bridge. Instagrammable artwork installations jogged my memory that this metropolis could be very a lot in keeping with the instances.

These installations are a part of the U.S.’s second-largest outdoor sculpture tour (the biggest being in Sioux Falls). Nonetheless, rumor has it that with an addition of 20 extra sculptures from native artists, Eau Claire will likely be stealing the title of largest out of doors sculpture tour this 12 months.

“Relating to bars, you identify it, Eau Claire’s bought it. ”

Certainly one of my favourite methods to expertise the native tradition is thru the cafes, the place eavesdropping is much less conspicuous and information passes by way of like water within the Chippewa River. Eau Claire has its justifiable share of those various gathering locations for each locals and vacationers alike. Eau Claire Downtown Coffee (ECDC—sure, a nod to the band AC/DC) serves quite a lot of caffeinated drinks together with huge breakfast burritos and pleasant macarons.

And that cleverly named espresso spot isn’t the city’s solely manner of showcasing its love of music. Revival Records, an indie report retailer that has thrived amid the pandemic, is one other Eau Claire staple. I watched in awe as dozens of report aficionados lined up outdoors hours earlier than retailer opening on Nationwide File Retailer Day to snag limited-edition vinyl. The shop holds a powerful assortment of information, particularly for a small Midwest city. Maybe my Hallmark film would come with a report store slightly than a bakery.

Don’t be fooled by the modern streak that runs by way of Eau Claire although: simply past town’s outskirts are traditional Midwest farms that remind you you’re nonetheless in Wisconsin.

The native restaurant neighborhood is massive on realizing the place their meals is sourced. I witnessed this primary hand as I attended a catered lunch by Farm Table Foundation at Together Farms, simply 35 minutes outdoors of Eau Claire. Collectively Farms is the place the socially-conscious meat-eaters hang around.

In true Wisconsin fashion, I linked with my interior farmgirl, feeding piglets that roamed on the land and having fun with a jostling tractor journey across the 160-acre farm. I used to be stunned to listen to proprietor Stephanie Schnieder share her journey with the symbiotic meals chain, intensive rotational feeding, and the significance of meat raised proper. Her ardour for her farm wasn’t simply in regards to the animals however a couple of more healthy, extra sustainable planet.

This type of intentionality is infused into each a part of Eau Claire tradition. So is alcohol. Each few steps, you’ll go a bar with a unusual persona. The Fire House, a craft beer bar, has made its dwelling in an outdated firehouse. The Grand Phantasm is an old style pub with completely, strictly no TVs. Dive provides locals and vacationers a retro ambiance alongside impeccable cocktails, and The Joynt lets patrons discover their (cash-only) manner amongst mismatched decor, ridiculously low-cost beer, and eccentric paintings. Relating to bars, you identify it, Eau Claire’s bought it. Searching for dwell music? That gained’t be exhausting both, as native bands play throughout city on any given evening.

Guests can additional expertise the hoppy persona of Eau Claire in its thriving indie breweries discovered everywhere in the metropolis. I finished by the Brewing Projekt, certainly one of 8 craft breweries on the town. In fact, I used to be aware of seeing canine on this setting, however the households stunned me. Beer tradition is so deeply ingrained in Wisconsin households that consuming round youngsters is normalized in a manner I hadn’t seen earlier than. In truth, underage youngsters should purchase or devour alcohol in Wisconsin so long as they’re with a mother or father, guardian, or partner of authorized consuming age.

If you’re an indecisive beer drinker like me, go for a flight of their funky flavors. I selected to check out a flight of inventive, colourful beers. I attempted a stout with milk sugar, raspberry, and cacao nibs (Ssslurppp: Chocolate Raspberry), an imperial stout with milk sugar, cinnamon, pecans, salted caramel, and butter pecans (Sticky Icky), and a Gose-style ale with pineapple, mango, and sea salt (Storm Tide). These have been only a few quirky taste pairings, with others incorporating inexperienced tea, lemongrass, marshmallow, and extra. I discovered later that typically there are even meals vans on the brewery. From the highest deck of the Brewing Projekt, I may hint the Chippewa River Water Path, the place folks have been tubing lazily down the river.

Keep on the water lengthy sufficient, and also you’ll be shocked by the sundown because it casts its reflection throughout the river. Keep within the metropolis lengthy sufficient, and also you’re sure to listen to that Eau Claire means clear water in French.

Much less water-inclined? Attempt your hand at a recreation of Kubb. Not fairly certain what Kubb is? Neither was I earlier than visiting Eau Claire, the Kubb Capital of North America. Kubb, pronounced coob and also referred to as Viking chess, is a Scandinavian yard recreation that consists of knocking wood blocks down for factors. Legend says that Vikings used to play the sport with skulls and femurs of their enemy!

“Eau Claire is as beginner-friendly because it will get with trails, with 30 miles of biking paths throughout town.”

Go to on the proper time (particularly in July), and also you’ll end up amongst tons of of Kubb fans. Eau Claire has been internet hosting the annual U.S. Nationwide Kubb Championship since 2007, the second-largest Kubb event on this planet.

On my final day in Eau Claire, I borrowed one of many lodge’s bikes and took a journey down the road. I wished to see what was on the outskirts of city.

Eau Claire is as beginner-friendly because it will get with trails, with 30 miles of biking paths throughout town. Huge trails, constructed for strolling or biking, take you proper by the river and below the identical bridges that gentle up at evening. As somebody who doesn’t normally bike, I used to be initially intimidated, however I quickly hit my stride as I explored the outskirts.

I handed all of the shops I’d grown aware of over the previous few days and all of the artwork murals bedecking the buildings all through downtown. All of the crimson brick buildings slowly morphed into Victorian-style homes that earned their spot on the Nationwide Register of Historic Locations, a mild reminder that town hadn’t all the time been so youthful.

As I made my manner again, I noticed yet one more thriving and eclectic storefront: SHIFT Cyclery and Coffee Bar, a specialty espresso and bike store combo. Subsequent time, I’ll be stopping in that cafe, perhaps within the winter, perhaps with some snow.

STAY: The Oxbow Resort

EAT: Girolamo’s Court docket’n Home Bar & Grill

SEE: Leinenkugel Household Brewery

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