|By KJ Lang, La Crosse Tribune,
Wis.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 27, 2008 - TREMPEALEAU, Wis. -- It starts with a bunch of walnuts, a little Wisconsin cheese, some eggs, bread crumbs, onions, tamari, a dab of oil, and herbs and spices. Form into patties and fry over a flat grill. You'll have the No. 1-selling menu item at the Historic Trempealeau Hotel, the No. 1 frozen food item at the People's Food Co-op and a favorite among vegetarians and meat lovers alike.
What is it?
The walnut burger, a meatless patty so flavorful the vast majority of consumers are carnivores, said Jim Jenkins, co-owner of the hotel.
"I think a lot of people were surprised how good it is because there are a lot of vegetarian burgers out there that don't taste like much," said Linda Jenkins, also a co-owner of the hotel.
The hotel began serving the walnut burger in 1986 when the owners wanted to add some additional vegetarian items to their menu.
The burger became so popular that customers started asking to take them home, Jim Jenkins said. As a result, the restaurant started selling them in frozen four-packs and then to co-ops and grocery stores, he said.
Reinhart FoodService in La Crosse now manufactures about 15,000 burgers per month. The burgers are distributed to numerous restaurants, food services and retail grocery stores across Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, Jim Jenkins said. In this area, the burgers are sold at People's Food Co-op, Woodman's Food Market and Festival Foods in Onalaska and La Crosse.
The walnut burger is the No. 1 seller in the frozen food department at the People's Food Co-op, said marketing manager Lauri Hoff.
"A lot of people, after they have them at the hotel, really like them and find out they can buy them at our store," she said. "So, those are some of our first- time shoppers."
A similar menu item is an appetizer, walnut balls, which has the same ingredients as the burger rolled in small balls, baked and served at the hotel with a side of honey mustard or salsa.
Jim and Linda Jenkins are working toward selling the walnut balls pre-baked, which will open more doors for distribution, Jim said.
Not only can the walnut burger become walnut balls, it also can be used as a stuffing for salmon or pork tenderloin, baked into lasagna or stuffed in green peppers and portabella mushrooms, along with many other options, Jim said.
"It is entertaining to see all the people that use the product," he said. "Because of its versatility, it is fun to hear all of their ideas."
The Historic Trempealeau Hotel also offers rooms and suites, hosts music events and is a venue for weddings, anniversaries and other special events.
KJ Lang can be reached at (608) 791-8226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BUSINESS OF THE WEEK
What: The Historic Trempealeau Hotel
Where: 150 Main St., Trempealeau, Wis.
Phone: (608) 534-6898
DETAILS: The hotel is open for the season April 1 through Dec. 31. Winter hours have not been decided.
ON THE Web: Visit www.trempealeauhotel.com. To learn more about the walnut burger, visit www.walnutburger.com.
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Copyright (c) 2008, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.
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