SOLDIERS GROVE - The Old Oak Inn Bed & Breakfast graces the rolling grounds near the Kickapoo River just as one comes into Soldiers Grove on scenic Highway 131.
It was built in the year 1900 by O.K. Himley and the original woodwork adorns the Victorian-style manor. Antique furniture and oriental rugs set the tone that feels as if time travel really is an option.In addition to housing five unique bedrooms, there are many cozy sitting areas and living spaces that beckon you to sit and enjoy. There’s also the Acorn Lounge, a reception hall, and on the weekends, a very busy kitchen.
On any given weekend morning, you will find Deb and Homer Arndt busy in the kitchen cooking up a stupendous display of breakfast fare for the overnight guests. Honestly, I can't think of a better way to start one's day than sitting at Deb and Homer's family-style dining table, sipping on a cup of local Wonderstate Coffee, awaiting the end product of the culinary smells wafting from the kitchen.
A fabulous and filling array of food appears, plated from one end of the table to the other. Dishes of frittata or egg casserole, at least two kinds of meat, Swedish cream (which is out of this world fantabulous), fruited yogurt, scones, buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy, Dutch babies (a German pancake filled with homemade applesauce or lemon curd), apple brioche French toast, and cinnamon rolls decorate the vintage tablecloth.
My favorite (besides the Swedish cream) is Deb's famous Northwoods Porridge. The porridge boasts toasted pecans, wild rice, steel cut oats, local maple syrup from Jug Creek Sweets in LaFarge, and dried blueberries. Add a dash of maple syrup and cream on top. It's a palate's paradise!
Friday and Saturday dinners are open to the public. As per Wisconsin tradition, the Friday fish fry is a go with customer's choice of cod - Parmesan crusted, baked with butter and parsley, or lightly breaded and fried. The meal comes with French fries or baked potato, house made coleslaw or Westby Cooperative Creamery's cottage cheese.
Saturdays have seen cuisines from around the world, when Deb's culinary magic comes alive with everything from Greek chicken gyros with homemade tzatziki to authentic Japanese cuisine to Deb's specialty – Northern Italy lasagna! Her Chinese fare is the best around. I swear, I still dream about those creamy crab Rangoons.
Sultry summer food plans are in the works. Customers can look forward to charcuterie boards and new fish menu options on Fridays. Saturdays will offer a choice of three entrees, five sides, and desserts.
The Arndts will also be introducing more vegan and vegetarian options for those with special dietary needs. A convenient outdoor bar will be at hand to better serve those who attend the outdoor music shows.Dinner is served from 5 to 8 pm and call-ahead orders are most certainly recommended. A quick ring to 608-624-5217 will reserve your meal for the evening.
Starting April 30 and going into October, ‘Music on the Veranda’ will be awakened once again. Lively chords and harmonizing voices will echo through the valley every Friday and Saturday evening, provided by some of the area's finest musicians.
The ‘Music on the Veranda’ series was conspired by Bill Mort. Along with his cohort, Jay Hoffman, they arrange the weekend music and have done a fabulous job of keeping the entertainment booked at the Old Oak Inn. Patrons should bring a lawn chair or blanket and masks are encouraged. From 6 to 8 p.m. in May and 7 to 9 p.m. the rest of the summer, the grounds provide plenty of room for social distancing. It's a sublime family friendly experience, unlike anything else in the region.
So, what's the backstory here? The Arndts had a dream to open a B&B. A few years back, Deb had stayed overnight at the Roth House, also a B&B in Soldiers Grove, with some friends. There she met the then-owner of the Old Oak Inn, Carol Roth, and learned that it just so happened to be on the market. As with all who step over the threshold of the unique B&B, the Old Oak Inn sung its alluring melody, enchanting her mind and capturing her heart.
Deb and husband Homer eagerly purchased The Old Oak Inn on Friday, March 13 of 2020. Four days later, the pandemic hit. Everyone in the service industry was hit hard, but a recent purchase of a B&B that still needed repairs was downright scary.
“Sometimes we literally went hour by hour,” Deb recounts. “It was a lesson in resilience. Just one foot in front of the other.” And, put one foot in front of the other they did.
The new owners add a heartfelt welcome to the magical ambiance of the home. In addition to Music on the Veranda, the banquet hall has been brought back to life and will be open for parties, weddings, showers, and family reunions, accommodating up to 200 people. The whole house can be rented for smaller, more intimate events. The Arndts have hosted high-end reservation-only events which have included extravagant dinners, live music, and overnight stays.
As avid members of the Lions Club, they encourage events that benefit the community. Foraging classes have been held there, as well as classes in cake decorating and others. If you have an idea to bring to the proverbial table, give them a call.
Deb's love for cooking started at a very young age.
“My mom, Patsy, taught me the rudimentaries of cooking at a very tender age,” Deb reminisces. “I was cooking alongside her standing on a chair as a little girl. Mom was an amazing cook and took great pleasure in making people happy with her wonderful culinary skills. I feel as though I am honoring her every time, I create a meal for family and guests alike.
“Mom is really proud of the hard-earned success we have here at the Old Oak Inn,” Deb notes. “She taught me the best memories are made when gathered around the table...and the tradition continues.”
Deb's culinary talents continued to be enhanced when she moved to Japan in her early 20s. While overseas, she made new friends from around the world who were also there for military purposes. They taught her how to cook traditional cuisines from Thailand, the Philippines, the Mediterranean area, China, and of course, Japan. This expanded knowledge of yesterday brings worldly culinary bliss to delighted customers at the Old Oak Inn today.
For those who know Deb, you will often hear that her personality matches the Old Oak. Elegant, classy, cheerful, and charming. She is a unique combination of sophistication and beauty, who welcomes everyone with open arms and a genuine smile. One of her much loved quotes is: “Can we make room at our table for you?”
Deb's countenance reflects that sentiment as she expresses these words.“That’s how I feel, she says. “Can we make room for you?”