West of Sheboygan, deep in the heart of Wisconsin sausage country, a gravel road leads into an 800-acre forest preserve. At the end of the road is a small parking area, from which a footpath leads further into the woods. As the trail curves north, it opens onto a clearing. Here stands one of America's most distinctive restaurants, The Lodge at River Wildlife, a rough-hewn cabin two stories high, built around a fieldstone fireplace.

The Lodge is not the sort of place one spontaneously visits while passing through. In fact, it is not open to the public. To get a table, you need to be a member of River Wildlife or - here's the good part - a paying guest at the American Club hotel in the village of Kohler.The American Club is a grand hostelry, built in 1918 as a home for immigrant employees for the Kohler Co. Since its creation as a dormitory and social center teaching old-world craftsmen how to be good Americans, it has been luxuriously renovated. Now it is a first-class retreat with cloistered walkways, magnificent stained glass windows and formal gardens. There are some fine restaurants at the American Club itself, but for anyone seeking authentic regional cuisine, there is no better place to savor Wisconsin than at one of the wooden tables at the Lodge.

Pique your appetite with muffins or coarse-grained bread, served with mammoth blocks of Dairy State butter. Among the more rustic appetizers are game-stock soup and pheasant pate. At lunch, you can get the pate as part of a "country picnic," including hard cheese, fresh fruit, homemade pickles and creamy German-style potato salad.

A grilled cheese sandwich is made on molasses whole-grain bread, from local Gibbsville cheese. A "hunter's omelet" comes stuffed with potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and chunks of the rich, garlicky sausage known hereabouts as a Sheboygan brat. It too is gilded with cheddar cheese, plus gobs of sour cream. Duck turnovers - pastry pockets filled with spiced chunks of duck and vegetables - are a variation of the Cornish pasties popular further north in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And if you've got a taste for game, try a Wisconsin hen baked in parchment, or a dish of rabbit, grilled with pungent barbecue sauce. Weekend dinner specials include steak with cheddar-butter sauce and fresh brook trout stuffed with vegetables, broiled, and served with cucumber chive sauce.

No restaurant proud of its Wisconsin heritage is going to let you down at dessert. Cheesecake is a celebration of dairy riches - blended ricotta, cream cheese and sour cream; it's a solid block of moo swirled with melted Reese's peanut butter cups whose oily nuttiness counterpoints the sour cheese. On top is a billowy cloud of heavy whipped cream.

We never got a recipe from the folks at River Wildlife on those magical occasions when we ate there; but just recently browsing through Fred and Linda Griffith's new cookbook, "The Best of the Midwest," we came across a superb muffin recipe that they managed to wrest from the management. So for this Wisconsin treasure, our thanks go out to Fred and Linda as well as to River Wildlife.- The Lodge at River Wildlife: via The American Club, Highland Drive, Kohler, WI 53044; (414) 457-2466. During the week The Lodge is open only for lunch; Friday and Saturday for dinner; and Sunday for brunch.

Now available! Nearly 200 of the most-requested recipes from this column, all in one book, "A Taste of America." It includes Jane and Michael Stern's favorite restaurants, as well as photos from their coast-to-coast eating adventures. Available in paperback, it can be ordered by sending $9.95 plus $1 for postage and handling to Taste of America, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 419150, Kansas City, MO 64141.1991, Jane and Michael Stern

(Universal Press Syndicate)

Honey-Nut Apple Muffins

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

6 tablespoons honey

1 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup peeled and chopped apples (Granny Smiths recommended)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts


1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons melted butter\ Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease a dozen cups in a full-size muffin tin.

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Beat together egg, honey, milk and oil. Add apples and nuts.

Fold together both mixtures, stirring only enough to combine. Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full.

Combine all topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until muffins test done and tops are lightly browned.

Makes 12 muffins.