PRAIRIE DU CHIEN - The Drake Piano Bar in Prairie du Chien is an exciting new option for local and sustainable gustatory delights, sumptuous cultural immersion, and storied and classy ambiance. The bar kicked off operations on Thursday, March 23, and the restaurant will officially open on April 13. The establishment is open Thursday through Saturday.
Perhaps most striking among the many features animating the chic and storied atmosphere of the establishment is the stunning bar countertop made of a kind of marble known as Black Marinace. The beautiful rock is mined from an area in Brazil, where South America once connected to Africa in prehistory.
Of course, there is a baby grand piano that will be used by local musicians to entertain patrons, and beautiful woodwork created by Seneca’s Emil Smith of Sebastian Specialty Hardwoods. The chandelier is a repurposed pipe organ, painted by Bob Cleary. The walls will soon feature artwork by local students, and will be part of a scholarship and mentorship program offered by the business.
Husband and wife owners, Jim Smith and Karyl Fritsche, are no strangers to taking things up a notch in the sustainable and fine dining category. Last summer, they operated the Ferryville Sportsman’s Bar, and became known for their local and sustainable offerings in both food and drink. However, the Drake Piano Bar will definitely continue and expand this approach.
“I hit on the word Drake for my piano bar business, when I was travelling in the Louisville, Kentucky area and was able to view a rock formation called the Drake Saluna,” Fritsche explained. “That is a formation of dolomite and limestone that extends all the way to Milwaukee, and is responsible for the excellent water quality that made the region a leader in the distilling of alcoholic beverages made from the small grains grown in the region.”
Growing small grains
At the time Fritsche was travelling in the area to continue her learning journey into the production of small grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye. As the USDA-NRCS District Conservationist for Crawford County, Fritsche partnered with County Conservation Director Dave Troester to build the county’s aerial cover crop planting program, which has stimulated introduction of more small grains into Driftless Region crop rotations.
“Through the aerial cover crop program, we’ve achieved scale in the planting of small grains in our region,” Fritsche said. “Now we need to refine how those grains are grown to achieve a distilling grade crop, and start to create a strong market to make growing small grains profitable for our farmers.”
For this reason, the Drake Piano Bar is featuring locally produced distilled alcoholic beverages from companies that are pioneers in this kind of production. A few of the specialty drinks to be offered using beverages from these companies include;
• Chaitini – a house-made Vanilla Vodka infused beverage with Joe 2 Go chai concentrate
• Wisconsin Mule – 45th Parallel Vodka, Madison Avenue Limoncello, lime juice, topped with Ginger Beer
• Cucumber Dill Martini – muddled cucumber shaken with Gamie Ode Dill Aquavit and 45th Parallel Vodka
• Aviation – Citadelle Jardin D’Ete Gin, Rothman and Winter Crème de Violet, Lazzaroni Maraschino Liqueur, lemon juice and Luxardo cherries.
In particular, Fritsche highlighted the work of Briess Malting and Ingredients of Chilton, Wisconsin, a company she says is partnering with her to develop a distilling market for small grain producers.
“I really got started on developing a market for small grains after the devastating floods the Driftless Region has experienced in the last few years,” Fritsche explained. “Adding small grains and cover crops into farm rotations really helps to infiltrate more water on our working lands and reduce the runoff that contributes to flooding.”
Fritsche explained that Briess Malting has been a leader in helping to develop the market for locally produced small grains, and reducing the carbon footprint of their business.
