Launching a restaurant in Pepin, Wis. must be daunting. The Mississippi River town has been home to one of the region's top day-tripper destinations -- the Harbor View Cafe -- for more than a quarter-century.
That kind of pressure hasn't stopped Homemade Cafe owner Julie Elwell. Now in its second summer season, Elwell's roadside cafe -- it's right on Hwy. 35, the two-lane artery that connects towns along the river -- channels the kind of Main Street USA eateries that glorified all-American scratch cooking and are now little more than memories.
The restaurant earns its name by turning out big-hearted, big-portioned and obviously fresh-tasting fare; no can openers or freezer bags here. Breakfast consists of omelets, bacon, waffles, huevos rancheros, blueberry pancakes and tender drop biscuits smothered in rib-sticking fennel-sage-pork sausage gravy. At lunch there's a terrific artery-clogging Reuben, a half-dozen lavishly topped burgers, a thin-cut fried pork loin sandwich that could easily feed two hungry farmhands and a BLT that's right on the money.
The brightly seasoned salsa, fruity jams and fizzy ginger ale are just a few of the memorable made-on-the-premises touches. Most daytime prices fall in the $7-and-under range. Starting this weekend, Elwell is adding Friday and Saturday dinner service (hello, popovers), including a Friday night fish fry.
Elwell is the cafe's pie baker, and whether she's tucking blueberries and peaches under a buttery lattice-weave crust or piling the coconut cream to gravity-defying heights, she has just the right touch, stocking the bakery case with at least a half-dozen varieties and charging just $3 a slice.
The unassuming blue-and-white surroundings include retro cake covers cleverly doubling as lampshades; there's also a large, sun-drenched patio. Oh, and a sign at the door nicely sums up the payment situation: "We love pie and tasty food but we don't love credit cards." Point taken.