|Vino in the Valley waitress Julie
Karlstad, sister to owner Larry
Brenner, and executive chef Allen Whitney believe strongly in good food and a good atmosphere for customers. The open-air-pavilion restaurant offers Italian food.
Staff photo by Pamela Powers
If You Go What: Vino in the Valley. Where: Rural Maiden Rock. When: May through September, 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturdays.
Directions: Take Interstate 94 west to the Glenwood City-Elmwood exit or Highway 128. Turn left and go to Spring Valley. Just past Spring
Being out in fresh air
will encourage appetites at an Italian
restaurant along the Rush River.
By Pamela Powers
Menomonie News Bureau
MAIDEN ROCK – Good vino, good views, good
vibes. That’s amore!, according to the owner of the new Vino in the Valley, an open-pavilion Italian
Owner Larry Brenner, 48, who works as a salesman
for Clear Channel Radio in the Twin Cities, built the
restaurant on his 300-acre farm along the Rush River.
While designing the pavilion, he kept in mind the beautiful scenic valley.
“It’s about having a framed picture of the valley,” he said. The pavilion is shaped like an amphitheater so customers can see the entire open-air seating area, as well as 1,800 grape vines planted nearby. The fruit eventually will be harvested for wine to be
served at Vino in the Valley.
“The restaurant is really there to provide a market for my wines,” Brenner said. “I definitely wanted the restaurant to be something different and a new experience.”
With the short summers in Wisconsin, he wanted to make sure customers could get outside and enjoy the warm weather.
As well as Italian cuisine, Vino in the Valley offers live music by area performers.
Visitors can stroll through the vineyard, walk by the river or relax by a bonfire.
Others may enjoy buying items from the farmers market, which features local produce, or the gift shop on site.
Vino in the Valley, which lies in the town of El Paso, opened in May. Dinner is served Thursday and Saturday evenings, May through September.
In October, Brenner plans to be open from noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with a pick- your-own pumpkin patch, apples and gourds available for visitors.
In December, people can purchase Christmas trees there. With planting underway, visitors eventually will be able to get Christmas trees grown at the farm.
Vino in the Valley serves about four entrees, all of which include bruschetta, the main course and dessert, said executive chef Allen Whitney.
The menu is small because the restaurant is open only for a few hours.
“People come for the food, but they also enjoy the atmosphere and the breathtaking view,” Whitney said.
All entrees cost between $18 and $19.
On the menu recently was a red wine vinaigrette salad that tossed together
Italian sausage, artichoke hearts, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and romaine lettuce.
Another salad combined rigatti pasta, shrimp, vegetables and spring mix lettuce.
Rigatoni with a rustica sauce included pork sausage, tomatoes, white wine and peas. The other pasta dish featured linguine with marinated and sauteed chicken breast, topped with an asparagus-Parmesan cream sauce.
“We make everything from scratch,” Whitney said. “We’re trying to use as much locally produced food as possible.”
For example, locally grown heirloom tomatoes are excellent for sauces, he said.
For dessert, a slice of chocolate torte cake from Whitney’s River Chocolate
Co. is topped with fresh seasonal fruit.
Pizzas baked in a brick oven are available for $19.
Among the recent selections, That’s Amore! was topped with pepperoni and sweet
Italian sausage with fennel, green bell peppers and onions.
Another pizza, the “Whey” Good, blended mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses
with roasted red peppers and black olives.
A third offering, the Farmer’s Market Pizza, consisted of eggplant, fresh mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet roasted garlic and fresh basil.
The menu suggests wines to accompany entrees. A glass of wine costs
between $5 and $7. There are three house wines, which were created at Northern Vineyards in Stillwater, Minn.: Rush River Red, Moonlight Whisper and Lost Creek Sunset.
“A lot of people aren’t familiar with what wine works with which entree,” Whitney said.
Screens on the pavilion help keep out bugs and offer some sun shade. Inside, linen napkins dot tables. Flowers line the path to the restaurant, and hanging ferns swing in the breeze.
Each evening, Brenner leads customers in a rendition of the song “That’s Amore!”
Julie Winger of Ellsworth has eaten at the restaurant about four times. “I am absolutely
impressed. I love being outside,” Winger said.
“I love the salads and the rigatoni,” she added. “I love the view. It’s down in
the valley, and it is just beautiful.”
“Everyone is so friendly. The food is great. The scenery is beautiful,”
agreed Becky Beissel of Ellsworth.
“It is just so different,” Beissel added.
An open-air restaurant is rare in Wisconsin, Whitney said, but the 80-seat restaurant stays busy.
“If it gets a little chilly, we will drape a blanket over a customer’s shoulders,” he
said. “They can still enjoy the outdoors.”
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