Monday, December 10, 2012

Cheese Factory Restaurant – Wisconsin Dells, WI

We weren’t sure what to expect from this restaurant when we pulled up to it, aside from knowing they had gotten rave reviews about their grilled cheese sandwich from Rachel Ray at some point. D.Rough came across the name of this place while we were driving to Chicago this weekend. It had gotten pretty good reviews, so we thought we’d check it out for dinner. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, as well, so we were curious what kind of thing this restaurant was going to be.

When we walked inside, it had a sort of old ice cream shop feel to it, with a soda counter and small white tables with white-seated chairs. There were extremely nice people working as hostess and server and soda counter person, and everyone was full of smiles. We perused the menu and were intrigued by a lot of things on the menu. It had a decidedly non-standard vegetarian list of options to choose from and we had troubled deciding what we’d split. We even opted to NOT choose the alleged amazing grilled cheese sandwich. Which leads me to my next point – this restaurant has an impressive LACK of cheese at it. Turns out the restaurant is built on the location of an old cheese packing factory. Wait. I mean former cheese factory – they didn’t package old cheese. So there currently isn’t any tie-in to cheese with this restaurant. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, though.

Also, look at the Men's room entrance. It's the super thick insulated, bulletproof door to a walk in freezer. I was scared enough by the sight of this door that I didn't even attempt go in. I wasn't sure I'd come out.

We ordered the East Meets Midwest – a chickpea stew – and a Mediterranean Medley platter, though we were seriously tempted by the Goat Roast (goat cheese with garlic and red peppers) and the Malaysian Coconut Noodles. I TOLD you it was a non-traditional menu.

The Mediterranean Medley had quite a few things on it (which is why we ordered it, obviously). The toasted bulgar pilaf is a cracked wheat grain with sun-dried tomatoes, scallions, and sesame seed. It was served cold, but both D.Rough and I thought it would be much better if it were hot. It had a decent flavor, but sometimes (this time wasn’t much different), the flavor gets a little lost in the translation and ended up a little dry and bland. There were also some roasted red peppers, which were surprisingly flavorful, considering it is winter. There were slices of cucumber and marinated beets, which I love. These were really good, but D.Rough stuck to the cucumbers. The grilled portobello mushroom slices were cold. It’s difficult to hide the fact that the mushroom isn’t fresh when it’s actually cold inside. It did have grill marks on it, but we’re not dummies. Weirdly, both of us said the flavor was good – we just wished it were warm (or even room temperature). The hummus was good and went well with the pita bread. The feta cheese had a great flavor (see they do have SOME cheese)(it is, after all, Wisconsin). And the olives were a good finisher to this plate. The organic greens salad that comes with the sampler is a little underwhelming, as well. Simply greens and three cherry tomatoes with some dressing. Yes, it tasted fine, but there wasn’t anything special about the presentation or attempt at making it unique. Not an entirely mind-blowing sampler platter, but it did the job of filling us up with healthy stuff.

The East Meets Midwest chickpea stew was really quite awesome though. Sort of an Indian spice in the thick stew and with the accompanying pita bread, it was the best part of the meal, without a doubt. I’d recommend that dish to anyone.

We decided against getting any of the delicious looking desserts they have in the case, and even opted to NOT exploit the soda fountain. We had a long drive and knew we’d be stopping for snacks at some point before we arrived at our destination.

Overall, an average meal. A couple of items could have turned up the wow-factor if they had been the right temperature, but nothing actually tasted bad – for which we were thankful. We also kept in mind Wisconsin Dells pretty much shuts down when tourist season is over, so the restaurants may not have the top quality stuff they have during the busy months. We were one of two tables being used this particular evening, to prove the point. Still, the people there were extremely friendly and helpful. It’s a nice fun atmosphere, even in the off season and It’s likely one of the only vegetarian options in town (they also have a gluten free menu).

Top 5 things about the Cheese Factory Restaurant
1. Chickpea stew
2. Super diverse menu
3. Roasted red peppers
4. Very nice staff
5. Great alternative to road-trip fast food

Bottom 5 things
1. Cold portobello mushroom
2. Bulgar pilaf
3. The pita bread may have been flame-broiled at one time, but we still cold from the fridge
4. Severe lack of cheese
5. Boring salad

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