Some of Drake Piano Bar’s suppliers include:
• Driftless Brewery: a Soldiers Grove company dedicated to hand-crafting distinctive, full-flavored ales and lagers using the finest locally and regionally sourced ingredients
• 45th Parallel Disillery: a New Richmond, Wisconsin, company whose production process features ‘full circle local production.’ These products are used in all of Drake Piano Bar’s specialty drinks. The company’s process begins with pick up of grain from Rusmar Farm, and the milling, mashing, fermenting and distilling into their line of premium alcoholic beverages. After production, the grain is shipped to another local farm where it is used as livestock feed
• Wollersheim Winery: a Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, business founded by Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim in 1972. Now, a National Historic Site, the company’s winemaker is Philippe Coquard, who came from the Beaujolais region of France. He comes from a long family history of vintners, and holds degrees in winemaking, viticulture and wine marketing. In 2015, the company added a distillery to the property for the making of their new brandy product
• New Glarus Brewing: a New Glarus, Wisconsin, company owned by Dan and Deb Carey, the company was founded in 1993 and makes products with 100 percent natural ingredients. Deb Carey was the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States. In addition to their well-loved beers, the company offers a charitable giving arm, ‘Only in Wisconsin,’ dedicated to solving issues of food insecurity, housing, healthcare, education and conservation.
Driftless dining delights
Let me tell you, when the Drake Piano Bar’s kitchen opens in mid-April, patrons are in for a gustatory experience that will delight your taste buds and provide sustenance for your conservation soul.
“A key piece of our business model is to feature the amazing agricultural produce of the Driftless Region and connect people to their farmers,” Fritsche explained.
The Drake Piano Bar’s menu accomplishes that in spades, with five ‘plates-for-two’ featuring some of the most delectable Driftless delicacies any food enthusiast could dream of. Those menu offerings include:
• The Carnivore – Sweet-n-Spicy Hanging Wolf L&G Farms Black Pepper Bacon, La Quercia Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp served with horseradish cocktail sauce, Grilled Adrian Ridge Farms Ribeye Steak served with Chimichurri Sauce, and Herbed Patterson Brothers Lamb Lollipop Chops served with Tzaiziki dipping sauce
• The Herbivore – Seasonal Fresh Driftless Organics Vegetable Platter with a flavored Ranch Flight, herbed dressing, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Rustic Rosemary Dill Crackers
• The Driftless – Rustic Rosemary Dill Crackers, The Brewster House White Sharp Cheddar Cheese Spread, Valley Fish Pickled Walleye, Spicy Dill Pickle Slices, Hooks 10-year Aged Cheddar, Driftless Provisions Saucisson Sec and Bamgartner Cheese Store and Tavern spiced mustard
• The Wisconsin – Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese, Roth Grand Cru Cheese, Roelli Cheese House Dunbarton Blue Cheese, DriftlessBeez Honey, seasoned almonds, cranberry compote, and Driftless Provisions Spicy Finnochiona
• The Final Act – Dark Chocolate Mousse with Fudge Brownie, Lemon Blueberry Trifle with Marscapone Cheese, Matcha Tiramisu, and exclusive Sweet Tooth Truffles.
As with the beverage lineup, Karyl Fritche is committed to offering foods that represent what Driftless Region farmers and food companies bring to the table. It only takes a minute scrolling through their list of suppliers, and dreaming of enjoying the dining delights, to see why the Driftless Region is a food-lovers paradise.
The extensive list features cheese, meats, vegetables and sweets from producers and companies from the Driftless Region. Those providers are from Prairie du Chien, Soldiers Grove, Viroqua, Dodgeville, Bloomington, Lancaster, Norwalk, Iowa, Cazenovia, Mineral Point, Monroe, and Shullsburg.
A few of the most local providers include:
• Valley Fish – a Prairie du Chien company featuring a complete line of hickory-smoked fish, turtle meat, and fresh and frozen seafood
• Sweet Tooth – a Prairie du Chien company described as a one-stop shop for all things sweet
• Driftless Organics – a Soldiers Grove organic farm producing vegetables, fruits and sunflower oil on over 100-acres of hill and valley fields
• Driftless Provisions – a Viroqua company that celebrates the connection they share between the land, animals, farmers and each other. They produce old-world charcuterie products free of added nitrates, exclusively from humanely raised, heritage breed Berkshire hogs raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, grassfed beef, and local honey and maple syrup.• Other companies featured on the menu include Adrian Ridge Farms, Wolf L&G Farms, Bloomington Meats II, LaQuercia Cured Meats, DriftlessBeez Honey, Uplands Cheese, Hook’s Cheese, Roth Cheese, Roelli Cheese, and Baumgartner Cheese.