There’s a small restaurant just off Cottage Grove Road that has captured my heart. Known as the Cottage Café at 915 Atlas Ave., I can’t seem to get enough of what owner Bryan Stolarik offers seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a friendly and affordable place with the warmth of home. And when I head in that direction, it’s usually due to my passion for French toast and theirs is exceptional.
Born with Polish pride in Illinois, Stolarik has resided in McFarland for the past 30 years. After playing football in college, he worked in a grocery store, managed a bowling alley, dabbled in construction and spent 14 years with Pepsi. Along the way, thoughts continued to simmer about owning a restaurant until in August 2004, when he purchased a place that has become the heartbeat of a neighborhood.
Stolarik confesses to having no culinary background other than once being a campfire cooking Boy Scout and how he enjoyed meals made by his mother and grandmother. He also smiles with childhood memories of his father preparing Spam on Saturday to serve with American cheese, eggs and potatoes.
Cottage Café offers a casual atmosphere with two rooms, a counter, booths, tables, and a few community tables where 85 percent of food ordered daily happens to be breakfast items proudly served by Danette, a 14-year employee. The restaurant has a staff of 20, many being part-timers, with two managers on hand to make certain 250-275 regular and new customers are treated daily like longtime friends. The staff recently celebrated a record day in November when 440 customers were served during one eight hour day. At times, lines form, but always worth the wait.
An extensive mouth-watering menu offers breakfast selections, salads, sandwiches, burgers, luncheons with all the trimmings, desserts and a children’s menu. Specials throughout the week begin on Monday with meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, soup, rolls or cornbread. Friday specials are Wisconsin favorites.
Breakfast selections are many and include walleye with eggs, potatoes and toast, Spam with cheese, eggs, potato and toast and, on Sunday, Krab (crab) Benedict and Char-Grilled Sirloin Steak. And, of course, my own favorite happens to be raisin French toast that rises for 24 hours, then is sliced and dipped in an egg wash with milk, cinnamon, and sugar before char-grilling to perfection. Served with warm waffle syrup, it is yet another reason to remember the Cottage Café as a perfect place to begin the day.
Cottage Café meatloaf
5 pounds ground beef/ground pork
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 cup diced onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 large chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
¾ cup BBQ sauce
½ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 beaten eggs
¾ cup milk
Mix together ground meat and oatmeal. Saute onions, celery and green pepper and add to mixture with seasonings, BBQ sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Add beaten eggs and milk. Mix together and form into a loaf. Place on half of a sheet pan and cover loaf with a thin layer of ketchup. Bake for an hour until internal temperature of 155 degrees.
If you happen to have cranberries and apples left over, here is a recipe clipped from the September/October 1995 issue of Reminisce that will become another favorite holiday dessert.
Cranberry apple crisp
3 cups chopped peeled baking apples
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups quick-cooking oats
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup chopped pecans
Combine apples, cranberries, sugar and flour. Pour into a greased 7x11x2inch baking dish. In a bowl, mix topping ingredients until crumbly; sprinkle over apple mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until fruit is tender.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Holidays also encourage socializing with beverages and appetizers. Here is a recipe from “Savor Wisconsin,” a 1984 compilation of favorites from the American Cancer Society, Wisconsin Division, chaired by Carol Hird, and submitted by Ann L. Kersher, Racine County. The ingredients intrigued me for a variety of reasons and when I made it, Dick and I looked at each other, swooned over the flavor and didn’t share it with anyone. Leftovers were refrigerated and enjoyed again a week later. Bake in a 250 degree oven for four hours. See Notes: at the end of the recipe, as copied directly from the book.
Smoked sausage links, apples and onion
16-ounce package of smoked sausage links
1 cup brown sugar
3 or 4 apples
3 medium onions
Cut links in half (1-inch pieces). Peel and slice apples and onions. Mix all together and put in a 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake at 250 degrees for 4 hours. Serve in a chafing dish using a candle for heat.
Note: Not being certain about covering the pan, I cooked them without covering for 2 hours, then loosely covered with foil the remainder of the time. Also, not knowing the about the size of apple and onion pieces, I found that the pieces were too small to poke with a toothpick or tiny appetizer fork for guests, so the next time, I’ll make the apple and onion wedges a bit larger. The flavor is so delicious that we ate the entire amount over a period of a week, leaving none to share with others.
After bread pudding was mentioned here, Linda Medland shared that she was never a fan of bread pudding until she was lucky enough to be at the New Orleans School of Cooking and left with their recipe for a “wonderful” whiskey sauce that made bread pudding delicious. She also claims this can easily be doubled depending on how much bread pudding you make and that it “would taste good on anything, even kale!”
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup bourbon
Cream butter and sugar over medium heat until butter is absorbed. Remove and blend in egg and bourbon, stirring constantly. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Serve warm over warm pudding.
Recent requests: Do you have a favorite holiday recipe you’d like to share here with readers?