Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Better Know a Town: Mineral Point


One of the new series we’re pioneering here at More Than Curds, is our “Better Know a Town” series. We’ll visit a new city in Wisconsin and give you, our trusty readers, a brief overview of why it’s a cool place to spend a day. To kick off this collection, I journeyed to Mineral Point for a day of killer beer, nature, and history.

One of the things that I love about the roadtrip to Mineral Point is the general "shire-ness" of the landscape. Mineral Point is located in the Driftless region of Wisconsin, which means that you’ll see tons of rolling hills, steep pastures, and roads carved through old limestone hills. History fun fact: Mineral Point is one of Wisconsin’s oldest cities and its claim to fame is that it was a HUGE lead and zinc mining town during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many Cornish immigrants settled in Mineral Point to work the mines, and the town still retains a few Cornish traditions today.

We rolled into Mineral Point around lunchtime. Our first mission: to find some fare with local flair. I overheard a couple of locals discussing the Red Rooster Cafe. The Red Rooster has a pretty sweet sign out front that advertises a different pasty (pronounced: PASS-tee) every day. Pasties are Cornish pies that the miners would take for their lunches (it’s kind of like a calzone stuffed with savory meat and potatoes and root vegetables). Mineral Point is pretty pumped about the pasty and it’s fairly easy to find one without having to do too much looking. 



However, we were on the hunt for good grub AND some good beer, so we bopped over to the Brewery Creek Brewpub. If the flags are flying outside the pub, it means that they’re open for business. I’ve never been so happy to see the Cornish flag flapping! Inside, you’ll find a gorgeous carved wooden bar that dates back to the American Civil War. If you can get past the tandem lava lamps burbeling next to the cash register, the bar is a pretty sweet piece of historical furniture. The four beers on tap were memorable and refreshing (we sampled the Blonde, the Wit beer, and the Mild Dark), and the food on the menu was locally grown. My favorite part of lunch was that my burger was topped with Hook's cheddar, which is world champion cheese made right in Mineral Point. We also tried the pasty at Brewery Creek--it included a hearty combination of beef, potatoes, and rutabaga, stuffed inside an expertly-crafted pastry crust. Two thumbs way up for the Brewery Creek Brewpub! 

After lunch we embarked on an epic historical walking tour. First stop was the Mineral Point Railroad Museum. This place housed some incredible railroad artifacts and furniture, but my favorite part of the museum was a huge working diorama of the Mineral Point railroad depot as it would have appeared in 1917. It was cool to scope out the diorama, and then look outside the windows of the museum to see those same buildings as they stand today. FYI: if you have a student ID, you can visit many of these historical destinations on the cheap!

As we made our way through town, we couldn’t resist stopping inside a local pottery place called The Mulberry Pottery Studio. We met the potter, Frank Polizzi, who was very friendly and talented at his craft. Frank makes all his stoneware right there in the studio using materials from around the Mineral Point area. He told us about the enormous kiln that he built by hand. It fires pottery at temperatures of 2,250 degrees, which according to Frank, is as hot as the inside of a volcano.

Finally, we arrived at Pendarvis. Pendarvis is a historical mecca in Mineral Point. It features a collection of preserved buildings that harken from Mineral Point’s mining heyday. For someone who appreciates old architecture and artifacts, it’s an interesting place to explore and oogle. But a word to the wise: totally watch your head as you enter the buildings-- those Cornish miners were short! Another highlight of visiting Pendarvis is the group of old ladies who run the gift shop. They’re really pumped about Mineral Point, some get decked out in old timey dresses and bonnets, and they’re happy to sell you a replica clay pipe or tiny pasty earrings! 


Mineral Point is a rustic, charming Wisconsin town with plenty of exciting and unusual things to do on a visit. So, if you find yourself traveling through the Driftless, swing by Mineral Point for a pint, a pasty, and some Cornish-American history!

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