After a nearly two month long process, we want to formally welcome you to the results of the 2nd Annual Best of the River Valley reader poll for the Spring Green area!
Drawing inspiration from cities like Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee, we were excited to again facilitate this reader poll that showcases the community’s voice in sharing the best of what our area has to offer to our community and those who visit it.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Only the date range of June 2021 – May 2022 was considered for the poll. Residents could only vote once, popular write-ins were added to the poll, most of the categories were limited to the Valley (Arena, Lone Rock, Plain, Spring Green and the immediate surroundings), with some exceptions. The greater area was included, more or less 15 miles around the Valley. There were questions that specifically stated they were regional, and others where all of Sauk, Iowa and Richland counties were included where otherwise the answers would be over-limiting.
Over nearly two months, through weeks of nominations and almost a month of polls being open, hundreds of you voted on your community favorites for 2022. There were upsets, there were certainties and there were ties. Online exclusive editorial content including editors’ picks, honorable mentions and more are available exclusively online below.
Best of the River Valley is not only a complement to existing guides that help community members and newcomers alike navigate our area, but also a place to share where you believe the area is headed, what the area needs to focus on, and also a place to brag about your business or your favorite Old Fashioned, with a healthy competitive spirit.
Through this year’s process a feeling kept surfacing as we looked back on the last year or more. Like when someone opens the lobby door or curtain when it’s still dark in the theater, or you’re emerging from a matinee and you forgot that it’s day time.
So that’s our 2022 Best of the River Valley theme: emerge.
Whether you view it as us emerging from this ongoing pandemic or you view it as some sort of metaphor for Plato’s cave and finding that perception isn’t reality and there have been innovations while we’ve been in the dark, regardless we are emerging to a new normal. Entropy fights against us and we need to foster community and celebrate the achievements that we’ve made during this time and look toward the future and where we want to go.
That’s the goal of the Best of the River Valley.
Ultimately, this is YOUR poll, YOU decided the winners.
And here they are —
OUTDOORS & LEISURE
Best Body of Water For Recreation
We’re called the Valley for a reason, and what better body of water to win (again) than the body of water that created the Valley?
Though technically out of our immediate coverage area, but still within Richland County, everything the Driftless Music Gardens in Yuba has been doing, and has done recently to provide music safely during a pandemic to those that seek it, is nothing short of amazing. Standing out is the Bonfire Music & Arts Festival, which again very narrowly missed placing.
Murals are popping up all over the Valley, but these are three that can’t be missed. The Graffiti Atomic7 Studio Mural (137 South Albany St, Spring Green) is a local favorite and winner for two years in a row.
The Jazz Mural (137 W Jefferson St, Spring Green) keeps its mysteries and asks that you help find the original artist.
And Center Stage is, well, center stage right downtown Spring Green on Lexington Street.
Another huge field, many of these artists are regulars at The Shed’s Local Night at the Post House Garden and on the River Stage at Shifflets Bar & Riverside Grille at the Wisconsin Riverside Resort and more.
One of the most popular questions. So many good options, although we have to give the Chicken Curry Frites from Last Leaf Public House (134 W Jefferson St, Spring Green) an honorable mention. Imagine poutine, but it’s curry. Yep, it’s amazing.
Butternut Road was fast to become a community and regional favorite and surprises no one with this much deserved win. Notable for Brewhaha Roaster’s number three spot: based on out most current understanding, both Butternut and The Paper Crane at Arcadia Books use or have used Brewhaha coffee! So does Mazo Grind! So that certainly gives Brewhaha an honorable mention. Now the real question is, where can we get a cup of coffee after 5pm in Spring Green?! (You’d be surprised how often we’re up late doing the paper. You gotta think about those college students, young people and late night artistic types.)
Once seemingly forgotten in the Valley, brunch is making a triumphant return. And with two of the best brunch spots across the street from each other, Anita’s Cafe (214 US-14, Arena) and Grandma Mary’s (175 US-14, Arena), Arena has been holding out on us. We’re just happy we can go to Anita’s and get a great skillet somewhere in the Valley.
For the second year running the best burger in the Valley is—the burger! The burger? No fancy name? Apparently it doesn’t need one to be the best. Baron Brooks (122 E Jefferson St, Spring Green) definitely knows something we don’t know.
Spotted Cow is not a surprise, neither is native son (but now Verona-brewed) Lake Louie, formerly of Arena.
But Fatty Boombalatty is. The ties go back sure, and so does the fanbase. But can you even get it any more? Last time we asked the owner said only in small batches on draft no where near us. We reached out again recently and *crickets*—if you’re drinking Fatty Boombalatty, you need to share and let us all know where you’re getting it. You’ll make some people very happy.
Maybe the near future will bring Valley-brewed beer back?
With over 2/3rds of the vote and views of the river, Shifflet’s (S13220 Shifflet Rd, Spring Green) is a no-brainer. Looking for more of a garden vibe? Try Homecoming (242 N Lexington St, Spring Green).
