Nathan Berg left home at 17 to gain hands-on learning about food and sustainable agriculture. But, while you can take the kid out of Wisconsin, you can’t take Wisconsin out of the kid. He heard that a lakeside supper club in his hometown of Chippewa Falls was for sale.
“By the time I looked at it,” he reports, “I had a business plan in my head—and a mission in his heart.” He named it Native Bay to herald the focus of his cooking.
Renovated in the style of another son of Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright, it opened in July 2005 with a menu “rooted not in the style of some distant land, but right here in the Upper Midwest,” he proclaims. Locals, looking for the Friday fish fry that’s a longtime Wisconsin tradition, were skeptical—until they got a taste of Nathan’s walleye with wild rice pilaf and shiitake mushrooms sauced in a silky purée of acorn squash. Trout from Buffalo Fish Farm down the road in Downsville supplies the inspiration for a salad of smoked trout mingling with matchsticks of celeriac and Honeycrisp apples in horseradish crème fraiche.
Entrées salute regional artisanal purveyors, too, from the skirt steak of organic beef served with crab apple jus (the same local beef fuels the burgers he grills lakeside for the boating crowd) to a trio of melon sorbets (cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon) and the sorbet of mulled cider that melts into a baked apple.
While Nathan’s wine list offers wide-ranging choices, it’s his list showcasing 15 regional microbreweries that’s clearly caught his fancy. “Viking outsells Miller Lite,” he reports.
By Carla Waldemar, a food writer in Minneapolis, Minn.