The Boxcar and Schumacher's Grill 212

Restaurants worth the road trip

Solomon supplements the Boxcar's Southern repertoire with more regional Wisconsin fare, such as a seasonal tasting menu inspired by farmers' market produce and a thick, juicy burger with French fries so crispy and addictive you'll wonder if they're fried in crack oil. Solomon says he's also looking into making his own bratwurst this summer.

But first he's working on converting the locals to his first South'sconsin creation: smoked cheese curds, served warm and soft. At first locals resisted the curds, but they're apparently growing to love them—along with Solomon's devotion to creative expression. "If I did what everyone else wanted, I'd probably open a McDonald's," he says.

 

Scratch cooking sets the Boxcar apart from other beer-and-burger joints
Robert Meyer
Scratch cooking sets the Boxcar apart from other beer-and-burger joints

Location Info

Map

The Boxcar

211 Broad St.
Prescott, MN 54021

Category: Restaurant > Southern

Region: Wisconsin

Details

The Boxcar
211 Broad St., Prescott, Wisconsin
715.262.2026; Web site
appetizers $4-$6; entrées $8-$16

Schumacher's Grill 212
12 W. Main St., New Prague
952.758.2133; Web site
appetizers $6-$14; entrées $15-$20

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THE BUILDING THAT HOUSES SCHUMACHER'S restaurant and hotel has been anchoring Main Street in New Prague since 1891. Upon approach, it seems far more appropriate to arrive by stagecoach than Japanese-made automobile, but no matter. The stately brick building was designed by Minnesota's most famous architect, Cass Gilbert, and purchased in 1974 by John Schumacher, who ran the establishment for nearly 31 years before shuttering it in 2005. When John and his wife, Kathleen, announced their plans to close Schumacher's, the phone rang off the hook with condolences and last-minute bookings.

After trying unsuccessfully to sell the place (two major deals fell through during their four-year hiatus), the Schumachers decided to give up their longtime Minnesota State Fair booth and focus on their core business. After an extensive remodel, they converted the inn's 12 rooms to six suites and reopened last September.

The new Schumacher's doesn't feel so different from the old as you pass through the heavy wooden doors into the lobby, with its grand staircase, carved wood, and stained glass. The main dining room has blond wood paneling, a tin ceiling, and a fireplace. The opposite side of the building feels more relaxed with its cozy bar and sunny porch. While some of the furnishings may be the same, including the 1970s wooden chairs painted with ornate bouquets and vines by the folk artist Pipka, the restaurant's fare is less formal. There's still much of Schumacher's signature wild game and Old World, central European fare, but it's offered at a lower price point for more casual dining.

The Sampler Plate tastes like classic Schumacher's: three types of house-made sausage (the best is the pheasant), sweet pickled cucumbers with celery salt, blue-cheese-stuffed peppers, a mound of pâté, and stacks of pumpernickel toast, which are served with fresh grated horseradish, a fantastic and underutilized condiment. Some of the entrées, like the pork schnitzel, are good for what they are, though what they are isn't much to get excited about: cutlet that's pounded, breaded, and browned. All the entrées are priced at less than $20 and come with a choice of two sides, including the likes of roasted carrots, braised red cabbage, sauerkraut with caraway seeds, and Czech dumplings that are a bit like log-shaped gnocchi smothered in a rich, sweet gravy.

The elk steak doesn't make a great impression. The meat is tender, but even wrapped in bacon, the mild-flavored steak wasn't as juicy or decadent as some of its beefy cousins. In sandwich form, though, the meat was a pleasure: sliced with piles of crimini mushrooms and onions, served open-face on a ciabatta bun with a slather of sour cream and side of fresh horseradish.

My favorite among the old-style dishes was the Czech-style roast duck, an item that's been on the menu since the hotel opened more than a century ago. The elegant bird is plated as if it's flying off the platter, and its tender meat is covered by a fatty-crisp skin that melts into a crackling unctuousness. But the best entrée I tried wasn't traditional at all: the brown-sugar-cured, pekoe-tea-smoked salmon. The fillet arrived with a broiled crust on its sugar-glazed exterior, its buttery flesh cooked just to the point of setting up, custard-like, and not a second longer. It had the same campfire richness of smoked salmon, without the leathery texture. As with the duck, the fish was a perfect partner for Schumacher's house-made cranberry chutney. The only change I'd suggest would be raising the price a few bucks and sourcing a non-Atlantic salmon.

John Schumacher, hair turning as white as his chef's coat but still sporting his trademark mustache, exhibits no lack of energy for his 63 years as he spins through the dining room, often shadowed by his two fluffy dogs. (I'd guess he's one of the hardest-working chefs of his age in the state. "I'm kind of a fiery old goat underneath it all," he proclaims.) One night Schumacher arrived with a hot pan in hand, doling out samples of a new recipe of rib tips in sweet-and-sour sauce, with all the panache of a Food Network personality. After greeting nearly half of his guests by name, Schumacher was effusively thanked by a man wearing a Sweden sweatshirt, who told him how much the place had been missed.

The best way to end your Schumacher's meal is with a soft block of Junk in the Trunk bread pudding—a spongy sugariness of leftover sweet rolls with the texture of pumpkin pie and a similar cinnamon-nutmeg spark. The pudding is served in a puddle of caramel with a ball of whipped cream. It's a rich enough indulgence to inspire one to postpone the drive home and retire to one of the suites upstairs for a night or two. If a diner makes a hotel reservation right after finishing a meal, Schumacher's offers a second night free. 

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