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.
April 18th, 2016 at 7:27 am
This might be the best blog post ever. A Monday morning gift. Thank you!
April 18th, 2016 at 7:49 am
I grew up Racine-adjacent. There were O&H people and Bendtsen’s people; I had some of each in my extended family, and they all held very strong opinions. O&H is a big regional operation now, but it started small, too. Pecan forever!
Rima Rantisi says:
April 18th, 2016 at 7:56 am
This is the first time I read one of your posts and there is only one comment. Could it be that your fans are Trump supporters?
April 18th, 2016 at 9:02 am
OMG that Donald made of peeps!?!?!? Didn’t think either of those things could get any worse…and now I know it’s possible.
April 18th, 2016 at 9:10 am
The Florida state pastry would have to be a pastelito. If you ever find yourself in Miami or central/south Florida, try a classic one with guayaba y queso (guava and cream cheese).
April 18th, 2016 at 9:11 am
Lol, also, can you now be reached at email@example.com??
April 18th, 2016 at 9:14 am
Ileana- isn’t that wonderful?!
April 18th, 2016 at 9:39 am
Please tell me you bought a Kewpee tee!
Amber | Loves Food, Loves to Eat says:
April 18th, 2016 at 10:33 am
Love this post. Your trip sounds both terrifying and charming. I’d love to put that trumpeep in the microwave…. !!! I live in the Scandinavian neighborhood in Seattle, and we have some pretty solid Kringle! Love that stuff!
April 18th, 2016 at 10:39 am
I rolled through Racine once to check out it’s lighthouses, and so wished I had had some time to check out the what the city had to offer. Kringles and Kewpee sound boss. Hopefully I can get back through there someday!
April 18th, 2016 at 10:51 am
Amazing post all round, Tim! I’ve been meaning to check out Wingspread for a while but didn’t really know much about Racine. Will have to do a little road trip for the kringle and the architecture this summer.
April 18th, 2016 at 11:54 am
Trader Joes here sells the Danish Kringle with Almond filling (which would be called almond ring……Its the only kringle I’ve ever had, but I have to say we are huge fans!
Anne Kostroski says:
April 18th, 2016 at 11:59 am
Glad you shared some of the true treasures of my hometown. But did you try Larsens Bakery for their cheese Kringle? My personal favorite!! Also, next time you head up stop at the Yardarm for a great burger!!
April 18th, 2016 at 12:02 pm
That Kewpee cursor baby! I love it and that donald trump made of peeps. Tooooo funny! You know I was at Trader Joes last week and they had the middle photo Danish Kringle and I now regret not purchasing!
April 18th, 2016 at 12:18 pm
Anne! I didn’t know. I bet you know all of the hot spots. We tried the pecan at Larsen’s, I think. I definitely liked the packaging the best at Larsens.
April 18th, 2016 at 12:23 pm
Thanks for this post. Your trip to Wisconsin sounds delightful, even with the specters of Trump and Palin in the background. I lived in Chicago for most of my adult life and miss it terribly. Everything about the city….including weekend getaways Wisconsin. Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories.
Keep enjoy life…and food…and Kringles, of course.
April 18th, 2016 at 1:14 pm
I love The HobNob (especially at holiday time, when the decor is turned up 1000%). Your David description is spot on. I always feel like I’ve wandered into some kind of eerie time warp whenever I make the trip up there.
April 18th, 2016 at 1:58 pm
Never been to Racine, but I already know I love their Kringles…thanks to this most entertaining post!
April 18th, 2016 at 6:05 pm
That name was my handle a while back and seems fitting :) I grew up in Racine and this post is super on-point. You missed out on one major Racine classic though – the cracker crust pizza!!! Next time you’re there (if ever?) do yourself a favor and check out Wells Bros. The za is so great, as is the atmosphere. Just don’t try to pile on too many toppings! If you’re up for it go down prom weekend and check out the city-wide prom parade – it’s a real red carpet affair with bleachers for public seating and it’s broadcast live on local TV. That and the 4th of July parade are the major events of the year.
April 18th, 2016 at 6:31 pm
RaytownDiva! I didn’t know anything about the prom stuff until just now when I fell into an internet hole…it sounds so fascinating! We’ll be sure to get pizza next time, I love cracker crust.
April 18th, 2016 at 7:07 pm
I’m a huge kringle fan. Growing up in London, Ontario my mom always ordered one from a local bakery every Christmas and it was my favorite thing ever. Here in Vancouver, there aren’t many kringle bakeries, so on our next cross-the-country-and-into-another-country road trip, I’ll visit (a Trump-free) Racine.
April 18th, 2016 at 9:58 pm
Ah you have made me homesick. I love it when people get WI right, and you keep doing it.
April 19th, 2016 at 5:32 am
Love this – will travel for food! I live (and grew up) in a small town in Ohio – we have 3 Kewpee restaurants in town – best place to grab a burger, fries, and a malt!
April 19th, 2016 at 7:27 am
The writing in this post is fantastic.
April 19th, 2016 at 9:12 am
And thanks to everyone. Nice to see you here.
April 19th, 2016 at 9:31 am
What a charming picture you painted; I just love the ending quote and the sense of idyll you created. I’ll be moving from the Midwest in the next month or two and this post started my process of Midwestern grieving. Thanks for sharing.
April 21st, 2016 at 3:07 pm
I bet that Trumpeep is aged just about perfectly. I live in the town next to where Peeps are made so Peep art shows up for some occasions. And people have preferences of how to eat Peeps, such as totally fresh or well aged so it gets kind of chewy.
April 21st, 2016 at 3:58 pm
Now you owe yourself a return trip to Nelson’s Variety Store. A true classic in the sense of that old fashioned dime store feel!
April 25th, 2016 at 8:58 pm
I lived in Racine for a number of years as a child, and one of my fondest memories is O&H kringle. Despite my family not living there for over a decade, our extended family still requests kringle for reunions, holidays, etc. Every time I pass through I make sure to get a few… it’s that good. O&H all the way!
April 27th, 2016 at 7:02 am
That book already (kinda?) exists! http://www.amazon.com/United-Cakes-America-Recipes-Celebrating/dp/1584798394
April 29th, 2016 at 10:58 am
This is such a fucking delightful post. Also, the peeps kill me.
Rita Connelly says:
May 1st, 2016 at 12:31 pm
I grew up in Racine (I now, sanely live in Tucson,AZ) and to this day I can tell you what side of town someone grew up on by which bakery they thin makes the best kringle. All bakeries ship any where in the world, so I get my fix at Christmas when we order them for gifts and for ourselves. I do miss Kewpee’s though.
Mary Anne says:
May 2nd, 2016 at 7:57 pm
Tim! This sooooo makes me miss the Midwest. This seriously is a delightful post, to paraphrase another commenter.
Donald Trump’s peep tongue is the most disgusting thing i’ve ever seen!!!!!
Also…. claim to fame here! My stepdad’s family were the first Danish bakers to bring kringle to the US! They had a bakery in Racine called Ostergarrds which isn’t there anymore. We order kringle from Racine every Christmas!
HEARTS to you and Bryan. xx