Cuisine at Café D'Vine

By Martha Keeffe —

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting the Northwoods, you’ve undoubtedly noticed it is a unique place. “Whether it be a weekend camping trip to a favorite campground or a lake cottage, there’s a certain feeling of euphoria mixed with adventure and romance that suggests you’re leaving the stress and daily rigors behind,” says George Markos, who, with his brother Dave, owns The Twisted Moose, a Northwoods-themed restaurant located at 128 Third St. South in La Crosse. “Add to that the mysterious side of the Northwoods—with bears, the legends of Bigfoot and the hodag, and haunted places like Summerwind—and you have something special.”

Eager to replicate that feeling, Markos created a dining experience reminiscent of a 1950s cedar log cabin. Adorned with an eclectic mix of wall-mounted fish replicas, an animatronic moose, a ’twisted’ fireplace, and paintings of a lumberjack and Sasquatch with eyes that appear to follow guests as they move throughout the restaurant, “The Twisted Moose concept is all about immersing our guests in that fascinating culture,” says Markos of the quirky, yet cozy, atmosphere of the restaurant.

“The ambiance of our venue is designed to bring back some of those up-north memories.”

To build on those “at the lake” memories, Tim Fuhrman, the restaurant’s general manager and executive chef, has developed a menu that not only incorporates novelty dishes prepared using farm-raised sunfish, trout and wild game to complement the theme, but includes hometown favorites like the Stufff It™ Burger and the Northwoods pasty for diners who prefer something a bit more familiar. 

To familiarize us with the food concept at The Twisted Moose, my husband and I were given a wide range of samples off the menu. For starters, we enjoyed a delicately seasoned pheasant and wild rice soup, a silky-smooth Wisconsin beer cheese and braised brat soup, and a substantial smokehouse chili paired with a warm, honey biscuit—plus a side of crispy salmon fingers with lemon aioli sauce, just because they were delicious. 

Next, we savored the cranberry barbeque salmon served with wild rice croquettes (chopped rice fried in breadcrumbs) and Granny Smith apple coleslaw. Flaky and moist, the salmon was cooked to perfection while the native flavor of accompaniments gave the whole dish an elegant appeal.

But to get a true taste of the Northwoods, we dined on venison meatballs served over buttered egg noodles in a creamy mushroom gravy, along with elk sausage served with braised red cabbage and poutine—a Canadian favorite made by topping french fries with white-cheddar cheese curds and country gravy. Hearty, savory and not at all gamey, we would not hesitate to order either dish again. With just enough beer to wash down the last of the poutine, we felt ready to take a nap by a fire. However, there is always room for dessert, so we indulged ourselves with a flaky cherry pasty made fresh in-house and served with vanilla-bean ice cream.

Already contemplating our return to check out the restaurant’s take on classic comfort foods like pot roast, New York strip and mac and cheese, we determined that next time we’d sit by the garage-style doors that open onto Third Street. For Markos, he’s happy his patrons appreciate his attempts to share the great outdoors: “In the warmer months we can bring in the outdoors!”

Stop by The Twisted Moose at 128 Third St. South in downtown La Crosse to enjoy a fun Northwoods-style experience. For more information, call (608) 782-9192 or visit www.thetwistedmoose.com.