Getting Warmed Up for "Jazz on the Vine"

It’s Saturday morning as I write this. I’m sitting at a table outside the Off the Rail Cafe, a breakfast-and-lunch coffee house at the corner of Lake and Rhine, one of the busier intersections in the Wisconsin town of Elkhart Lake.

It’s about a quarter to 8, and over the past 15 minutes, exactly three cars have driven by. “Sleepy” doesn”t even begin to describe Elkhart Lake before “the season” begins over the Memorial Day weekend.

The reason I’m sitting outside, in 37-degree weather, fingers beginning to numb, is that the Off the Rail Cafe isn’t open yet. Imagine that: a coffee house that doesn’t open until 8 a.m.–when two-thirds of the morning hours are already gone. Sleepy, indeed.

Not even the influx of visitors for the annual Jazz on the Vine music-and-wine festival at the Osthoff Resort has this town stirring. But then, all of those folks were up late last night, listening to jazz sax player Mindi Abair bring down the house (actually, the large tent) with a string of her hits, capped by a cover of the Rolling Stones’ thumping “Miss You” as an encore. Many then flocked to the resort’s bar and partied into the wee hours of the morning.

So, while they snooze, I sit…

Finally, Off the Rail Cafe is open, and I step inside to thaw out with a non-fat latte, or perhaps a diet-challenging mocha.

Just as I step up to the counter, an employee comes around the corner with a big tray of just-out-of-the-oven muffins. Blueberry. Raspberry. Banana nut? No, banana with chocolate chips!

I can’t pass up a fresh, homemade blueberry muffin…so, a non-fat latte it is!

Off the Rail serves the usual array of coffee house drinks…lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, Americanos, “red eyes.” There also are assorted tea drinks and blended fruit drinks, plus a display case full of pastries, quiche and other delectables.

A customer sitting at the next table ordered the “Flying Scotsman,” an “everything” bagel topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, onion and cucumber. His face was the picture of contentment.

At lunch time, Off the Rail offers a selection of sandwiches on sourdough or 9-grain bread, featuring various deli meats, cheeses and veggies. For the vegetarian, the “Ghost Train” piles up roasted peppers, onions, tomato, havarti, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber and homemade hummus.

But I’m thinking about returning just before closing time (4 p.m. on Saturdays through May, when longer summer hours will kick in through Labor Day). I want to try one of the “Toasties,” which is Off the Rail’s version of Panini on sourdough with aioli–described unpretentiously by the owner as “glorified mayo.”

A “Toasty” called “The El” has caught my eye. It’s a grilled chicken breast with Gouda, tomato, sauteed onions and a side of ranch dressing for dipping. It sounds as if it would match beautifully with a glass of Oxford Landing Pinot Grigio, one of four wines offered by the glass.

True, it’s not much of a “wine list.” On the menu, under the “Wine” heading, is this description: “Red or white wine by the glass–see specials.” But Oxford Landing Pinot Grigio is a big step above the “house white” that many fine restaurants serve, and the cafe would be a nice retreat from the hundreds of people jammed under the tent three blocks away at the jazz fest.

But right now, that wonderful blueberry muffin reduced to crumbs and my perfectly prepared latte having done its magic, it’s time to get back to my room and prepare for a pre-concert game of Scrabble with friends who have also made the trip.

Next Monday, the “Editor’s Journal” entry will include a full report on the music, the wine poured by various distributors and, hopefully, that toasty known as “The El.”


Jazz on the Vine

The Osthoff Resort

101 Osthoff Avenue

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin


Off the Rail Cafe

Corner of Lake and Rhine

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin


Posted in Editor's Journal
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