Summer road trips make me downright giddy.
My ritual traveling baskets, coffee thermos and travel mugs are pulled from storage. I shop for essentials to keep my companion, Mr. G, and me well sated for at least 800 miles: apples, nuts, Lara bars (I’m eating gluten-free now), bottles of water, assorted cheeses and rice crackers, grapes and raisins.
The iPod mix is updated. A well-thumbed atlas is tossed into the backseat. The house sitter is confirmed. The cat is boarded.
Bags fly free on road trips — an extra bonus — so I pack with abandon and gusto, tucking in extra pairs of shoes and an outfit or two that wouldn’t make the cut if I were boarding a plane.
Anticipation runs high for unexpected discoveries yielded by poking around parts unknown.
And thanks to social media and iPhone apps that keep me tethered to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter no matter where I am on God’s green earth, untold foodie friends also accompany me on adventures.
Like last year during our annual Fourth of July road trip, when Mr. G and I drove across Kansas (really, it’s not that bad), we savored food from Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Co. in Hays, Kan., on Chef Jasper Mirabile’s recommendation.
Arriving at our Breckenridge, Colo., destination, we gorged on pizza and pasta in restaurants suggested by friends and I found, in a rustic mountainside bar, some of the best deviled eggs I’ve had outside a church potluck.
This year we’re bound north for Door County, Wisconsin — an impossibly picturesque string of towns and villages straddling the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. I’ve visited before — last time was during a blustery January when four days of gentle flurries made me feel like a figure huddling inside a snow globe.
Stops made along the way are part of a road trip’s inherent charm.
We munch on really good fish tacos in Des Moines, Iowa, at Gateway Market and sight-see in Dubuque. Driving across the Iowa border and into violent weather I discover friend Christine Hamele is about an hour ahead of us after we simultaneously post pictures of the same double rainbow.
Mr. G and I arrive in Madison, Wis., and check into boutique HotelRED for a couple of nights.
Chocolates from local chocolatier Mauries, right up the street, are offered as an amuse bouche to our stay.
Friend Michelle Dover instantly replies to the picture I post of the property’s sexy lobby.
“I’m going to be there in a couple of weeks,” she writes. “Report back!”
Carly Mesmer from Overland Park chimes in.
“I used to live in Madison! Love it! I worked at Brocach Irish Pub and The Cooper’s Tavern! Both are amazing places on the Square! Have major amounts of fun!”
Yes, yes I will, Carly.
Madison, Wis., is an affable university town brimming with distinctive neighborhoods, two lakes, architecture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, the nation’s largest farmers’ market, Fromagination — one of the best cheese shops outside Kansas City’s The Better Cheddar — and restaurants galore incorporating artisan and local products into mouthwatering dishes.
Mr. G and I walk a couple of blocks from the hotel to Pizza Brutta, hailed as one of the city’s best for its authentic, non-fussy pies. I’m thinking about my favorite Kansas City pizza place, SPIN!, when we read the chalkboard on the restaurant’s wall detailing artisan vendors who supply them with top-drawer ingredients.
Halfway through a generous and tasty beet salad, I post a photo of Mr. G’s marvelous margherita pizza.
Suddenly I get a comment from Gail Lozoff, owner of SPIN!, who travels to eat — and pizza research is always on the itinerary.
“Kimberly, my husband and I are in Madison and ate at Pizza Brutta just an hour ago,” she writes. “Great bubbles and some charring on the crust, which I always look for. Good-quality cheese, excellent flatbread that’s almost like focaccia.”
And that sets the tone for the trip. Everywhere I go in Madison, Lozoff and her husband, Richard, are three paces ahead of us. We never actually see one another, but we’re literally eating in one another’s footsteps for two days.
“Going to the Dane County Farmers’ Market this morning,” I post bright and early on Saturday.
“Maybe we’ll see you there,” Lozoff responds, adding that friends are raspberry farmers in the area.
“Having dinner at Sardine tonight,” she posts later in the afternoon as Mr. G and I are walking around the University of Wisconsin campus. Later she tells me Richard had the mussels, which we tried, too, during a leisurely brunch at Sardine on our way to Door County Sunday morning.
Lozoff and I continue to follow one another via social media. She and Richard will be in Door County late summer for a wedding. She wants ideas and tips.
Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim is home for a week; Mr. G and I settle in and walk a along the road, gazing at the bay’s impossibly sparkling water, to Leroy’s Water Street Coffee. Finding a bench in the village’s waterfront park we toast one another with perfect cups of brewed coffee and watch a jaw-dropping sunset.
Overland Park neighbors Tom and Tara McGranahan, who lived in Wisconsin years ago, query on Facebook: “Are you bringing fresh fish home?”
