Wassail! This old English word was a greeting or salutation on festive occasions such as the holidays and Christmas Eve. It was also a toast, wishing good health and prosperity to a friend or neighbor. “Wassailing” usually involved spirits: spiced ale carried in a “Wassail Bowl,” (especially spiced ale), singing carols and making merry.
At Old Rittenhouse Inn, the word takes on a life of its own: Wassail Holiday Dinner Concerts, held each year in December, are 3-Course Luncheons or 5-Course Dinners paired with a concert of holiday music performed by the Rittenhouse Singers, a professional vocal choir backed by local musicians and directed by Innkeeper, Jerry Phillips.
The Inn is fully decorated for the season: her pillars are wrapped in ribbons, evergreen boughs and twinkling lights. A massive Christmas tree greets visitors in the front hall, and the holiday decorations continue inside the dining room, which seats up to 64 concert-goers.
The meals are described verbally by the maitre ‘d, and include tasty soups and salads, entrée favorites like Roast Pork Loin with Apple Cider Glaze or Champagne Chicken, and desserts like decadent Turtle Sundaes, fresh baked pies, and the classic Figgy Pudding with Crème Anglaise (laced with bourbon). There’s also the famous Rittenhouse Wassail Punch, made with Cider and cranberry juice, bourbon and spices.
Leading the show is the exuberant Jerry Phillips, who conducts his choir with seemingly limitless energy, often keeping time on tambourine, wood blocks, or bells as the singers perform throughout the Inn’s dining room and hallways.
Asked where he finds the energy, Jerry claims it comes from the audience. “They give us so much and we connect with them as well. For me, it’s a total rush. It usually takes me a week or so to come back to Earth afterwards. The singers have a lot of fun performing too. For many, it makes the holiday season. It wouldn’t be Christmas without Wassail.”
Next time: How it All Started: the History of Wassail!
Our little Innkeeping family here at the Rittenhouse Inn is very excited for Christmas Eve this year. We have given most of the staff the weekend off to be with friends and family, so our family is cooking and serving dinner this Saturday. For this special meal, we’ll prepare favorite dishes from our 35 years. In a nod to our long tradition of verbally recited menus, we decided to describe the meal in this blog entry much the way we would describe it at your table, so here goes:
We’ll start with a few delicious soups to choose from. First is Chicken Amandine, a sweet and rich cream and chicken stock with tender cubes of chicken breast, steamed wild rice, slivered almonds and a splash of Amaretto. The other choice is a long-time favorite, the Mushroom Burgundy. Here we begin with a rich beef and veal stock, adding fresh herbs, button and shiitake mushrooms, and burgundy wine. It is a clear soup served piping hot and rich with flavor.
For the salad course, the first choice is a spicy mixed greens salad lightly seasoned and tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and dressed with goat cheese, slivered almonds, and dried cranberries. The other choice is a classic spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette, hard boiled egg, purple onion, and crumbled bacon.
The sorbet course is still up in the air as of this writing, but we are leaning toward a fresh pomegranite sorbet with champagne float.
The entrée course features five selections to choose from. First, our Roast Pork Loin with Apple Cider Glaze is slow roasted till fork tender, and is one of our long-time favorites. Poulet au Fromage is another: a white breast of hen stuffed with a trio of artisan cheeses, cream cheese, fresh herbs, and spinach. We also offer one of owner Jerry Phillips’ specialties: tender braised short ribs with a red wine and herb pan reduction, roast garlic mashers, gingered cranberries, and squash soufflé. From Lake Superior, we offer our lake trout and whitefish braids, dusted with mild cajun reddening, baked, and served with lemon vinaigrete and savory wild rice. Finally, we offer our classic Steak Bercy, a pan seared filet mignon with a sauce of garlic, shallots, veal demi glacé and red wine reduction.
Desserts include our inimitable sundaes: Hot Fudge, Rum, and Turtle. We’re also baking fresh Cherry pies and Black Bottom Bourbon pies, as well as our molten chocolate truffle cake.
Top all that off with your favorite wines and spirits, and you have a Christmas Eve Dinner to remember at Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant.
Your hosts for the evening are the Phillips family. Jerry will act as head chef for the evening, with his son Mark serving as sous chef. The meal will be served by Julie and Wendy, and founder and co-owner Mary will also be on hand to ensure that everything comes out just right.
If you are in the Bayfield/Washburn/Ashland Wisconsin area over the holidays, we hope you’ll consider making reservations. Seating is from 5-7:30pm on Saturday, December 24. Cost is $55/person plus beverages, tax and gratuity.
