Wisconsin seasons provide a range of things to groan about, but even in winter, you can get a fruit salad with fat grapes and ripe mango almost as fresh as the day they were picked. Preservatives, well, they ensure grocery shelves are always stocked full of your favorite foods and snacks. For many, this lifestyle equates to comfort and familiarity. It’s certainly made some exotic foods very affordable. But more intensive refrigeration, year-round production schedules, and worldwide shipping ask us to consider if the environmental cost is worth the convenience.
Broyt Bakehaus at Cow & Quince, a New Glarus restaurant putting more time into sourcing food than most do finding a movie on Netflix, places the question of value in front of its customers. “It’s always been about mission and connection,” says owner Lori Stern. “The philosophy was simply to connect people with their food.” Farm, chef, mouth. There aren’t many more steps than that at an eatery where the menu is subject to growing seasons.
From coordinating school health policy at the state level in Washington to her work in Wisconsin as a consultant for safe and supportive schools, all the branches of Lori’s journey have coalesced. “Once you take the lens of obesity prevention and social justice work to food deserts and who has access to fresh and healthy foods and who doesn’t and the people picking the food and what their exposures are and do they have access to the foods they’re picking, it just starts to roll into how are we thinking about food beyond what we’re putting into our own bodies. And then you end up with a restaurant like this.” A restaurant in tune with process and product.
Broyt Bakehaus was born out of an adjustment to COVID-19, as Lori found it soul crushing to put her cherished Cow & Quince offerings in a box. But shift in direction doesn’t mean shift in concept. Everything is now more to-go friendly, perfect for picnics and local events, and as responsibly sourced as ever. The change to operating a Jewish deli has been a comfortable one for Lori, and she keeps her relationships with local suppliers, including Bering Bounty and Garden To Be. It’s field-to-dough baking with cupcakes, pies, bagels, and bread.
“I think the food is pretty simple,” says Lori. “The joy in it is that we’re doing it all from scratch. So I’ll put a Rueben on the menu once that brisket is out of the brine and I get it brazed and I have corn beef again.”
Having a flexible menu means Lori might wake up one cloudy day and decide to serve chicken noodle soup. She’ll call one of her farmers and ask if they have chickens, then go from there. The other upside of the menu is Broyt Bakehaus at Cow & Quince isn’t subject to specific food shortages since they can work with whatever is available. “I feel incredibly grateful that it’s not something I have to worry about.” When a favorite goes off the menu, customers move on to another item without protest knowing that whatever else they order will be fresh and delicious.
There is a downside to eating food without adjuncts. “I’ve been ruined for a lot of stuff. I mean, our ice cream is phenomenal. It’s a custard base. We do it with organic eggs. We don’t have to put any stabilizers in it. So then you go to have a store-bought ice cream, which they absolutely have to do that because it’s on the shelf and being shipped, then you start to be able to taste it. It’s like, ‘Darn it. I love ice cream. Why? Why!’”
The goal isn’t to take down ubiquitous ice cream or fast food chains; it’s to encourage a fundamental shift in the way people think about food. That isn’t going to happen if customers just come in once or twice a week. Which brings us to the original concept behind Cow & Quince, in place well before the bakehouse extension. “When we started, I was thinking it was going to be more of a market and pretty casual fare. We were going to do waffles and things like that. My son-in-law actually was our first chef, and he kept adding to the menu. The food got really well known, and we kept adding tables.” The fact remains that if you have, say, an egg salad sandwich off the menu, “the Pasture Patterns Eggs are also available for sale in retail, and those are the eggs we’re using in our kitchen.” With the bakehouse transition, the focus on wholesale has gone full circle to once again embody Lori’s original vision.
Fostering these direct relationships between food and community has evolved into a community space akin to a coffeehouse. In Broyt Bakehaus at Cow & Quince fashion, this means going beyond a gathering area for friends and family. “Bill Warner at Sung Haven, he’s just in Belleville, he rolls oats in our back kitchen. So he rents the kitchen space. We do a little barter for that. I have his oats on the menu and his spinach, his kale, his tomatoes, and his peppers when he has them.
“There’s a terroir here, especially Green County, just like Kentucky Bourbon. I swear, the cows here that get to eat the grass that’s growing here, there’s something in the cheese. When you have that, and it goes into cheesemaking, it’s about place. And I love that. I love that story about what local really means.”
With no room to skimp on food or message, and having farmed meats and vegetables herself, Lori flies past the buzzwords when looking for ethically sourced food. Whatever people put in their mouths at Broyt Bakehaus at Cow & Quince has no fluff, and she’ll readily share where everything comes from without missing a beat.
The food is pure and accessible, the menu is tantalizing in its authenticity, and the restaurant is a microcosm of community values. For the past six years, Lori has helped show Wisconsin that New Glarus is more than a brewery, proving that “If it tastes good, you start to engage people.”
As of this writing, the plan is to continue with Cow & Quince through its revered monthly four- to six-course Prix Fixe dinners (reservations required).
Kyle Jacobson is a writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials.
Broyt Bakehaus at Cow & Quince
407 2nd Street
New Glarus, WI 53574