The rest of the week is spent hiking, biking, kayaking and eating. I snap pics of the goats grazing on the rooftop of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant Butik in Sister Bay; mugs of chilled peach soup at Base Camp Coffee Shop that evoke the sublime creations of Executive Chef Jennifer Maloney at Kemper Museum of Modern Art Café Sebastienne; gluten-free pizza from Wild Tomato in Fish Creek.
“Need to remember to tell Gail about this,” I say to Mr. G.
On the Fourth of July we hop a ferry to tiny Washington Island, Wisc., that boasts a permanent population of 700 people and is a beloved jewel to folks who have summered there for generations. A tour of The Historic Island Dairy, its fledgling Fragrant Isle lavender farm and adjoining gift shop has me hyper-posting stunning pictures on Facebook.
Gina Reardon, owner of Kansas City’s Catering by Design, doesn’t waste time commenting.
“See if you can track down lavender jelly and I’ll make you delicious scones to go with it!”
And, as if I was blessed by the serendipitous magic of the food gods, I find myself standing in front of a shelf displaying all manners of lavender jams and jellies.
I grab a jar of blueberry-lavender and add a picture of it to Instagram.
“You’re on,” I tag Reardon and find my mind wandering to our future food date.
Jamie Jamison, general manager and wine director of The American Restaurant, hails from Whitefish Bay a suburb of Milwaukee, and joins the online conversation.
“My wife, friends and I go to Washington Island later this summer,” he says. “Lots of beer, brats and corn.”
Our last night is spent at Wickman House in Ellison Bay, a converted historic lodge perched in amongst a woodland scene that proves to be the cuisine exclamation point to our July respite.
Mr. G’s Staggering Chicken is fork-tender and my French-cut grilled pork chop with apple marmalade is 5-star stuff.
I message Jamison with a link to the restaurant. “If time permits, you must eat here.”
Leaving Door County last Saturday morning, we whisk into Sweetie Pies for two slices. Owner Dave Lea and his baker scurry about, putting the finishing touches on rows of mini pies destined for a pie-eating contest later in the day.
“The only thing we don’t sell is the aroma,” he jokes after noticing my long, drawn-out breath.
The sugary, fragrant, smells-like-home perfume of Sweetie Pies stays with Mr. G and me long after Door County disappears in the rear window. It vanishes only as we drive along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour and polish off the last bites of triple-berry pie.
“I CANNOT LIE, I LOVE PIE,” reads the caption on my last Instagram photo — one depicting the glistening pies at Lea’s shop.
Mirabile, vacationing with wife Lisa in Hawaii, shoots back: “Don’t forget, Miss Kimberly, Tippin’s is waiting for you in Kansas City.”
The 800-mile trip back to Johnson County is a bit quieter than when Mr. G and I launched into our adventure. But there’s sweet anticipation, just the same, for cracking open that jar of Washington Island blueberry-lavender jam, tucked away in my suitcase, with Reardon and exchanging foodie friend stories.
Kansas City caterer Gina Reardon, who along with husband John owns Catering by Design, loves the simple pleasures of afternoon tea — especially when it’s enjoyed on her beautiful, leafy urban patio where she plucks wild mint and hydrangeas for garnish. Reardon, who loves to bake — especially fruit pies with flaky, homemade crusts — whipped up cream scones for Kimberly Winter Stern post-Door County.
We lingered over glasses of orange-infused iced tea with sprigs of mint along with the scones, split and dolloped with blueberry-lavender jam from Wisconsin and fresh-whipped cream and chatted about favorite travels and the meals consumed in far-flung places like Valencia, Spain.
“I had a lunch one day of greens with a sherry vinaigrette accompanied by a puff pastry with melted Brie topped with caramelized onions,” Reardon closed her eyes, describing the vivid culinary memory. “The plate had garnishes of balsamic reduction, raspberry puree and violet jam. The entrée was a vegetable napoleon.”
Here Reardon shares the foolproof scone recipe she adapted from The New Fanny Farmer Cook Book. These treats are at the top of the scone perfection chart — light, subtly sweet, moist and beautifully structured. Cream Scones Makes 12 small or 8 large scones 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 tablespoon sugar 1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted Coarse sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together dry ingredients (combine well). Pour in heavy cream and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Knead gently on pastry board about 6 times, until dough is smooth.
If making larger scones, pat gently into a 7-inch-to-8-inch round, mounding slightly in the center. Cut into even wedges and place on parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.
If making smaller scones, divide dough in half, and pat into a 4-inch-to-5inch circle. Cut each circle into 6 scones. Proceed as above.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until scones are golden.
Note: You may want to check bottoms of scones at about 10 minutes if the bottoms appear to be browning quickly, you may want to double pan for the remainder of the cooking time.
Serve with butter, assorted jams, and lightly sweetened whipped cream if desired.
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.