What a pleasure to pop in last weekend at the Shady Grove, which is nestled along the scenic route between Ellsworth and Beldenville, Wis., about an hour east of the Twin Cities.
It was early -- not quite 6 p.m. -- and we barely snared the last two available seats. Its popularity is no surprise, because while the restaurant's snug, knotty pine setting says "supper club," the "Chez d'Grove" doesn't cook like one.
Masa cakes topped with feisty shredded pork? A gorgeous slab of pale, succulent cod, dressed with restrained notes of olive oil and sea salt? Chunks of juicy pork, singing with lemongrass, garlic and ginger accents? This cooking is definitely several cuts above its straight-from-the-freezer brethren.
Chef/co-owner Steve Snook also offers the tried and true -- char-grilled sirloin, fried perch filets, prime rib on the weekends -- but his not-so-inner locavore also scouts out premium ingredients from his neighborhood.
His diligence pays off on the plate, with plenty of bold, fresh flavors. There's a plentiful gratin of eggplant, tomato and basil, culled from the local farmers market. Ditto the supple butternut squash soup, fortified with coconut milk and a tangy Thai fish sauce.
A premium pasture-raised bison tenderloin is sourced from Gehl's Buffalo Hill Ranch, a four-mile drive from the restaurant. Rush River Brewing Co.'s exceptional ale, produced in nearby River Falls, is the secret ingredient in batter-dipped Alaskan cod. The deep-fried cheese curds hail from the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, naturally.
Service is small-town friendly, with prices to match. Autumn leaves-gazing, chased by a relaxing dinner, here we come.