road trip

In the spirit of getting the most out of life our other joyous pursuits besides exercising are travel, reading, eating healthy and drinking exceptionally good coffee. We generally try to combine all these interests whenever possible. As a typical example, last year we took a long road trip west. For me it was a chance to retrace some of the travel my family did when I was still a child, a chance to see how real my memories of those places I saw were. We left the summer heat of the Chihuahuan desert and headed north. Stops along the way were chosen for the presence of independent booksellers, vegan fare, interesting hikes or bike trails. We like to think of it as themed adventures.

We go to great lengths to get and brew the best coffee possible at home. And when we travel we take it with us. This past weekend we took a day trip to a small town in central Wisconsin which in theory was 4 1/2 hours away. I had found out about a coffee roaster there and was curious to see this operation that purposely chose such a remote rural location. We’ve lived in some pretty remote places ourselves and we like seeing and supporting someone earnestly making a go in a non-urban setting. Better yet, on Saturday mornings they have a tasting.

When we left Iowa City at 6 AM I figured we had plenty of time to make it before the noon Saturday closing time. As with any good adventure we are always open to surprise. We only got as far as Dubuque before we started getting hungry but it was too early still so we crossed the Mississippi River and headed into Wisconsin. We’ll talk more about Dubuque later, interesting town with a lot of intact historical architecture, a lot like Butte MT.
The east side of the river is noticeably more rugged country. The deep road cuts reveal evidence of the geologic history of this place. It seems less like farm country. Small towns crop up along the road with more frequency and we start looking for a place with local character to eat breakfast.

We fix our sights on Mineral Point. Google Maps indicates some small cafes and the promise of something like home cooking. I’m getting ravenous by this time.
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We pass up the packed restaurant in a metal building near the main highway and head into town hoping to find something in the old part of town. The architecture gets more interesting the further we drive into town and we find ourselves driving slowly, studying each neighborhood, each block, following the signs for historic downtown but already immersed in a significant amount of history. Then Beth sees The Red Rooster. I pull over and park.

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This is the place we wanted. The old storefront feels right, the tables are full of locals in the front so we grab a table on the right side of the long bar/counter with vinyl covered antique fixed bar stools. Our table butts up against a large cast iron radiator that I hope is still functional. By the time we get our order placed I hear the first banging of steam coming through the pipes! A few minutes pass before it starts to hiss and our little corner is warm and toasty.

All sorts of imagery is tacked up on the wall behind the bar, old photos of the town hang on the walls but hardly seem necessary since the buildings are almost all still out on the streets near where we’re sitting. Images of roosters on the walls reinforcing the red rooster theme bring the Rolling Stones cover of Little Red Rooster to mind. I remember it mostly from watching the Houston Ballet’s performance of the Christopher Bruce choreography set to that music at Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston years ago. This place would be a perfect model for a theatrical set for that ballet.

Breakfast was exactly what we wanted, local cuisine (I learned about pasties for the first time) with families and friends from the community who like to gather for a meal in this place that’s been a food and drink establishment for decades. After a quick tour of the historic downtown we got back on the road to Nelsonville thoroughly excited by the way the day was shaping up.

Somewhere just past Mt. Horeb WI the route gets really complicated. The printed instructions I had made no sense and for the first time I felt like without GPS on my phone barking out instructions we wouldn’t have found the way. Back roads, narrow lanes, unmarked corners, mislabeled roads. We were at the mercy of my cell phone. Pretty country though, lots of little towns, but suddenly I felt pressured by time when my phone informed us that we would be there by 11:57AM. What happened to the morning? Eventually we connected with I39 North and were able to make up a couple of minutes.

If you look up Nelsonville WI on Google Maps you’ll find a symbol for Ruby Roasters and if you click on that symbol this is the image you will see. We drove into town and sure enough it was one of the first structures we came to on the right side of the road. We walked in the front door and found ourselves surrounded by antiques and craftsy things and a small table with a selection of Ruby Coffees and a thermos. Was this it?
google maps image of ruby roasters

A nicely dressed woman was giving another nicely dressed woman the grand tour so we wandered into the back room looking for roasting equipment or any signs of a serious coffee roasting business. There was nothing back there. I was a little stunned. We were just left to mill around in confusion. Minutes passed. The tour guide finally asked if she could help us and we asked about the tasting. She replied that we must be looking for the roasters “they’re just out the back door.”

In the next lot over we saw an industrial looking building that had the Ruby logo painted on the side.

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We had finally arrived. We missed the tasting after all but there were 3 employees inside still cleaning up and they were nice and the roaster made coffee for both of us, Beth had an espresso and I had a latte. We loved them both. Next time we’ll plan this trip a little differently.

Links:

Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Ruby Coffee Roasters in Nelsonville, Wisconsin

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