=== the midwest's 38 essential restaurants ===
WHAT: A reverent homage to the land through inventive farm-to-table menus and masterful flavors. WHY: The Driftless Café, owned by Ruthie Zahm and her chef husband Luke, is a small town cafe in Viroqua, Wisconsin, that feels as if buoyant hipsters snuck in and staged an ongoing pop-up dining concept. Situated in the Driftless region (where there is a higher concentration of organic farms than anywhere in the state), the cafe is a magnet for locals and visitors alike who appreciate rustic cuisine and sustainable ingredients grown nearby. Chef Zahm’s menu is all heart, strained through a nouvelle cuisine-farmboy aesthetic. — Kyle Cherek
By Bill Addison for Eater | READ MORE
=== a thriving food culture is making viroqua the place to be ===
Craig and Connie Minowa of the band Cloud Cult had been living in Minneapolis and were looking to settle in a small, progressive town with a thriving food culture — a place to get “back to the land.”
They found Viroqua.
This small town about two hours northwest of Madison is helping put Wisconsin on the culinary map.
By Samara Kalk Derby for WSJ | READ MORE
=== Small town chef & James Beard honoree Luke Zahm carries torch for local food ===
Even more impressive is that one of the semi-finalists was Luke Zahm, chef and owner of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua, a town of just over 4,000 people.
Since the average population of Midwestern cities with James Beard nominated chefs is 220,000, it's common to see honorees from cities like Madison, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. But it's far more unusual for a small-town chef to hit the radar of the JBF team. Fortunately for Zahm, there were eyes on his work. And it's given him an opportunity to tout the unbelievably bounty that comes from the Driftless Region of Wisconsin.
=== twenty-five years later, "the town that beat walmart" is back on the map ===
Luke Zahm left Vernon County, a farming region in southwestern Wisconsin, as soon as he could. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the area was depressed—dairy farming, which sustained much of the local economy, was in decline, and manufacturing jobs were leaving. By 2000 it was the third-poorest county in the state, with few opportunities for an ambitious 18-year-old. When he got into college in Chicago, Zahm assumed he was leaving for good.
But then, Zahm, 37, developed a passion for food.
By Danielle Renwick for The New Food Economy | READ MORE
=== three top restaurants for the hungry on wisconsin's western edge ===
A 40-minute drive from La Crosse to Viroqua yields priceless benefits. First, there’s the dramatically carved landscape, a breathtaking roller coaster of hills, valleys and vistas that locals probably learn to take for granted, but here’s hoping they don’t.
Then there’s the Driftless Cafe.
By Rick Nelson for Star Tribune | READ MORE
=== WISCONSIN FOODIE ===
Forage, Fish, Eat. Join outdoor guide Keith Warnke to explore the edible outdoors of Muscoda. Start by harvesting roadside asparagus, then head to the hills to hunt for morels, and finally jump into the streams and try fly fishing for trout. Driftless Café chef Luke Zahm brings the bounty together.
=== James Beard nominee returned to his roots with Driftless Cafe ===
Fork. Spoon. Life. Luke Zahm. Luke Zahm’s first jobs were in restaurants. While growing up in a small town in western Wisconsin, he worked as a car hop and spent time as a “certified sandwich artist” before moving away to pursue music.
After working in Chicago, he made his way to kitchens in Madison. Working at Lombardino’s and making trips to the Dane County Farmers Market both helped him appreciate his Wisconsin roots.
Turns out he had to leave to find his way home.
Since 2013, Zahm and his wife, Ruthie, who grew up in Viroqua, have operated Driftless Café at 118 Court St. in Viroqua.
His menu is ever changing, but his commitment to the community stays constant. His mission is to shine the national spotlight on the area’s role in organics, farming and cooperatives — and it seems to be working.
=== Chef Luke Zahm of Driftless Cafe ===
Chef Luke Zahm has been called a sort of “Prodigal Chef.” He grew up in the Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin, moved around gaining important and transformative cooking experience, and finally decided to move back to the area, settling his family in the small town of Viroqua, Wisconsin (pop. 4,362).
=== Driftless Café ===
For most restaurants the magic happens in the kitchen, but for Driftless Café the alchemy really originates beyond the back door. At this small Viroqua restaurant, the back of the house is truly the back of the house, where one can find the new pit smoker, a basement chock-full of summer preserves, and a delivery location for local farmers, foragers and vendors from the region. So much of the magic of this place begins before the ingredients even hit the kitchen.
=== WISCONSIN FOODIE ===
Roelli Cheese | Driftless cafe. We are at Roelli Cheese House in Shullsburg, WI, home of the award winning Dunbarton Blue. Chris Roelli takes us through his process of making a batch of the Dunbarton Blue. He also shows us his cheese caves where we get to have a taste test of an experimental cheese! Then we head to Driftless Café in Viroqua, WI where Luke Zahn uses Roelli cheese to make two incredible dishes!
=== RESTAURANT REVIEW: DRIFTLESS CAFÉ ===
Great restaurants usually begin with a chef, and so it is with Viroqua’s Driftless Café. Chef Luke Zahm, a La Farge native, earned his stripes on the job from the ground up, working at restaurants in Madison, Verona and La Crosse. Eventually, he realized that all the great chefs were sourcing their fresh foods from the Driftless Region … from his people. “That was the light bulb for me,” he says. “That’s when I knew it was happening at home, right in our backyard. Vernon County has the second-highest concentration of organic farms in the United States.”
=== kickstarter ===
We are a locally-focused, farm-to-table restaurant in rural WI. Be a part of helping our Farmers, our Community and our Region grow!
My name is Luke Zahm and I'm the Chef and Owner of the Driftless Café.
With the help of my wife Ruthie and 30 employees, we own and operate our 44 seat restaurant. As Wisconsin natives, the Driftless Region is where we call home. After working in kitchens for over a decade, I decided that if I wanted to cook with the best ingredients possible I would need to move back to the Driftless – back to the epicenter of the organic food and farming movement.
In the field with Ridgeland Harvest
We purchased the Café in 2013 with the idea that we could create a restaurant that was about more than just food – we wanted to showcase the amazing farmers and food artisans that call this place home. We wanted to support our friends and neighbors to create a stronger financial community. We wanted our food to serve as a bridge in our community and as a vehicle for growth into the future.
=== Luke Zahm, Driftless Cafe ===
"I grew up in La Farge and had a paper route in the 80's. I remember delivering the Sunday paper, and on the front headline there'd be weekly stories about dairy farmers committing suicide. The dairy farming industry had bottomed out, and these farmers were losing their century farms..
Originally, every single little outskirt community had their own creamery.
=== FARM FRESH ===
Driftless Cafe in Viroqua draws customers from miles away. VIROQUA — The Driftless Cafe, a farm-to-table restaurant that Luke and Ruthie Zahm bought in 2013 and expanded last year, is drawing customers from miles away.
“Some of them come from a long ways away,” including people who live in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis, said Luke, who manages the restaurant.