Counter Intelligence from Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern in Monroe, Wis.

by Jenna Schnuer on April 25, 2012

An occasional series in which I ask somebody behind a counter where I should go in the area. Results may vary.

imageI didn’t plan to end up in Dubuque. But things changed while I was eating a cheese sandwich. A brick cheese sandwich. (Perhaps I’m the only person in the world who didn’t know this but, in case you’re not in-the-know on the brick cheese front either: brick cheese is “like muenster without the yellow food coloring.” That’s how Dustin, the bartender who took my order at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern explained it. Also, the brick cheese sandwich at Baumgartner’s contains something along the lines of a brick of cheese. Not a heavy brick. But a sizable brick. A tasty brick if, of course, you also like muenster cheese. I like muenster cheese.)

As I worked my way through the cheese sandwich—mustard, lettuce, and tomato, served on a piece of paper of paper, not a paper plate, just a piece of paper—I considered holing up in the town for the night. Baumgartner’s had a good beer selection (though, yes, I opted for the driving-friendly iced tea), brick cheese, and a massive painting of an epic battle between bottles of wine and bottles of beer. Comfy bar stools, too. Wouldn’t be such a bad night. Not at all.

“Want a refill on that iced tea, dear?” That was the other bartender, Eric. He’s my age, maybe a little younger. Or a decade younger. Something in there. The “dear,” from what I can figure, is Wisconsin’s “ma’am.”

He brought the iced tea back (refills: $1) and then I hit him with the big question: what else would you recommend I see while I’m in town?

Turns out, Tuesdays at 4 p.m. are not the most hopping of times in the county. The brewpub was closed. The museum was closed. Everything was closed.

A guy three seats down at the bar started offering up the names of other bars. I gently steered the conversation away from getting soused by 5.

Eric asked where I was headed.

“Toward the Mississippi. I’m going to drive up the Great River Road.”

That lit him up.


His enthusiasm for the Hotel Julien and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium snagged me. I paid for my cheese sandwich, thanked Eric and Dustin and the guy at the bar, and pulled up the hotel’s website on my phone. One AAA member discount later, my room was booked. The GPS said it was 60 miles until Dubuque.

Two hours later, I crossed over the Mississippi. That beautiful river. Saying yes to that iced tea refill was my best decision of the day.


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