I grew up on a road surrounded by farms in West De Pere where the street numbers don’t run in any particular order. That road had a small creek and an old shuttered creamery, and as a kid I always wondered if someone would do something with building: Tear it down, build it up, remodel it and open for business again. It was an artifact of the days where you had to have a dairy within a short distance or the milk would spoil, but I had something of a daydream where it would open back up and I would have a place I could walk to for ice cream.
Imagine for a moment that there is a doppelganger to this street, a twin, found on the far side of the river in what should rightly be called East De Pere. Years after the fact, I have come to find that this Creamery Road didn’t just occasionally intercept our mail, it appears to have co-opted my boyhood daydreams too, because on this stretch of road is a charming cafe called The Creamery.
I caught up with co-owners Pat Hoffman and Ryan Fawcett on a bright and blustery winter day to investigate the depths of this treachery. Initial signs weren’t good. Every parking spot in the lot in front of the building was filled, and inside the place was bustling, full of conversation from soccer moms to business folk.
The shop itself hasn’t been under the current ownership all that long. Pat told us that this month of December they celebrated their second anniversary. The owners, Pat and Ryan actually knew each other from West De Pere High School. While Ryan has been working in the restaurant business for what Pat called, “his whole life,” Pat had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. The two saw a chance for their plans of the restaurant to succeed. and haven’t looked back. Pat credits the customers, “the whole business plan and idea has been really well thought out. We have amazing customers. They’re just so supportive, and tell so many people, it’s just pretty impressive.”
The pair blames three things for their success: customer service, quality ingredients and a very chef-driven menu.
According to Pat, if it’s something that you can buy, either pre-made or a powder or something like that, they don’t do that. They take individual time on everybody’s plate. A great example of this is the bacon marmalade whiskey jam found on their Town Drunk eggs Benedict.
“Basically, what we do is we chop up a whole bunch of bacon,” Pat said “we marinate the bacon in a pot with boiling natural whiskey, and then [Ryan’s] got a couple other items that go into it. He reduces it all down, and it becomes almost like a candied-marinated bacon. It’s really amazing. It really gives it so much juice and flavor. And everybody knows the most wonderful thing in this world is bacon!”
As for Ryan, the chef, he’s always experimenting. He told us that initially the cafe had tried a seasonal menu.
“The two most popular things that I’ve sold recently,” Ryan said “have been inside out BLT’s which is tomato and the Green and Gold which is spinach and mangos. And neither are seasonal things. So I’ve kinda given up on that and right now.”
What he is more dedicated to is keeping the menu changing so patrons can experience something new every time they come in. There are three to four specials most weeks, the soup changes on Wednesday, and items move on and off the menu as the staff tries new things.
Something new are their Blue Raspberry Pancakes.
“We used to do red velvet pancakes,” Ryan said “but I got tired of running them, so now we’re using blue food coloring. We just top it with raspberries. If you use almond, lemon and then something a little tart you’ll get that raspberry sweet flavor. They’re like something out of a Doctor Suess Book.”
Not every special can be a winner. Ryan was currently lamenting the fate of Spam and Eggs, a Polynesian dish using a meat much loved on the islands.
“It’s coconut rice with poblanos and white corn, pineapple salsa, spam, sunny side eggs,” Ryan said. “But it’s amazing. I haven’t sold one! I think I’m going to switch it to ham. I really just did it because I had a friend chef of mine who lives in Appleton who loves spam, so I told him I’d do a spam and eggs for him.”
They make sure not to alienate the unadventurous crowd by executing on the basics.
“Some of the staples that we do have, we’ll always have,” Pat said “like a nice little selection of the Benedict’s. We’ll also have a different selection of omelets like the Basic Betty, two eggs, toast and a piece of meat.”
Ryan says he has made efforts to simplify a bit since the restaurant opened giving them a solid base so he can experiment for The Creamery’s next big hit.
They offered me a taste of not one, but four of their dishes to see how they stacked up.
The Town Drunk
English Muffin, Whiskey Bacon Marmalade, Bacon and Beer Cheese Hollandaise
The bacon passed quality checks. This is important. Life is too short for lousy bacon. The whiskey marmalade has an unexpected bite in an otherwise simple dish, but the cheesy Hollandaise stops any real fire before it can get going. As the name implies it’s a reliable choice with bit of an unexpected twist, which I imagine is what most town drunks face every morning after a blackout.
English Muffin|Poached Eggs| Tomato| Prosciutto| Spinach Cream Hollandaise
The Florentine was the second of their showcase Hollandaise dishes I sampled. The sauce made quite a difference to the composition. Where the town drunk was meaty the Florentine was clean, fresh and creamy. The tomatoes, eggs, prosciutto and fresh spinach offered a much more delicate flavor with about the same relation to the Town Drunk as a margarita pizza has to a sausage filled pie.
South of the Border
Chorizo, Bean Salsa, Cheddar, House Salsa and Hash Browns
Look. I don’t know where you get good chorizo around here. The spicy pork sausage that hails from the south of the border isn’t exactly in steady supply around here, and a couple ethnic grocers have already steered me wrong. This sausage was respectable. The double salsa topping and sprinkled chives on top were almost as good as the juice soaked hash browns below this breakfast burrito. All in all this is a victory for texture, and all the flavors were right where they were supposed to be.
Blue Raspberry Short Stack
House Recipe Cake Mix (with vanilla, almond and lemon extracts) White Chocolate Chips, Raspberries, Maple Syrup
The pancakes had a light flavor to them, not raspberry to my pallet, but vanilla, just a hint of almond, and I believe nutmeg. I have a bit of a weakness for nutmeg. The mentioned lemon extract seemed to provide such a faint zest and sweetness. These pancakes stood on their own. But the white chocolate chips were very close to frosting between the syrup and sweet bursts of the raspberries. This was my favorite of the four dishes. Just look at those colors, the taste of the pancakes is barely less surreal.
So is The Creamery a bit unfair to those of us who have to drive over from the west side? I’d say yes. It’s right in the hashtag they encourage followers to use on social media #mybreakfastisbetterthanyours. Clearly there’s an old and abandoned dairy building on a road that used to have farms before the subdivisions moved in. It’s on the other side of a street where the addresses still don’t follow any particular order. This old time-worn creamery needs some love, for the sake of symmetry if nothing else. And I would definitely give up that ice cream for another shot at those pancakes.