We are so pleased to offer our favorite recipes from the Rittenhouse Inn and Landmark restaurant, and we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
This is surely one of our most favorite times of year… Wedding Season in Bayfield, Wisconsin! Bayfield is fast becoming known as a Wisconsin Wedding Destination, and for good reason: the beauty of Bayfield and Lake Superior offer numerous locations for your ceremony and reception. The Rittenhouse inn and our historic properties are ideal Bayfield wedding venues offering both indoor and outdoor options.
Our on-site Wedding Planner and Events Director, Wendy Phillips, works closely with couples to help bring their dream wedding to life. Wendy can arrange for a wide array of wedding services including Officiants, Menu Planning, Wine and Bar Service, Professional Event Staffing, Florists, Musicians, Wedding Cakes and Tortes, Hairdressers and Make-Up Artists, Massage and Spa Treatments, Tent Canopy Rental, Banquet Rental Items, Limosine Services or Horse-drawn Carriage, and even Babysitting!
Bayfield wedding receptions at the Rittenhouse Inn or Chateau Boutin are as unique as the couples who are married here. Our on-site wedding planner and helpful staff guide you thorough the planning process to create an event that reflects your individual taste and style. If you can dream it, we’ll do our best to make it a reality. And when it comes to fine dining and catering, no-one in the area can top Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant.
A Bayfield wedding reception at Le Chateau Boutin offers a wealth of options. Butlered appetizers and cocktails on the veranda… or a tapas buffet set-up in the home’s original dining room make a lovely start to your event.
Our Signature Five-Course Gourmet Dinner is an ever-popular choice for wedding receptions. This meal, for which the Inn is most noted, allows guests to select a soup, salad, tart fruit sorbet, entrée with side dishes, and dessert.
Other options for your Rittenhouse reception may include a Two-Course Petite Dinner offering your choice of soup or salad, and an entrée; a Three-Course Victorian Luncheon consisting of a salad, choice of entrées, and dessert; or even an up-scale Champagne Brunch served with festive mimosas!
For wedding parties larger than 35 people, a tent canopy is suggested for set-up on the croquet lawn where everyone can take in the panoramic view of Lake Superior. Whether you choose a sit-down or banquet-style meal, we offer a large selection of unique menu items for your reception. Our on-site wedding planner will help you customize a meal that fits your dreams, and your budget.
Over the past 35 years, Innkeeper (and non-denominational minister) Jerry Phillips has married literally hundreds of happy couples. We are always grateful to see these couples return, sometimes many years later, to celebrate their special day.
As Wendy and I begin our seventh year as Innkeepers, we are excited to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Old Rittenhouse Inn and Landmark Restaurant. As a child, I can remember the “big move” from Madison to Bayfield (dad let me ride in the U-Haul with him) and how excited I was to live in our “northern castle.” That sense of excitement is something I still feel every day when I look at this big old red Victorian.
When I think of my parents, Jerry and Mary, leaving good jobs in their chosen fields to open a restaurant and Bed and Breakfast in the tiny town of Bayfield (which was still a ghost town in those days), I have to wonder what they were thinking. They had no money, no experience in the hospitality business, and a huge old building with all its required upkeep and astronomical fuel bills. It’s a wonder they made it at all, and yet their tenacity, and their unwavering vision of a new kind of hospitality, led them to lasting success. The early coverage they received in magazines such as Gourmet, Midwest Living, Minnesota Monthly, and Wisconsin Trails helped put struggling Bayfield back on the map as a tourist destination. As the Inn’s fortunes rose, so did Bayfield’s.
Mark and Jerry Phillips on the floor in 1991
My first job here at the Inn was stemming strawberries on the front porch with my grandma. I probably ate half as many as I stemmed, as my red-stained face would’ve easily attested. Over the years I worked in the Kitchen, Wait Staff, Front Desk, Maintenance, Marketing/PR, and now as Managing Innkeeper. Wendy followed a similar trajectory, starting in Housekeeping and working her way to the top of the Wait Staff, leading the Front Desk, serving as Events Director and now Managing Innkeeper. Combined with my parents, and my dear aunt Julie, our family has well over a hundred years of innkeeping experience here at Old Rittenhouse Inn.
As we enter our 35th season, we thank all the incredible guests who have made this possible over the years. We also thank our great staff members, past and present. They act as an extension of ourselves, and our vision of hospitality, and we could not do this without them.
