We accidentally ended up in Racine, Wisconsin at the same time as Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. We realized when we saw a copy of the local paper at a bakery stop on our way into town. Oh, look, Trump is going to be here. Today. What. We’d made the trek to Racine for the most noble of travel reasons, to eat kringle.
Kringle is the state pastry of Wisconsin. Did you know that states had pastries? Some do. Illinois’ is the Pumpkin Pie. Maryland’s is the Smith Island cake. (This is a cookbook waiting to be authored.) Kringles are originally from Scandinavia, but through the Wisconsin lens they became these giant rings of danish pastry that are filled with something sweet and typically topped with a glaze. Racine claims the title of kringle capital of Wisconsin. I happen to love both Wisconsin and pastries. But our innocent visit to our northern neighbors (Kringle Krawl 2016 is how we christened it) was suddenly under the dark (orange?) cloud that is Trump. We were all a little tense. Would there be traffic? Would kringles be sold out? Would all of this end in national controversy?
We cautiously proceeded into downtown Racine. A giant billboard on a local church proclaiming #ALLLIVESMATTER was a foreboding sign. But Racine was, basically, a ghost town on this unusually cold spring day. Like many small Midwestern cities, it seemed a little sleepy and a little economically depressed. The streets were deserted. There were a few Trump signs in front yards, but also a few Sanders signs, which I guess makes sense. Having already made it to three of our planned kringle stops, we needed something not sweet for lunch and chose the Kewpee hamburger stand (please check out their website—it is a treasure). It is one of only a few remaining outposts of this once abundant fast food chain. Burgers here are $1.70 each, which I still haven’t been able to reconcile with my limited understanding of economics. The burgers were good. They could have easily charged $3.70. We liked this place and quickly realized it would make a great location for a photo-op for Palin or Trump. We spent some time contemplating what we would do if they entered the restaurant. I’d vowed to make some sort of dick joke. They never showed.
At the local art museum (RAM) we viewed an exhibit of works by local artists made entirely of peeps. The exhibition included a portrait of Donald Trump titled “A Man of the Peeple”. We couldn’t be entirely certain of the artist’s intention, though I was sure it was satire. It was my favorite work in the exhibition, unless it was wasn’t. We then stopped at a local art gallery where we discovered that the elderly man working there and my friend Molly had the same wrist watch. Small world.
When we exited the gallery, we finally encountered Trump supporters. As we stood on the desolate main street, a car drove by and the occupants shouted at us:
TRUMP 2016! YEAH.
It felt like a threat. We just silently looked at them as they sped away. It was less confrontational than I had been mentally preparing for, so I felt some disappointment. That was basically it, though later we saw a man dressed partially in a clown costume carrying a Trump sign. Again, hard to read the intended meaning.
Overall, we had a fun day in Racine. We ended up trying kringles from four different bakeries. They were all good. The differences between the bakeries were hard for me to detect, and even harder to describe. Maybe you need to grow up in Wisconsin to develop a very refined kringle palate. I’d say: You can’t go wrong! If you could only stop at one bakery (why would this be the case?), I’d suggest you go to Bendtsen’s. I liked theirs the best (for reasons I can’t articulate) and I really loved their oven (pictured above), which I learned was from the 1950’s. I also really liked the kringle from O&H, which feels lame because they are a giant operation mass producing kringles and distributing them throughout the region. Still, they were good. My testing was ultimately flawed because at each place we tried a different flavor of kringle. Apples to oranges. I can tell you that all of my favorite kringles contained a filling combining cream cheese and fruit.
While in Racine, we also toured Wingspread, a Frank Lloyd Wright residence owned by the S.C. Johnson company. It is one of the most incredible interior spaces I have ever been in and I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. Especially if you are a Wright fan or like to see cool interiors. It was the highlight of the trip for me. The tour is free, and mostly self-guided. Tell Amanda we said hello, she’s wonderful.
On our way home we stopped at The HobNob, a classic Wisconsin supper club that has been in business for 61 years. It is a real dream. It feels like you have wandered into a David Lynch movie. The food and service are both good enough, but the atmosphere is wow wow wow zing. I look forward to returning.
As we were leaving the restaurant, the hostess (who definitely had the mostest) said: Come see us again. As the days get longer, the drive only gets better.