The Optimo Café in the Viroqua Public Market qualifies in all three categories. Rustic tables, the original pressed tin ceiling, and a full-width storefront window to watch passersby creates an early twentieth century atmosphere as pleasing as their entrées. The Optimo prepares food from local farmers that “is raised/grown within ten minutes of the restaurant.” I had a gyros served in a pita bread pocket with a tasty seasoned sour cream on the side. And the hostess and waitress greeted me with a huge smile and friendly hello, which always whets the appetite.
The Optimo is not all the Viroqua Public Market has to offer. This “town square” market presents an eclectic blend of local merchants, bookstore, art gallery, and music store. Bramble Books offers a wide variety of popular titles and genres, while VIVA Gallery exhibits a number of Driftless area artists, each with their unique perspective of this compelling region. The central market offers a variety of arts, crafts, and gifts; including Amish rugs, gourd fine art, funky dog collars, period clothing, locally-make jewelry, and enough diversity for an afternoon of browsing.
Twenty-five miles west on the Mississippi River, a riverside atmosphere awaits you at the Great River Roadhouse near De Soto. Tucked into a recess of the limestone bluff that towers over the restaurant, the local haunt features a head-turning view of the Mississippi River. Pull up a chair on the outdoor deck – you might want to hold that thought for July – or choose a spot near the window where you can watch a tranquil river sunset.
The Roadhouse boasts a full menu but you must try the pizza. I dare you to order and finish a family size Roadhouse Special, so big it needs to be elevated above the playing field of your table on large vegetable cans. Impressive to the eye and equally pleasing to the palate.
Country Gardens Motel and Lounge in Soldiers Grove is another great spot for homemade pizza, a tantalizing delicacy served straight from their own brick oven. They have a full menu of steaks, salmon, shrimp, pork chops, ribs, and daily specials, all served by friendly barkeeps and wait-staff.
The sights and sounds of Driftless Wisconsin will consume your day from sunrise to sunset, but the memorable experiences needn’t end at the dining room table.