In the heart of Portage County, some two hours north of Madison, the city of Stevens Point sits on the banks of the Wisconsin River. It’s a place known for three things: the local branch of the University of Wisconsin System (which churns out Biology and Natural Resources grads like rabbits), the Square (an arrangement of downtown bars frequented by said rabbits), and the massive headquarters of Sentry Insurance.
It’s to this last spot that I’d like to direct your attention. Away from the fieldhouse, the golf course, and the new inn that make up the sprawling SentryWorld campus, there’s a small, intimate restaurant known as Muse.
“A restaurant in an insurance building,” you say. “Sounds about as exciting as dried beef on toast.”
Muse, however, is no corporate cafeteria. With a vast wine list, an established executive chef, and a rotating menu of local and seasonal fare, it’s about as high-end as things get in the middle of the Badger State. Oh, and there’s a signed Picasso on the wall.
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The art on display at Muse
Immediately upon entering Muse, you get a sense that you’re in a special place. Prints of Rufino Tamayo’s Dos Personajes (1972) and Marc Chagall’s Composition Fantastique (1976) hang in the entrance to the restaurant, helping set the artsy mood. Additional paintings and decorations populate the dining room, along with several large wine displays.
But the centerpiece, of course, is the Picasso. Per the restaurant’s website, this 1959 linocut of Couple et flûtistes au bord d’un lac (Bacchanale), hung in its own special alcove, is “an original print on woven paper, numbered 32/50” and signed by the artist himself.
What exactly is a linocut? Pretty much the same thing as a woodcut, only using a sheet of linoleum in place of a wooden block. As it turns out, this was a popular method employed by Picasso, in which “after each successive colour is imprinted onto the paper, the artist then cleans the lino plate and cuts away what will not be imprinted for the subsequently applied colour.” Thanks, Wikipedia!
But how is the food?
Good and plentiful. The menu at Muse (open since 2017) rotates on a seasonal basis, showcasing the talents of Executive Chef Christopher Ault. My visit came at the end of the summer season, so your potential selections may vary.
A few highlights: After being seated, we were presented with an amuse-bouche of seared tuna on crostini, along with a refreshing champagne “amuse-booze.”
Then came the appetizers, including the daily “Lux Eggs” (deviled eggs with beet puree and goat cheese, in this case) and an excellent pork sausage and shoestring potato crépinette. My table companions ordered the “Mozzarella en Carrozza,” which are best described as mozzarella sticks the size of a Twinkie. These quickly found their way into my cheese-loving heart.
My stuffed chicken breast entrée (filled with chicken sausage, piquillo pepper, fennel, and manchego) was likewise delightful. And though it came with a serving of asparagus and Brussels sprouts, I doubled down with the spring vegetable gratin as an accompaniment. Because, you know, it’s important to get enough veggies in your diet. See that miniature cast iron pan next to the chicken in the photo above? That’s the gratin. The surface was hot and bubbly, loaded with the warm flavors of onion and gruyere.
And as for dessert, well, how could I say no to chocolate hazelnut torte?
I’d also be remiss if I left out the wine list, which, as you can see here, includes “more than 350 varieties of wine from throughout the world.” The service, likewise, was nothing short of outstanding. The hosts, bartenders, and servers don’t just know their craft—they practice it with gusto.
Muse, and restaurants like it, are important cultural gems
If you live in New York or Chicago, a spot like this may not strike you as a terribly big deal. But here in the rural Midwest, Muse is doing something worth celebrating.
Not only does it bring a different type of food, wine, and atmosphere to an area lousy with fast-casual chains, but it also provides a sense of elevation, from the art on the wall to the knowledgeable staff, and even the care with which a simple cocktail is made. It’s the kind of thing that, once you get a taste for it, you’re likely to seek out again.
So thanks, Muse, for giving Central Wisconsinites a place to raise our collective pinkies. I’ll be back soon, once the next menu hits. Or the next Picasso.