There have been many stars on our staff, but none shines brighter than my mother, Mary Phillips’s. The Rittenhouse Inn was her baby from the start, and she put every ounce of her self into creating and growing the business. For 18 years, she cooked every single meal served in our dining rooms. She knew what was going out there better than our very fine Wait Staff did, and she ruled that kitchen with an iron fist and a velvet glove. Everyone loved, respected, and confided in her. She was a great leader, and an even better listener. Though her days as a chef ended with her stroke in the early 90s, she remains a force at the Rittenhouse Inn, and these days, when something is not to her liking, we can count on her letting us know all about it in short order!
When you stay here, and when you dine with us, you are joining in something special: a tradition of warmth and hospitality that extends back to 1976. This is not a cookie cutter hotel or a quaint B&B. No two rooms are alike, and we feel that each is magnificent in it’s own way. We put great emphasis on using local products when possible. We make great efforts to be stewards of the environment, and we truly care what you, our guests, have to say. Most importantly, we are here for one reason: to serve.
Thank you for being part of our history. We look forward to your next visit.
Make plans to join in this weekend’s wine tasting events at Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant, celebrating 35 years in business in 2011.
Friday night at 7pm, join special guest wine expert Gary Binter for a “Zinful” evening with all you can eat appetizers and five delicious red Zinfandels (with repours of your favorites!) At 1pm on Saturday Afternoon, it’s “Sideways Revisited”! We’ll sample West Coast Pinot Noirs, moving vertically from North to South. Save room for Saturday’s 6:30pm dinner that features Wines From the Mediterranean, focusing on Spain and Italy. Savor 6 courses of gourmet food designed to compliment and elevate the flavors of these great Mediterranean wines. Reservations required: 715-779-5111.
Red Wine Tasting Dinner
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Roasted Corn and Crab Tartlet with brie cheese
The El Coto, Rosato
Beef and Barley with roasted mushrooms
The Castell del Remei, Gotim Bru
Baby Spinach with shaved chocolate, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, tart cherry vin
Entrée choice 1
Seared Duck Breast with savory wild rice pilaf and a cream sherry roast mushroom sauce.
Entrée choice 2
Braised Lamb Shank with white beans, smoky bacon, soft polenta, and a rich sauce made with braising jus and a vegetable mirepoix
Scavino, Rosso da Tavola
Wisconsin Artisan Cheese Plate
Dontella, Rosso di Montalciono
Menu items subject to change. Reservations required: 715-779-5111
$75/person plus tax and server gratuity.
Notice: Consuming raw or undercooked foods may cause food borne illness.
I’ll never forget Mary and my first sight of Bayfield. It was a sunny, warm day in June, 1969, when Mary and I drove in from the south and were mesmerized by the lake. Sparkling like a million diamonds, we were spellbound. The town was quiet, not the tourist haven it has become. There were vacant buildings and many “For Sale” signs. We drove the streets, exclaiming about historic house after house, the steep hills giving everyone a view. We stopped at the Community Lunch for a bite, visited Jim and George’s Antique Shop, the Pot Shop of Bob Eckels, the Kerr Gallery.
The Boutin Mansion, now called the Chateau, was for sale by Mose Theno, the nuns still living there, and we knocked on the door. A Nun was very cordial and showed us around the first floor, which was very dark…. both from the darkly stained wood as well as the layers of curtains over the windows. We were back outside almost before my eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, and I can’t say that my focus was on the visual as much as the emotional rendering of that visit.
At the time, we were engulfed in the process of renovating a Victorian home near Madison that had been beaten up during 30 years as a nursing home. The Chateau in Bayfield was a much grander home, on a magnificent site, with few of the signs of disrespect we were dealing with. Try as we might, the envy was palpable.
The Ferry to Madeline Island is Running!
Schedule subject to change due to ice/weather conditions. Monday – Friday
Trips leaving Bayfield: 6:15 am, 7:30am, 9:15am, 1:45pm, 4:00pm, & 5:30pm Saturday – Sunday
Trips leaving Bayfield: 7:30am, 9:15am, 1:45pm, 4:00pm, & 5:30pm.
No Fooling! All Rooms $99 w/Dinner
For prices listed below, $99 refers to the rate for those who wish to dine at Landmark Restaurant one night of their stay. The second rate is the discounted weekend special for those who DO NOT wish to dine with us. For example: Room 9 is $99 w/ dinner; $129 w/out dinner, a great deal either way! All rates based on double occupancy. To reserve call 715-779-5111 and mention the Last Minute Specials email by 5pm, Friday, April 1.
