DODGEVILLE – Walking down Iowa Street, the main drag in this south central Wisconsin town, last week, I noticed a small mound of powdered sugar beneath an unoccupied wrought iron bench on the sidewalk in front of a store.
It was evidence that another customer had taken a break in front of the Quality Bakery to catch a glimpse of small town life while savoring a donut or turnover. Tourists are drawn to this area in the summer to experience the House on the Rock, camp at Governor Dodge State Park, explore the hilly streets and diverse galleries of Mineral Point or see the plays at American Players Theatre in Spring Green. For many, including me, a visit to Quality Bakery is an eagerly anticipated part of the trip.
At a time when small, independent bakeries have almost completely disappeared, Brian Crubaugh regularly works 15-hour days to supply his customers with a prodigious variety of scratch baked items. Business increases in the summer with the convergence of tourists into the area, and that bench, dedicated to the memory of his father, Mike, is often a breakfast perch for travelers.
The bismarck donuts are especially popular in the mornings. Chocolate frosted is the most popular, but I recommend the peanut butter flavored. Unlike most bakeries today, Quality makes its own frostings.
Turnovers are filled to bursting with fresh fruit. Some are wrapped in a pie-like crust, and others, dusted with powdered sugar, are slightly open and airier.
The Crubaugh family has owned the bakery since 1928. Brian is the third generation operator, and daughter Courtney is committed to keeping the business running. Her two young children will be generation five, she confidently says.
Nephew Mak Crubaugh, a graduate of the Milwaukee Area Technical College baking production program, is also in the business.
Brian spent a year and a half studying hotel, restaurant and tourism management at UW-Stout before deciding his future was in the family industry. "I realized hotel and restaurant people had worse hours than bakers," he explains.
That is saying something. He can usually be found in his bakery from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., and he often returns about 3 in the afternoon for another three hours.
Quality sells such a large variety of goods, the owner can't tell you how many things he bakes. The bakery's front window is always filled with such old-fashioned treats as elephant ears and angel food cakes slathered with a white frosting featuring fresh strawberry chunks.
More unusual fare includes saffron bread and buns. Crubaugh's dad and grandfather used to buy the expensive saffron – it now sells for $123 an ounce – from the pharmacist in the next block. "A pinch of it goes a long way," the baker says.
Dodgeville is on the edge of the old lead mining region of southwestern Wisconsin, and Quality still bakes Cornish pasties, the miner's favored lunch. A blend of coarsely ground beef, potatoes and onion is folded into the semi-circular pastry.
Crubaugh says he sells 70 to 100 pasties a day. Priced at $2.60, customers can buy them warm or cold, and they don't have to crawl into the lead mines.
Quality Bakery is at 154 N. Iowa St.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.