Travel Like a Local: Hidden Gems
Travel Like a Local Series: Middleton Hidden Gems - When traveling to Middleton, dig deeper and discover hidden gems that make this city special.
Discover Middleton’s Hidden Gems
Many people travel to Middleton to visit the ever-popular National Mustard Museum, order a round of award-winning beer at Capital Brewery, hit the trails at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, or shop the day away in the city’s charming downtown. However, if you dig deeper and travel a little off the beaten path, you’ll find some of Middleton’s hidden treasures that are worth exploring.
Allow us to introduce you to a multi-generational bakery, a cidery conveniently located near a bike trail, and an underground New Orleans-inspired restaurant.
Hidden Cave Cidery
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood off of Hidden Oaks Trail, you’ll find Hidden Cave Cidery. This cidery is owned and operated by a Middleton local, Walker Fanning, who grew up down the street from the cidery and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in agronomy.
“I first became interested in the hard cider-making process right after college when working as an orchard manager at a small apple orchard south of Madison,” Fanning said.
Fanning determined that there was a void for venues that offer hard cider in the Madison area.
“Most bars and restaurants in the Madison area don’t even serve more than two ciders at a time,” Fanning said.
Because of that, he was inspired to open Hidden Cave Cidery as a place dedicated to the production and service of hard cider — and he did just that in 2021.
With more than two years under his belt, Fanning has built up the cidery to include a beautiful tasting room, an outdoor patio, and many scheduled live music events. There are often food trucks on-site, and on those days, Fanning makes ciders that pair well with whatever food is being served. The cidery is dog-friendly and often has events geared towards four-legged friends (and their owners).
All ciders at Hidden Cave Cidery are made with fresh fruit and sweetened with local ingredients, which is unique compared to the standard cider-making process.
“Most nationally distributed ciders are made from apple concentrate and contain artificial flavorings, but we use only fresh Wisconsin apples, natural sweeteners, and ingredients purchased right down the road at local grocery stores,” Fanning said.
Fanning is constantly experimenting with unique ingredient combinations using only Wisconsin apples. Hidden Cave Cidery’s tap list changes each weekend to feature something fresh and new.
“Since opening, I’ve made more than 30 different cider variations,” he added. “Ten of which have been distributed throughout Wisconsin, while the other 20 are only available at the tasting room.”
“It takes nearly 12 hours to make some of the specialty kegs of cider, which typically serves around 100 glasses,” said Fanning, who, on average, makes 20-24 kegs of cider per month.
So, when in Middleton, wander into this cozy cidery for a refreshing glass of hard cider during any season, and you’re sure to be impressed.
Look twice so you don’t miss this hidden treasure! Downtown along Hubbard Avenue, is a building with a dark red awning reading Louisianne’s ETC. Walk down a set of stairs and be transported to Middleton’s own “little New Orleans.” Inside Louisianne’s ETC., guests are welcomed with the smell of Cajun and Creole dishes, as well as a touch of French Quarter-style décor, including stone walls, hanging plants, elegant chandeliers and an old European-style wine cellar.
This cozy dining spot is owned by Gwen Bryan and Eric Christian, who are likely to greet guests upon arrival. The two are more than dedicated to their restaurant.
“My husband and I are here almost all of the time, which, I feel, people that come here regularly take note of and really appreciate,” Bryan said.
What once opened as Bryan’s passion project during her college years has been serving Cajun and Creole dishes from scratch for more than 31 years.
“We’ve had the same employees for a long time,” she said. They both describe their staff as a family and one of the restaurant’s biggest strengths.
The atmosphere at Lousianne’s ETC. is elegant, inviting and so unique to the area. The restaurant’s ambiance is made even better on Friday and Saturday nights with live jazz and blues piano performances.
Clasen’s European Bakery
Travel less than a mile out of downtown to a warehouse building that’s topped with a red roof and filled with delicious homemade European-style baked goods. This bakery has been a Middleton staple since 1959 when two brothers, Ralf and Ernst Clasen, arrived in America from Germany determined to start a life doing what they knew best — baking.
With a range of German bread, cake and pastry recipes in hand, the brothers first began working for a bakery in Madison then a few months later discovered a diner/bakery on Donna Drive which was for sale, said Michelle Clasen, Ralf Clasen’s daughter and previous bakery manager. This building is where the bakery still operates today.
Attached to Clasen’s European Bakery’s active bakery kitchen is a storefront where delicious, made-from-scratch loaves of bread, cakes, pastries, confections and much more can be purchased. To sell top-quality goods, Clasen’s European Bakery has workers baking throughout the night to ensure those coming into the store the following day can buy something as fresh as possible.
When visiting Clasen’s European Bakery, choosing just one goodie is nearly impossible. The bakery is filled with everything from artisan breads to chocolate truffles to seasonally-flavored pastries.
“It’s hard to pick just one top item, but I would say the bread, quiches and morning buns tend to be some of our most popular items,” Clasen said.
Clasen’s European Bakery ships all of its non-perishable foods nationwide and has local pickup and delivery.
“Before coming to Clasen’s, I want people to know they are supporting a three-generation family business,” she added.
The two brothers owned and operated Clasen’s European bakery for 30 years, then in 1989, handed ownership over to Ralf’s daughter, Michelle Clasen. The family tradition doesn’t end with just two generations. Michelle Clasen’s son, Tony Wuesthofen, completed culinary school training and the business is now being handed over to him as the bakery manager.
When heading to Clasen’s European Bakery, know that you are getting a delicious old-world style product made with natural ingredients and baked from a beloved family recipe.