Authentic Bayfield Peninsula
By Jessica Luhning | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
By the Shining Big Sea Waters
In the early days of summer
When we bask in pleasant sunshine
And enjoy the cooling breezes
On the shores of Lake Superior
When our pine trees all are glorious
In the richness of their verdue
And all nature seems rejoicing
In the beauty of the landscape,…
In the healthy town of Bayfield
In the pretty harbor city
On the shores of Gitchie Gummee.
Author unknown, The Bayfield Press, February 1908
The clear and fervently blue waters of Lake Superior hold the communities of Wisconsin’s north shores in a comforting, timeless grip. Born out of spirit, thriftiness and a survivalist’s will to not only carve out a life amid the cold, grey winters and boom and bust hardships, but to proudly assert this place as one of the most historically significant and ecologically diverse in the upper Midwest. The communities of the Bayfield Peninsula embrace their earth-given natural resources which both define and transcend each generation’s imprint, further strengthening the link of past, present and future in this truly authentic region.
Like the landscape, the people who make this place home are also discernibly authentic with an intense entrepreneurial spirit. Their lives are marked by moments of celebrating the successes and mourning the losses of thy neighbor. Rarely in my travels do I find myself witness to the truly authentic. This journey north was an unexpected exception.
Seeking a respite from the daily grind, I hitched a ride with a close friend embarking on a whirlwind mid-winter get-away to the land “where the water meets the soul.” My soul wanted to be enveloped in these waters, like the verdant Apostle Islands, to feel the deeprooted energy of this place. But since the waters are cold and often frozen, my feet instead stayed firmly on the shore exploring the best of equally soul-soothing sleep, drink and bite in this “more than a destination” region.
In mid-January the Bayfield Peninsula is quiet. The excitement and rush of the summer crowds is gone and the restaurant, shop and B&B owners carry an expression akin to a giant yet gentle exhale. The quiet season is my preferred arrival time—a time when the true expression of a place lets itself be known. No need to peel back the layers. I have come seeking the hometown favorites, those places that support community no matter the season, and I find their doors are open. On the recommendation of a friend, we chose to stay at Bayfield’s Pinehurst Inn, the region’s most eco-friendly and supremely restful bed and breakfast for the travel-weary. Owners Steve and Nancy Sandstrom work passionately and tirelessly to offer visitors a home away from home infused with the highest level of hospitality, environmental sensitivity and peaceful rejuvenation for the mind, body and soul. Oh, and they have a sauna.
Truly a family affair, Steve and Nancy manage the eight-room Pinehurst Inn and Garden House and Enso Day Spa together with their daughter Darcy and son-in-law Michael Schwerin. With a triple-bottom line management philosophy and an annually updated Sustainable Operations Plan, the Sandstroms have achieved Wisconsin’s Travel Green Certification as well as the highly-regarded Eco-certification by Sustainable Travel International.
Family is at the heart of Pinehurst, and the Sandstroms have a way of extending grace, warmth and passion for their place on this earth to every person who walks in their door, sleeps in their beds and shares in the lively discourse around the breakfast table.
Standing in the south-facing, sun-soaked kitchen watching Steve prepare a sautéed onion, mushroom and goat cheese quiche for tomorrow’s breakfast, I can see the pride he takes in his work. With care he slices the onion and mushrooms, looking up only to expound upon the blessings and bounty of Bayfield’s microclimate, which has over the years produced a diverse agricultural landscape and a vibrant farmer and food artisan community.
Steve and Nancy have a goal of sourcing 75 percent of their food both locally and organically. “Our local growers and grocers have risen to the challenge of supplying local and organic foods,” says Nancy. And because of the unique soil and warmer temperatures on the Bayfield Peninsula, the Sandstroms have access to a myriad of fruit orchards, like Bayfield’s North Wind Organic Farm which, Nancy exclaims, grows “the best organic strawberries I have ever tasted!” The delightfully sweet and plump blueberries that were preserved in the late summer were an unexpected treat in our morning’s organic yogurt, fruit and granola parfait. The “Bayfield Blues” came from the Dale Family at Highland Valley Farm, a Food Alliance certified “sustainable farm” that produces blueberries, raspberries, black currants, maple syrup and honey.
“There is something exciting about going directly to the farm and talking to the producers,” says Nancy.
Chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, pork and lamb are provided by Pasture Perfect Co-op, a cooperative of three small family farms in northern Wisconsin, and fresh, organic eggs are delivered to Pinehurst Inn’s kitchen door by the McCutchen Family of Angel Acres Farm near Mason.
Like the Pinehurst menu, Steve and Nancy share a strong attachment to the land with many childhood memories spent in Bayfield and on the waters of Lake Superior. Nancy spent every summer as a child at Pinehurst. Her family owned the Inn from 1904 to 1984, and Nancy remembers Pinehurst being the “center of [her family’s] life, where everything revolved around the hundreds of acres surrounding the Inn.” After two subsequent owners, in 1995 Pinehurst was offered for sale. Taking a leap of faith, Steve and Nancy purchased the Inn in 1996, and many renovations later, they continue to maintain the integrity and authenticity of this grand inn on the shores of Lake Superior.
We moseyed up to the door of the cheerfully yellow eatery. Three steps in, we realized that this place was truly special. If you were to ask me about my experience at Good Thyme Restaurant in Washburn, I would tell you to expect the unexpected.
First, owners Renee Holman and Mary Dougherty are together a force to be reckoned with. Renee, whose smile and sly, mischievous chuckle could cheer up even the darkest of souls, is Head Chef and the back of the house is her culinary studio. Renee’s energetic warmth and desire for the spontaneous imbues every aspect of the place.