FRIDAY ONLY April 1, 2011*
Room 7: King, Whirlpool, Fireplace @ 99/129
Suite 11: King Suite, Whirlpool, Fireplace, Lakeview @ 99/175
SATURDAY ONLY April 2, 2011*
Suite 12: King Suite, Whirlpool, Fireplace, Lakeview @ 99/175
The Fine Print
* This Last Minute Internet Special applies only to the weekend of April 1-2, 2011. The prices are per night, based on double occupancy, and include a continental breakfast for two. When space permits, additional guests are welcome at $35/person/night. Rooms are sold on a first come, first serve basis. This week’s offer does not apply to existing reservations, is Not Valid in conjunction with other promotions, and is not available for online. Please CALL 715-779-5111 and mention the last minute emails.
**Additional $50 for Saturday-only stays in suites.
Any questions, please call or email. We look forward to your visit.
2011 will go down as another year when the “ice road” between Bayfield and Madeline Island was only open about a week. A long time resident of the Island has kept a calendar for the past fifty years on how many days he could drive across the famous “Ice Road.” It started with over 90 days of an open road, and steadily dropped until that infamous year not long ago when the ice road was never opened.
Going across the ice is a great novelty for visitors and sheer good fun, but for local residents who live on the island it’s a big deal. Not having the ice road means the Island residents are always at the mercy of either the ferry schedule or that of the “ice boat”…a propeller driven boat that can go across the unreliable ice or on water. They must be back for the “last boat.” They cannot attend their children’s evening sports or other extra curricular events unless they stay overnight on the mainland.
I remember the time a couple went to drive across the ice road. It was early March. They were a Japanese couple who came to stay at the inn. They spoke broken English. They asked if the road was open and I told them I didn’t know, as it was near the end of the season and that they would have to go down to the Pier Restaurant, which served as the unofficial road condition info source. They said they wanted to go after they checked out and I told them they should go earlier than that, as the melt water from the warm March sun would cover the lake, making it look like open water… a scary picture.
Right after breakfast they drove off, leaving their things in their room to pack up when they returned from their joy ride. Some time later the fire department brought them back to the inn, as their car went thru the ice and was being fished out by local divers. The good news was that the car went down in only 50-60 feet of water, as the center trough is 250 feet deep or more. Amazingly, when the car was retrieved, they were able to start it almost immediately! The couple decided to stay another night and drove home on soggy seats….. but happy to have their car, and happy they left their clothes at the Inn!
Welcome to the Rittenhouse Inn’s blog. Here you’ll find our thoughts on innkeeping and running a gourmet restaurant in Bayfield, Wisconsin. We’ll talk about what’s going on in the area, what we’re up to, culinary tourism, and who knows what else?
Because we’re a family owned and operated business, we all contribute to the Inn in many ways during the course of an average day. This blog is symbollic of that. We’ll all contribute posts, probably some more than others. You might hear from Jerry and Mary Phillips, my parents, who created the Inn in the mid-70′s and grew it all the way from its beginnings as Wisconsin’s first B&B into the nationally known, full service country inn and restaurant it is today. You might hear from my wife, Wendy Phillips, who is our Weddings and Special Events Director and heads our front desk operations. You might even hear from Julie, our wine expert and resident mixologist.
My name is Mark Phillips. I am a second-generation innkeeper who grew up here at the Rittenhouse. I attended the UW-Madison from ’89 to ’94 earning my BA in English. I returned to the Inn for several years after college, and also pursued my other love: music. In ’99 I moved to California to attend the Los Angeles Music Academy. After two years out west, I returned home to Wisconsin to continue with my music, writing, graphic design work, and of course, the Rittenhouse.
My wife and I have two kids. Our daughter is about to turn 6, and is finishing kindergarten next week. Our son is 2.5 and his birthday is the day before mine. I love my kids and family more than anything in the world.
I have to say I live a charmed life in many ways. I am very blessed. I have a rewarding career in a business I love, an amazing family, and I still get to play music with good friends on a frequent basis. I get to meet new people all the time, and share my favorite place in the world with them. My old friends come visit me here, and I can treat them like royalty, (as I hope all our guests are treated)!
Well, enough about me! In the next post, I plan to blog about our recent kitchen renovation and some of the local foods you’ll see on our menus in the upcoming months. Regards, Mark