Worth the Drive: Iola/Scandinavia

Posted on July 2, 2020 by Cody Wiesner

Discover two hidden Wisconsin gems you might have overlooked. Perfect for bikers, skiers and history buffs, these close-knit hamlets boast an unforgettable array of outdoor activities matched only by an unquenchable commitment to preserving local and Wisconsin history.

Dining To-Do List

These eateries will keep you fueled from morning to night.

Crystal Café

Crystal Café has cultivated a love for pies in the Iola community for more than 50 years, and until two years ago, it might have been Wisconsin’s best kept secret. In 2018, Crystal Café was featured in Official Best of America as 2018’s best pie in Wisconsin. But now that the secret’s out, the Café’s commitment to hand-rolling the crust and using only natural, never canned ingredients definitely makes it worth the drive. The menu will vary depending on the day and season you come, but options include apple, caramel apple, rhubarb strawberry, Boston cream and blackberry cherry. So many great options makes for a tough choice, but you’ll have time to mull it over while having a breakfast or lunch of eggs, pancakes, French toast or a burger with coffee, hot or iced.  

Millstone of Iola Mills

If you’re craving a healthy combination of cheese pizza, homemade gelato and local history, the Millstone should be the first restaurant on your Iola destination list. Not only a restaurant, but also a celebration of a century-old sawmilling industry, the Millstone was opened in the very same sawmill that established downtown Iola in 1853, authentically restored and renovated to be appreciated today by history buffs all over Wisconsin. The restaurant-meets-historical landmark concept might seem odd at first, but owner Tom Fucik says the previous owners turned the mill into a museum and added a gift shop, so he carried on the tradition by expanding the gift shop into a restaurant. Since, Fucik says the Millstone has created close to 400 gelato flavors across 14 years of specials, so there’s always something different on the menu, though popular mainstays include blackberry lavender, salted caramel and strawberry goat cheese. The Millstone’s pizzas are thin-crust style and use primarily locally sourced ingredients – try the sausage supreme, or a Mediterranean pizza if you’re a vegetarian.

Trout Bum Bakery

This made-from-scratch bakery became a mainstay in the Scandinavia community when fly fisher and baking enthusiast Thomas Spoerl decided to combine his interests to open the Trout Bum Bakery. Spoerl’s dual passions are evident across the many pieces of fishing décor that adorn the bakery’s interior along with the assortment of delicious treats available under glass. In addition to bread, cakes, croissants and quiches you’ll find every day, Trout Bum offers daily specials for variety, like stromboli and biscuits and gravy. For a first-time visitor, Spoerl recommends asking about the Scandinavian apple cake, Trout Bum’s signature dish. The bakery is currently open regular hours for takeout as well as indoor and outdoor seating.

Schmidt’s Corners

If you’re in the area, Schmidt’s Corners is the premier place to go for a homestyle American dinner, and that’s for good reason. If you’re a fan of taco Tuesday, Friday fish fries and Saturday prime rib you’ll feel right at home at Schmidt’s. For Friday fish enthusiasts especially, look out for a more expansive selection than which you might be accustomed. We’re not here to dethrone the delectable cod, but if you want some more variety in your Friday fish fry, Schmidt’s also offers butterfly shrimp, breaded scallops, walleye and perch. Plus, ranging from $4.49 and $6.69 and with specials as low as $3, this is just about the most affordable non-fast food burger we’ve seen.

Sliced Pizza Co.

For pizza that looks as good as it tastes, head to Sliced Pizza Co in Scandinavia. The one-year-old restaurant uses fresh, locally-sourced ingredients to craft their stone pizzas and flatbreads. Monthly and weekly specialty pizzas are offered based on the freshest local ingredients as well as seasonal themes. While you can’t go wrong with any menu item, owner Lisa Shirek recommends trying the Wiscozza pie topped with sliced beer brat, red onion and Ellsworth cheese curds. Another customer favorite is the popper flatbread made with cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon and cheddar cheese. Due to COVID-19, dine-in seating is limited, but guests can picnic outdoors along the Little Wolf River behind the restaurant. Commemorate your visit by adding your name to the restaurant’s Make Your Mark graffiti wall.

The Iron Grille 

The Iron Grille, an upscale American restaurant located in Iola’s Glacier Woods Golf Club, is kicking off its sixth summer of scratch-made meals and scintillating specials. Manager Nick Cottrill describes the atmosphere as casual, but the food as high end. The menu gets an overhaul at least twice a year where the only item that remains the same is the Mullins cheese curds encased in Central Waters’ Shine On ale beer batter. More than any one particular menu item, Cottrill says The Iron Grille is known for its inventive specials that run most nights during the summer. On Fridays, guests can expect to find a fresh fish feature (think peanut-crusted walleye with asparagus risotto). Saturdays tend to bring a meat-forward feature using beef, pork or duck and Sundays feature something smoked like ribs or chicken. Cottrill encourages guests to step outside their comfort zone and try something new at The Iron Grille. “I try to stretch [new guests] right away, because I know they will like it,” he says. “Maybe start with cheese curds in your comfort place, then try something you’re not used to.” Outdoor seating is available and reservations are accepted.  

Meal You’ll Remember: ScandiHus

Have you ever heard of an American-Scandinavian-hybrid café? We haven’t either, but we think ScandiHus perfectly captures this hidden Wisconsin community in a nutshell. Scandinavia owes its cultural roots to the northern European region of the same name, which brought a number of Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin between 1836 and 1935. To see – and taste – this seamless blend of American and Scandinavian traditions firsthand, try the cardamom latte hot or iced. Highly aromatic and an excellent flavor boost to both sweet and savory recipes, cardamom is a staple spice in Scandinavian recipes, and it’s mixed with creamy Scandinavian honey and is a latte to provide among the most unique coffee experiences you’ve ever had. For another unforgettable drink you’ve probably never tried, go with the glögg. Normally a citrus-y, spice-infused mulled wine common in Norway and Sweden, ScandiHus instead gives it the café treatment, making it nonalcoholic and serving it hot and topped with cinnamon. Each of these pair excellently with one of 13 crepes – you can’t go wrong with any of them, but ScandiHus owner Krista Watson recommends the Crepes so Fresh, a sweet crepe served with fruit cream and fresh fruits that’s deceptively healthy for its dessert-like taste. Or for something savory, Watson says Ole’s Garden, a vegetarian crepe with Gouda cheese, artichokes, spinach and tomatoes, is a popular choice. 

Commemorate your Experience at the Gift Shop

The novelty of ScandiHus doesn’t end with the cardamom and glögg. Once you’ve had that meal to remember, venture into the attached gift shop for Scandinavian trinkets you’ll only find here. “We are a family friendly, small town shop so our atmosphere is pretty relaxed, but you may feel like you have traveled abroad when you come in,” says ScandiHus owner Krista Watson, describing the gift shop’s contemporary Scandinavian atmosphere. Offering a plethora of Scandinavian gifts from clothing, wool blankets, food and candies, jewelry, candles and home décor, you’re bound to find something fun, hygge and definitely memorable to commemorate your trip.

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Worth the Drive

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