Monday, April 22, 2013


Small town charm...

This was one of those years when I headed north and south in alternating waves.  It has made for some interesting comparisons in fiber culture.  While art is art no matter what the thermometer says, there’s just something about how a northern state takes to knitting.  The appreciation goes so much farther than the aesthetic--it’s survival to be able to cuddle up in warmth when the snow drifts deep.  So, when life afforded me the chance to head back into Wisconsin and find some more yarn destiKNITions, I went.

Last time we centered around Milwaukee.  This time we’ll be visiting three smaller towns--Monroe on one day, Verona and New Glarius the next.  You could do all these in a single long day from Chicago, but I wouldn’t recommend want time to explore and enjoy, right?

One of my favorite aspects of midwestern living is the “circle the square” small town.  It’s the quintessential plaines states set up--a small town whose center is a square of commerce set up around either a park or the town hall.  There’s just something so friendly and connected about it that appeals to this urban techie girl.

Today we’ll be visiting Monroe.  First stop for me is always coffee, and in Monroe that means: 

Chocolate Temptation
1004 17th  Avenue
Monroe WI  53556

Sure, it’s a dessert place, but all destiKNITTers know the value of dessert for breakfast! (don’t worry, I’ll make sure you have something more traditional for lunch).  They have loads of delectable ice cream flavors, but I opted for an excellent latte (remember to stir--they serve it to you in layers!) and red velvet cheesecake.  There’s a reason the place has been going strong for 18 years--the chocolate here is outstanding.  Start here, and it’s nearly impossible to have a bad day.

Duly caffeinated, spend an hour or two wandering around the rest of the square.  On my visit, I found 

an indoor farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays (a rare treat in winter months)

a collection of antique boutiques at the Monroe Antiques Mall

At 1117 16th Avenue, I found some seriously good pastries and a local specialty called the Lindberger Roll (ideal for brats, sandwiches, or eating straight out of the bag) at the Boomerang Bakery

But there’s way more to explore here so grab all the info from a brochure or click here to see everything.  

When you’re ready to get your yarn on, head just a bit off the square to:

Orange Kitten Yarns
1209 17th Avenue
Monroe WI  53556

Don’t let the small size fool you--this is a fun little shop with lots to offer.  If you want a taste of the fiber world’s wonderful connectivity, this is where you’ll find it.  Owner Jocelyn Kline is an enthusiastic Monroe ambassador, introducing you to the town community at every opportunity.  You just know a shop with a full-size cutout of Elvis in the bathroom and a weekly Wednesday “show and tell” session is a friendly place to knit.  

Jocelyn (left) and Benita (right)
Still brand new--just over a year old and barely nudging up to a full-open schedule--Jocelyn has found a niche as the hub and showcase for many local artisans.  No, you won’t find a wall full of every color here--although Jocelyn has a respectable stock of the basic commercial lines given the size of the shop.  What you will find are delightfully unique yarns from the thriving local community of fiber-producers, other locally sourced products like goatsmilk soaps, and eight new friends the moment you walk in.  Benita Miller was in making socks while I was there, and I felt like we were all related before I left (and, in a fiber sense, aren’t we?).  

This is a shop where you can “do knitting any way you want it--art, distraction, or community,” says Jocelyn, who sees her shop as more community service as commerce.  I feel as if should I ever move here, Jocelyn would have me plugged into the community before I unpacked my kitchen (maybe even before I unpacked my suitcase!).

This is the dairy state, and folks in Monroe take their cheese seriously.  Very seriously.  Every other year, they go all out for “Cheese Days”--the area’s biggest festival.  The next event--the 100th anniversary, mind you--is September 2014 and I plan to be there.  

I’ll be appropriately accessorized with our first knit-along from this shop:

Lucy Neatby’s Utterly Divine Bag
So bold and quirky I couldn’t resist!  I’ve avoided felting up until now, but this bag was just outrageous enough to break down my reluctance.  As with every Neatby creation, the fun colors also sport some very clever design tactics.  Who could say no?

If you’re looking for something more local and low-key, opt for:

Ewe n’ Me Enterprises Thrummed Mitten Kit
Inside a cozy knitted mitten are tufts of roving that will custom-felt to your hands as you wear them.  Hands-down the warmest mittens you can find, and in a rainbow of cheery colors.  Packaged into kits by the Winnebago IL company, they’re as pretty as they are practical--especially for those of us who lack the skill to artfully combine colors.

If you want a project that embodies Jocelyn’s connective philosophy, I’d suggest:

Sandy’s Art Yarn Hat
Art Yarn--fiber that’s tricked out with all kinds of goodies so that the strands are as much  a work of art as the final product--always adds extra pizzaz to basics like hats and scarves.  This kit is no exception.  A great way for a new knitter to get some high-power punch out of simple stitching, this kit creates a one-of-a-kind hat children or teens would adore.  You’ll hear more about Sandy and her happy sheep in our next post, by the way.

When you’re ready for lunch, you’ve got quite a few choices, but here’s the two we tried:

Cafe Claudeen
1014 17th Avenue
Monroe WI 53556

This place is to food what Orange Kitten is to Yarn--a showcase for local products.  Friendly service, an inventive menu, and a casually elegant atmosphere make this an ideal place for lunch.  I had a lovely quiche while my companion had a hefty sandwich.  Had I not already indulged, the dessert case had several great options.  If you think small midwestern towns can’t deliver foodie-level noshing, this place will prove you wrong.

Want something a little less delicate but loaded with fun?  Try:

Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern
1301 15th Avenue
Monroe, WI  53556

The line to sit down is your first clue this is a local favorite.  Filled with murals, dozens of cheese selections, and a basic tavern-style menu, this place oozes character.  With simple fare done to perfection, this place can handle a rowdy boys’ night out as easily as it hosts a kids’ lunch with grandpa.  As a matter of fact, our server asked if we’d mind sharing a table with an older couple out for a Sunday drive, and we ended up having one of the most entertaining lunch with strangers-turned-friends I’ve ever experienced.  The world is losing such places, so I’m glad this one still stands.  Hand your server a dollar and watch him tack it to the ceiling in the most original and entertaining charity drive I’ve ever seen!

Tune in next time to find out the wonderful farm adventure that finished our day in Monroe.  You won’t want to miss it!

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