Another new business with a big win, there are a lot of options for pizza and flatbread in the Valley, but if you’re looking for the best hand tossed pizza, Rocket Man Pizza (1150 Main St, Plain) is the place to go. I mean pizza is right in the name. Seeking flatbreads? Try Last Leaf Public House (134 W Jefferson St, Spring Green). (And Site 12 at Tower Hill is for when you want to make your own pizza in the woods.)
The Shitty Barn Sessions (506 E Madison St, Spring Green) are something special, but so is the River Stage at Wisconsin Riverside Resort (S13220 Shifflet Rd, Spring Green). But if you’re looking to dance until your teeth fall out (that’s an expression, right?) then the Keg & Kettle (104 S Oak St, Lone Rock) is always full of energy and fun.”
Often referred to as the most important question (by us at least), Arthur’s comes out on top with a Wisconsin favorite. Not to be ignored is Slowpoke’s (137 W Jefferson St, Spring Green) craft maple old fashioned, which could be a solid contender in the future and nearly placed. The real question is, brandy or whisky? (There is a wrong answer, this is Wisconsin.)
Despite being new, Roarin 20s (1170 Main St, Plain) is fast becoming a favorite, THE favorite according to the numbers. Owned by the same consortium that owns Lone Rock Bistro (234 S Oak St, Lone Rock), they’ve tapped into a need for elevated dining that endears itself to Valley residents.
A controversial list for sure. Last year’s winner, Green Acres, gets knocked down to third, while new restaurant – and not what one might think of when they think supper club, but great in its own way — Roarin 20s (1170 Main St, Plain) takes a prominent spot. No room at the top for a Valley proper supper club, yet. But may we suggest Arthur’s?
No surprise here, Wollersheim is a regional favorite. The real question, is hard cider a wine? Federal law says yes, state law says yes if it’s boozy and science says basically yes. Brix Cider, other than delightful, what are you? So we’ll say yes, you are a wine in this poll. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Some big changes from last year, Lake Wisconsin stayed but Downtown Madison and Ferry Bluff got knocked off. Some of us can walk to the river, so is that technically a day trip? Suppose it is if you make a day of it!
When two of your best hang-outs involve the river, you know it’s a draw. But if you’re looking to stick closer to downtown, the Post House Garden (119 E Jefferson Street, Spring Green) is always bustling with life or music.
“Tourist attraction” doesn’t adequately sum up the amazing American Players Theatre (APT) and what they mean to this community. APT stands in a field all their own. In lieu of their own category, they earn this well-deserved award.
As much as many may love Kwik Trip, it’s nice to see a gas station that’s in the Valley proper win this. Kwik Trip may be a Wisconsin staple, but Rite-Way (E4905 US-14, Spring Green) is a Valley staple.
A huge win for the newly-opened Simply Rooted & Co. (334 E Daley St. Spring Green). Only open for around a month before polls opened, they knocked last year’s winner, Spring Green General Store, out of first place.
Ray Ring edges out last year’s winner, Gov. Tony Evers, and Adam Reno knocks State Senator Howard Marklein off the list.
Last year some people really liked this question and some people thought it felt out of place. We stood by it and still do. We explained last year that a time when it feels like decisions are made so far away, we need to remember that not only can we get involved but that we also can hold our elected officials accountable to our interests and that we should also celebrate the very best of our elected officials as well, from local on up. We hope this award stands as a reminder and as incentive for our local elected officials.
Other nominees:Culver’s, APT, Nothing is overrated in the Valley, Taliesin, Prem Meats, Wisconsin River
Most Underrated Thing in the Valley
For the second year in a row, the River Valley School Fair wins.
The River Valley School Fair is something special. At one point we heard that it’s one of only two left in the state, Ithaca being the other. It someone wants to fact check that, let us know the results. In the meantime we’ll just enjoy what we have here.
How Sidney Bakes (176 S Washington St, Spring Green) can be both Best Bakery and one of the most underrated things in the Valley certainly says something special.
No change this year, a couple new nominations, but the answers were the same and in the exact same order.
It’s important to note just how highly kindness scored, it wasn’t even close. That showing, along with the lack of placement this year over last for the Valley needing to work on being welcoming bodes well for the future.
Other nominees: Being welcoming (or lack thereof, being snobbish), Thinking globally/non-insularly outside the area, Realizing its full potential, Being divided/factious, Capturing tourism for long stays, Evening fine dining, Having businesses open in its downtowns after 4-5pm, Listening
Biggest Thing We Should Make Happen Soon
Is Kwik Trip really a surprising answer? For two years running Kwik Trip comes out on top. We love our local gas stations too of course, but Kwik Trip is a Wisconsin staple.
Affordable housing is huge, there are tons of young professionals and young families that would love to live in the area but can’t. Kudos to the developers that realize this and are moving forward with affordable apartments and lots.
Worth mentioning is how high commuter rail was on the list and how close it was to placing, again. As lovely as a train into Spring Green to see APT or Taliesin would be, until we create more jobs in the area, many still commute. Commuter rail would be a welcome way to commute along the HWY 14 corridor and into Madison.
Other nominees: Commuter rail, Inter-municipality art board, Street fair or block party, Grocery co-op, Inter-municipal parks and recreation program, Adult parks and recreation program, performing arts center, sports complex, focused winter activities