Max Meier's Hartland Inn
Authentic Swiss dishes, Old World charm are easy to find at this Hartland restaurant
Story by Mark Edmund - Photography by William Netzel
You could easily mistake this corner of downtown Hartland for a corner of a small town in the Swiss Alps.
Red and white Swiss flags hanging outside the charming, historic two-story inn complement the handmade stained glass windows throughout the restaurant that feature 23 different Swiss cantons. And of course, there are the three different fondues and the authentic Swiss meals anyone can experience when they visit.
Since Max and Margrit Meier founded the Hartland Inn in 1967, this warm, authentic-Swiss style restaurant has established itself as "the" Swiss restaurant to visit this side of the Alps, or at least this side of New Glarius, Wis.
"This has been such a nice area for us, there are a lot of great people here," Margrit said during a recent visit. "Hartland has been good to us."
And the Meiers want to return the favor by continuing to offer the signature Swiss dishes that made the restaurant such a popular spot in Lake Country. At the same time, however, they want to infuse new flavors and creativity into the menu to attract newcomers, said Michelle Meier, one of Max and Margrit's daughters who works as the restaurant's manager.
"We want to change a few things, put a new twist on some things, but keep some of Max's recipes," Michelle said.
Her father died in 1998, but his memory lives on at the restaurant. Naturally, he had much influence on the creation of the menu. And there's a photo of Max - wearing his chefs uniform and a bright smile - just as you enter the dining room.
Both Max and Margrit were born in central Switzerland. As often as she can, Margarit tries to visit her family - four sisters and eight brothers - some of whom still live in her homeland, she said. Margrit was raised on a farm about ten miles from Zug. She left Switzerland in 1964 and moved to Madison. Max grew up in Zurich. He apprenticed as chef in a fine restaurant in Montreux, where he picked up a flair for the culinary arts. During many stops at different restaurants throughout Europe, Max cultivated his knowledge and appreciation of cooking, until at one point he served the royal family in Sweden.
Max left Europe for the United States in 1951 and worked as an assistant chef at Guido's, a restaurant in Aspen, Colo. A few years later, he moved to Milwaukee and worked as an assistant chef at the Milwaukee University Club. Eventually, Max took the head chef position at the Park Motor Inn in Madison, where Margrit was on the staff. The two were married in 1967. They opened the Hartland Inn that same year.
Max, along with other chefs throughout the years, worked hard to develop different Swiss tastes to offer his restaurant-goers. It was important to import the Swiss standbys - the fondues. At the Hartland Inn, there are three: La Fondue Bourguignonne ($17.95 per person), a Swiss specialty in which you cook pieces of beef tenderloin in the hot oil at your table; Cheese Fondue ($14.95 per person), a combination of melted Swiss cheese, white wine and spices served above flame at the table; and La Fondue Chinoise ($17.95 per person), which features beef, chicken and vegetable cooked in broth right at the table).
Other entrees that the Hartland Inn has become known for include the Piccata Milanaise ($16.95). This dish features pork medallions dipped in egg and parmesan cheese and baked through. Geshnetzeltes ($12.95) are tender slices of chicken sauteed in a creamy white wine mushroom sauce. The Meiers also serve the mouth-watering Veal Schnitzel Emmenthal ($17.95) - breaded veal topped with ham and melted Swiss cheese. There's also Dover Solle ($22.95). The Meiers import the sauteed amandine from the waters of the English Channel and serve it up right.
The menu is certain to include other familiar favorites, like a Filet Mignon (king - $21.95 and
queen - $17.95) or a New York Strip (king - $21.95 and queen - $17.95). There are specials throughout the week, Tuesday night BBQ ribs, a Wednesday night Shrimp Boil, Thursday Night Tournadous, the Friday Night Fish Fry and the Saturday Night Prime Rib. The featured specials range in price from $8.75 to $18.95, depending on the portions you order.
Michelle said the majority of the signature Swiss items will stay put. But she and her mom want to give the Hartland Inn's two chefs, Mark Koski and Kent Welsh, a little more freedom to "revamp" a few items here and there. Watch for changes soon.
Also watch for wine-tasting events, something that may only expand upon the Meiers' already impressive wine list. And look for Max Meier's homemade dressings at food stores in the near future. The Meiers have begun bottling the popular Swiss vinegarette, Italian and sweet and tangy dressings to sell at different outlets. For now, you can bring home the Swiss vinegarette when you stop at the Inn.
Max Meier's Hartland Inn is located at 110 Cottonwood Ave. The inn serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Call (262) 367-6800 for reservations. 30
* Prices and items may have changed since the publication of this article. *