Chef Modrow, how does your garden grow?!

THE GOOSE BLIND is owned by Mary Rowley, who is the current state Restaurateur of the Year.   Ian Stepleton photo

by Ian Stepleton

Let’s play a game.

I’ll call it, “Can I make your mouth water?”

Close your eyes, and imagine …

… Fresh basil on a pizza.

… Seasoned prime rib with thyme and rosemary, straight from the garden.

… A mojito with a sprig of fresh mint.

Hungry (or thirsty) yet?

When you garden at home, it’s a little coup to be able to garnish your meals with something you’ve picked straight out of the garden.

But at a restaurant?

I’m sure the chef uses the freshest ingredients possible, but how often are those ingredients grown just feet from where they are prepared?

Well, inside at least one Green Lake restaurant, it’s more often than you might imagine.

Katie Modrow, chef at the Goose Blind, has created a small herb garden just outside the kitchen of the downtown restaurant.

“We have rosemary, cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, fresh basil, oregano and thyme,” she said. “We’re also trying to grow jalapeño peppers out here; we’ll see how they do.”

Then there’s the mint.

“We always had fresh mint growing back there … It comes back every year,” Katie said. “They use it for drinks at the bar.”

Though the mint has been volunteering to grow there on its own for some time, it was Katie’s idea to create a more intentional garden outside the Goose Blind.

“She redid the front here and the parking lot,” Katie said, referring to owner Mary Rowley, who happens to be the 2016 Wisconsin Restaurateur of the Year. “… [One spot] was always an empty space, and I was like, ‘We should plant herbs and use them in the summer!’”

That was a couple years ago.

Now the spot is providing a tasty harvest each week.

“I generally clip it all on Tuesday … We get quite a bit,” Katie said. “We use the oregano for the white chicken chili. The basil we use for pizzas, also for tomato-basil soup, stuff like that …

“Mint we use for mojitos, and we can use it for desserts, too.”

Very “local” seasoning enables Chef Katie to do even more with her culinary creations.

“Fresh [herbs] are always better than dried herbs,” she said.

Having the fresh produce also fits with the healthier direction the menu at the Goose Blind has been taking.

“Every year, we do a new menu; it comes out in the spring. We have been trying to go more fresh, local produce,” Katie said. “This year, we added our appetizer of hummus with either fresh vegetables or pita chips. We [also] have a lot of salads, like a fresh spinach salad. Then we do a portobelo mushroom sandwich, which is a vegetarian option, and a black bean burger, which I make home-made.

“We’re just trying to go healthier.”

She added the restaurant even offers a couple gluten-free options including gluten-free pizzas.

Even if you want something a little less healthy, Goose Blind finds a way to work in some fresh flavors.

“Last week I went to Prellwitz Produce and picked strawberries for my cheesecake,” Katie said, noting that she makes cheesecake weekly. “Fresh strawberries for the cheesecake were delicious, and Prellwitz Produce has the best strawberries ever.”

With so many tasty options, what does Katie prefer?

“My favorite dish? I really  love our salmon we put on the menu. It’s got a citrus-herb butter. It’s delicious, and salmon is really good for you,” she said. “The most popular item on our menu is the new cheese curds. It’s Wisconsin, everybody loves cheese — but they are very delicious. They’re called ‘Half Naked,’ so it’s a very light batter/breading on it. They’re really delicious, and they seem to be really popular so far.”

With the popularity of the fresh ingredients, any chance Katie will start growing the garden out into the parking lot, maybe on the sly?

“I don’t think Mary would like that very much,” Katie said, laughing. “We’ll see; it would be nice to grow more items but you need space.”

For now, Katie is simply enjoying the chance to be a green thumb while wearing the black chef jacket.

“Yeah [it’s fun],” she said. “I look forward to it each spring.”