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!
We had such fun at our spring Red Wine Weekend on April 13-14, 2012. These are always fun events for us because the wine hosts we work with, Dennis Kohl and Gary Binter, bring so much knowledge and passion as they share their accumulated experience. This is a way to learn a great deal about wine in a short period, and have lots of fun!
The weekends always begin with a Friday night tasting party complete with appetizer buffet. This weekend, the theme was “Five Different Grape Varieties from Five Different Countries.” (Try saying that 3 times fast, after tasting five wines!) We tasted Sherwood Pinot Noir (Austrailia), Achaia Claus Domestica Red (Greece), Wollersheim Domain Du Sac (Wisconsin), Rio Perdido Malbec (Argentina) and Cepa-21 Hito (Spain). The appetizer buffet featured Flank Steak with Olive Relish, Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, Artisan Cheese & Sausage Platter, Bleu Cheese Torta with Red Wine and Roasted Walnuts, Brownies and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries.
The grand finale to each Red Wine Weekend at Old Rittenhouse Inn’s Landmark Restaurant is the Six-Course Wine Dinner. This time, it was “Life is a Cabernet,” which pretty much speaks for itself, I think.
For the first course, we paired Santa Julia, an Argentinian (Organic) Cab, with a Grilled Scallop and Mushroom appetizer with arugula and lemon vinaigrette.
The second course was a classic Minestrone soup, a specialty of our sous chef. This richly flavored broth is filled with fresh vegetables and slivers of pasta and was a great match for the N X NW, King Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State.
The third course was an arugula and spinach salad with dried cherries, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and red wine vinaigrette. The spicy arugula was nicely paired with the Ferrari Carano, Sonoma cab.
Fourth course, a palate refresher! Wild blueberry port sorbet played a sweet blue note that cleared the stage for the main act.
The fifth course was a choice between savory chicken or spring lamb. The Saltimbocca di Pallo is an old Roman specialty that starts with sliced breast of hen sprinkled with sage and topped with sliced prosciutto, then sautéed in butter and braised in white wine. It’s served with a puttanesca-seasoned Rosti potato cake and lemon wine pan reduction sauce. The BR Cohn, Silver Label Sonoma cab was a good foil for a very flavorful dish!
The second entree choice was prime rack of spring lamb brushed with olive oil and crusted with herbs and Porcini mushrooms, then char-grilled to perfection and served with sweet potato gnocci and red wine demi glaçe. We served that with another favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, Buehler from Napa Valley.
For the sixth course, we offered a multi layer chocolate creme torte, presented on a chocolate cherry macaroon cookie with whipped cream and dried cherry compote. The dried cherries and chocolate were delightful with the scrumptious Layer Cake Cab from California.
So, if you are a fan of red wines, and Cabernet Sauvignons in particular, I believe you would have found this weekend to be a lot of fun. I know we did!
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.
It is a very exciting time around here as we recently launched our new ala carte menu and guests are loving it.
If you’re new to the Rittenhouse Inn and Landmark Restaurant, some background may be helpful. We’ve been open since 1976, and have always been known for our multi-course dinners using local products whenever possible.
But these days people are into options, and having a five-course dinner is not something most people do every night. A few years ago we added a two-course option, and people really responded to that, so we started to think about going ala carte.
For two years now we’ve been planning this, and once our kitchen renovations were finally complete in June, we were able to turn our focus on the new menu. The plan was to keep all of our favorite dishes, add some new flavor profiles, and bring back a few classics from the days when my mother, Mary, did all the cooking here. All of these selections are available seperately or as part of our Signature Dining Package, which is perfect for those who appreciate our more customary dining options.
The menu includes soups like our Lake Superior Clam Chowder and the classic Mushroom Burgundy Consommé, as well as a rotating cast of fresh fruit soups made with local Bayfield Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries.
There’s also salads, from our Smoked Lake Trout salad, a Grilled Tuna Niçoise, and the more traditional Spinach with Honey Pecan Dressing.
The newest feature of the ala carte menu is the “small plates” selections ranging from Sweet Coconut Crusted Shrimp or Mussels Marinierre to our Pomodoro (tomato) plate or Mediterranean plate. Of course there’s also a wide variety of entrées to select from, and our famous desserts. (more…)
Today the last few pieces of kitchen equipment we’ve been waiting for came in. A quick install before dinner and, viola! Our kitchen renovation is finally done! This project has been two years in the making, and we hoped with that much lead time we’d be able to do the whole project in 2-3 weeks, but what is it they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? The entire project took almost 2 months, though we’ve been up and running for a few weeks, just waiting on a few more pieces.
For a little perspective on this, I think of my mom, Mary Phillips, who started the inn with my dad all those years ago. She worked 18 years of 18 hour days, standing in front of that one lone 6-burner and small flat top with an inadequate hood/ventilation system. When I think of the incredible food she put out of that kitchen, good enough to land her cheesecake on the cover of gourmet magazine, I am so proud of what she was able to do with so little. (more…)
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