The incredibly distinct experience of dining at Pier 290 began with pulling up to the valet. In our boat. Constructed lakeside at Gage Marina, which has been in this spot on Lake Geneva for coming up on 150 years, just pull up to the dock and a valet takes your boat so you can grab some dinner.
With so much of Barrington heading up to Lake Geneva for long stretches of summer lakeside relaxation, we thought it only made sense to feature a Dinner Date at one our favorite vacation hotspots.
The atmosphere can’t be beat. The building is filled with reclaimed wood and artifacts from historic Lake Geneva barns and estates. There’s an outdoor bar and large fire pits for gathering with friends and family in the evening.
The inside of Pier 290 feels like a nautical country club. A wall of windows overlooks the Gage Marina docks and a beautiful stretch of the lake. On the wall they have a row of boat propellers commemorating the yachts and tour boats that ferry people across the water all summer long, with nameplates and dates like Polaris-1898 and Steam Yacht Louise-1902.
The propeller motif is continued down the hall to the Gage Marine boutique, where they offer swimwear and beachy summer clothing. Above the walls covered in generations of black and white sailing photos are superbly cool chandeliers, light bulbs threaded through the center of propellers, hanging from thick manila sailing rope.
We sat down to dinner and asked our waiter for the most popular dish from the appetizer menu, or the Let’s Get It Started menu in the parlance of the pier. Without hesitation, he said it was the Pier 290 House Chips, thick potato chips sliced and fried in house until they’re dark and crunchy. There’s no doubting this is a crowd pleaser. It’s got the salty, satisfying crunch of classic family summer food, and it’s infinitely shareable. It comes with creamy roasted onion dip that settles nicely on the palate, never overpowering the flavor of the chips.
On a Wisconsin getaway, we also wanted to experience the delectable authenticity of the Wisconsin Platter selection of cheeses. All five cheeses come from the Roth Cheesery, an hour and half down the road in Monroe, Wisconsin, otherwise known as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA. Represented on the plate are thick slices of four-year cheddar, gouda, blue cheese crumble, Fontina, and Swiss. Each is creamy and mature, the platter offering so many variations on flavor, pairing the cheeses with slices of French bread, tart cranberry chutney, brandied chicken mousse, spicy Dijon mustard, tomatoes, olives, or Peppadew peppers. Though the chutney and Peppadew make for very enjoyable and distinct flavor partners with the cheese, the spicy mustard injects the perfect amount of zest into every bite no matter what you pair it with.
Moving into the entrees, Pier 290 emphasizes an ethos of using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Much of their produce is from a plot of land they created called Farm 290, and they also raise chickens and source their beef locally as much as possible.
There are a couple of entrees on the dinner menu that make wonderful use of a smoker. Although tempted by the BBQ Baby Back Ribs, we opted for the Bone-In Pork Chop. It’s a 10-ounce slab of succulent meat infused with a deep smoke flavor without compromising any juiciness, and it’s been treated to a rub that galvanizes a lovely, creeping spiciness. It’s delivered on a pool of chipotle cream cheese sauce, which is creamy and tangy, but the meat is perfect without it.
After spending much of the evening watching the rippling of the water, we had to have some of Pier 290’s seafood. The Blackened Swordfish is an eight-ounce filet coated in Cajun spices, sautéed, and broiled to a fantastic crispy exterior. A blanket of chopped tomatoes and garlic over the top creates just the right bright and savory notes for the steak-like chew and fresh water flavor of the fish.
Both entrees came with the same selection of vegetables. Green beans and corn deliver simple, unadorned, garden fresh flavors; whipped mashed potatoes serve as the classic buttery complement; and a smooth sweet potato puree works especially well with the swordfish.
Though we toured some of their more elevated selections, it should be mentioned that the 290 Brunch Burger recently won the distinction of Peoples’ Choice Award for Best Burger during the Geneva Lakes Burger Throwdown.
For dessert, we had the Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee, deliriously sweet custard underneath a perfect caramelized crust. This preparation was treated to a Madagascar vanilla bean infusion giving it a wonderful ice cream feel and leaving behind the characteristic black specs of vanilla bean at the bottom of the ramekin serving dish. For a picturesque final touch, it’s topped with an edible orchid.
The wine list is extensive with many bottles stored within another stylish signature touch, a walk-in cooler from 1920. Walking by, we could see the elegantly stacked bottles tucked within the aged oak cabinet. We asked our server to pair wines with the dishes and from the French Sauvignon Blanc that arrived with the swordfish to the Ruby port that accompanied our crème brulee, the suggestions were on point.
Pier 290 is located at 1 Liechty Drive in Williams Bay, Wisconsin; 262-245-2100; pier290.com.