By Pat McKnight —
Diners looking for a neighborhood eatery can’t go wrong with the Hungry Peddler. Located at 3429 Mormon Coulee Road, the restaurant has been a mainstay on the south side of La Crosse for more than 40 years.
“We get a lot of repeat customers,” said owner Kevin Arnold, “and we’ve had pretty much the same staff. A couple (of the staff members) have been here 20 years or more. One has been here for 35 years.”
The 1911 building was initially Miller’s Tavern, run by that family for 50 years. It became the Hungry Peddler in December 1976 when Fred Wakeen bought the business.
The longevity of the restaurant and its family-friendly service has resulted in generations enjoying the standard menu items as well as house specialties.
Arnold says his wife, Karen, tells him, “I can’t believe I’m waiting on the kids of the kids I waited on.”
A longtime patron has been Frank Fritz, one of the hosts of the television program “American Pickers.” Fritz discovered the Hungry Peddler during the restaurant’s early days when he and a group of motorcycling friends visited La Crosse to take in Oktoberfest.
As an antique collector, it’s likely Fritz appreciates the Hungry Peddler’s ambiance, beginning with the near life-size placard of a peddler with a bedroll on his back standing outside the restaurant door greeting visitors.
The eatery’s interior is adorned with beer steins, cans and bottles from various brews of yesteryear displayed throughout the dining area, creating a traditional pub atmosphere. A stained-glass ceiling lends the dining area a touch of elegance while the wainscoted walls convey coziness.
One of the establishment’s more well-known specialties is its house beer. Peddler Brau was crafted by a friend who was a brewmaster at Capital Brewery in Middleton. This friend developed an amber ale he offered Arnold to taste test; it passed Arnold’s review as well as the palate of many of the restaurant’s customers.
“It’s our No. 1 selling beer,” said Arnold. “We’ve had it for 25 years and have it on tap. We tried bottling it, but it got to be too much hassle.”
Arnold started in the hospitality business as a dishwasher for Wakeen at the former Guys and Dolls location in downtown La Crosse. Eventually working his way up to cook’s position, Arnold joined Wakeen at the Hungry Peddler when it opened.
“I started at the restaurant May 22, 1978, on my 22nd birthday,” said Arnold.
Arnold credits his wife with helping to develop the restaurant’s menu offerings. Menu items receiving positive reviews include the French onion soup, as well as specialty burgers and sandwiches. The restaurant also touts its Doug’s Dynamite Duo, a steak and seafood combination.
The breakfast and dinner menus include children’s and lighter-side options. My personal favorite is the Peddler’s bacon-wrapped scallops. Even the lighter-side portion satisfies with large, juicy scallops surrounded by crisp bacon. A dash of juice from fresh sliced lemons adds a tang to the smoky-flavored entree.
The restaurant is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed for major holidays). Menus and more information can be found on the Hungry Peddler’s website at www.hungrypeddlerlacrosse.com.