The front of the house is entirely the realm of Mary Dougherty, the infectiously exuberant and undeniably passionate Lady of the House and Wine Maven. With a quick wit, tenacious appetite for life and effortless ability to make you feel like you truly belong in this moment, in her company and at her table, Mary is the quintessential perfect host.
Upon seeing them in action, one would assume they have been life-long friends, but not unlike Steve and Nancy’s leap of faith into the B&B business, Renee and Mary’s meeting and journey into restaurant co-ownership is serendipitous.
Renee’s interest in cooking started at a young age as she took on the responsibility of preparing dinners for her family on Lake Superior summer fishing trips. Always adventurous and with the same thriftiness that characterizes the region, Renee learned how to cook by wire-strapping foil wrapped packets of seasoned local vegetables and meat or fish to the manifolds on her family’s fishing boat. (Yes, you read that correctly.) After a string of creative entrepreneurial escapades, Renee returned to her love of food and ordered a catering trailer on eBay—so was born Good Thyme Catering. In 2001, she opened Good Thyme Bistro in downtown Washburn and instantly became a local favorite.
In 2007, Mary found herself in need of a caterer for a family funeral and called on Renee. “As soon as she walked into my kitchen I knew we would be friends,” says Mary.
“Yes, I took one look in her refrigerator and wanted to get to know her better,” follows Renee.
Thus their relationship with food and each other was born. When Good Thyme Bistro burned to the ground in March of 2008, Renee and Mary did the unexpected and rebuilt Good Thyme in the 100-year-old Sprague home—with permission from the resident ghost, Hattie Sprague, of course—north of Washburn and re-opened on Valentine’s Day in 2009.
Good Thyme’s menus are not only inspired by Renee’s travels to Thailand, Italy and France, but by the wealth of fresh ingredients found in northern Wisconsin and Lake Superior. Fresh Lake Superior trout and whitefish are sourced from Newago’s Fish Market in Bayfield, who on a slow winter day like today delivers the fish straight from the boat to the kitchen’s back door.
Artisan-made Wisconsin cheese is always a highlight of the menu. Renee and Mary’s favorite cheese artisan is Michael Stanitis, Wisconsin’s northernmost dairy goat farmer and cheesemaker. Stanitis launched his line of Sassy Nanny cheese products in May of 2011. A close friend of Renee and Mary, “Michael is a true character with an affinity for red heels and skirts,” says Renee. I had the misfortunate of not crossing paths with Stanitis and thus failed to witness his unique dressing habits, but I can be certain of two things: he makes a very fine goat cheese, and I have a feeling I would like him very much. His cheeses can be found throughout northern Wisconsin, Minneapolis and Duluth and on Pinehurst Inn’s breakfast menu.
Inspired by one of their preferred produce suppliers, Northern Garden of Life near Ashland, Renee and Mary are making plans for a large produce, fruit and herb garden on the restaurant’s five acres. Garden of Life offers work opportunities to people in rehabilitation and donates over 20,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables annually to the BRICK Ministries Food Shelf pantry. Renee and Mary are in the early stages of building a working partnership with the Bayfield County Jail to provide a work rehabilitation program for inmates interested in assisting with growing and harvesting food.
By six o’clock, the tables were filled and the dining room hummed with a joyous “everyone knows your name” kind of energy. Renee or Mary greeted friends and family with a hug or handshake as they busily managed both the kitchen and bar while also joining us for dinner.
The blue cheese meatloaf with caramelized onion gravy is a house favorite, as is Renee’s special Bouillabaisse with house-made rouille, clams, mussels and whatever Lake Superior fish was caught and delivered that day. We decided on the totally addicting, sweet and savory fig and fromage pizza with prosciutto, the night’s special of perfectly seasoned medium-rare beef tenderloin served with smashed red potatoes, and finally, the Lake Superior trout picatta with capers and a white wine and lemon butter sauce served with smashed red potatoes. The picatta was, in one word, outstanding. The sweet acidity of the lemon, caper and wine sauce married beautifully with the fresh, pink and “meaty” trout. It was unlike any trout I have ever tasted. I vow to return for a second helping.
No trip to Good Thyme is complete without a journey down to the wine cellar. This is Mary’s domain and where, in those few short moments together, she was able to share with us one of her true passions.
“Wine is like alchemy, like magic. I cannot imagine my life without wine,” said Mary as she reached for a bottle of Marc Ripoll Sans 2008 Black Slate from the Priorat village of Porrera, Spain. This particular wine is a true representation of terroir produced from grapes grown on sun-baked vines that eke out a very distinct minerality from the steep hillsides and slate soils of the region.
Taking her time, she breathed in the nose of the wine and let the first sip soften on her tongue. Once satisfied she withdrew the glass from her mouth and said, “See, you can really taste the struggle in the wine. The magic of where this wine is grown and produced. I feel that way about this place. There is something special about this region—this is the authentic life. I had a dream recently where I awoke in my dream and heard my own voice say, ‘It’s better than you can imagine.’”
I couldn’t agree more.
Later that night, sharing a sauna with my good friend, we had time to reflect on our journey. Under the full moon with the sound of Pike’s Creek gently rolling below, the waves of Lake Superior in the distance, and the cold held at bay by the soothing steam, our souls were rejuvenated and our hearts and bellies filled with the magic of Wisconsin’s north shores.
Looking for the best cup of coffee in Bayfield?
Big Water Café and Coffee Roasters
Small batch roasted coffees and mouthwatering sandwiches and wraps. Try the Spirit Creek Farm kim chi burrito. Yum!
117 Rittenhouse Ave., Bayfield, WI 54814
715-779-9619 | firstname.lastname@example.org