Twelve months of dining scene updates, broken down in one digestible review
By Amelia Compton Wolff and Nicole Witmer
Notable New Kids
After more than three years cooking at Scuba’s Pourhouse in Appleton, Terrance Wilder decided to open his own restaurant. Wilder’s, which is billed as a cutting-edge pub and bistro, opened in December 2016 on Northland Avenue in Appleton. It replaces the former Mister G’s Food and Spirits that closed in October. “When I heard this building was for sale I figured I would take a chance,” says Wilder, who named the restaurant as a nod to his grandparents. “My grandparents were the ones who taught me to cook and made me think cooking was fun.” Wilder describes his food as house-made, from-scratch cooking with a Southern flair. “The only things we don’t make in-house are the ketchup, mustard and mayo,” he says. Popular menu items include the lobster mac and cheese, mahi mahi tacos, burgers and ribs. One of Wilder’s favorite items is the smoked prime rib served on Saturdays. He smokes the meat on Thursdays, lets it rest for a day and a half in the cooler, then browns it in the oven for Saturday service. The labor of love results in prime rib with a bold, barbeque flavor. “I want this to be a place where you can get things you can’t get elsewhere in the Valley,” Wilder says. It was also important to Wilder that the restaurant cater to the late night crowd – Sunday through Wednesday the kitchen is open until 10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday it’s open until midnight, with the bar open even later. The restaurant seats upwards of 200 people, but a renovation planned for this spring could increase that number by at least 100 seats. Wilder plans to upgrade a side room with retractable garage doors so it can be used as an indoor meeting and event space as well as outdoor patio in warm weather.
Draft Gastropub, Appleton
Restaurateurs Luis and Shirley Vazquez are well known in the Valley for their restaurants Sangria’s Mexican Grill and Mojitos Modern Latin Cuisine, both in Appleton. Last year, they were ready to add another. They opened their third Appleton restaurant, Draft Gastropub, in June. Draft shares a building with Mojitos on South Oneida Street, but operates independently. “The original layout used to be Mojitos and was entirely a Latin concept,” says Andrew Kratz, general manager of both Draft Gastropub and Mojitos. “They decided to split the square footage, so it became Draft. The beauty is that it is for anyone and provides the best of both worlds.” With a menu featuring American and European-style dishes, Draft has selections fit for everything from a family lunch to a romantic date night. The restaurant’s top seller, the prime burger, uses high quality meat and ingredients like pecan-wood bacon, bleu cheese, red onion, greens, tomato and a smoked chipotle aioli to name a few. Another popular feature is Draft’s Friday fish fry featuring a pretzel crusted haddock. “It’s the number one seller even though it is just one day a week,” says Kratz. “It drives people out here because it’s a Wisconsin tradition.” Draft also serves various other seafood items such as bourbon-glazed grilled salmon and lobster mac and cheese. Aside from the printed menu, Draft offers a unique feature on weekends. “Some weekends we have a chef’s choice and others we have something called a course meal,” Kratz explains. “A course meal is when you come in, say a price and what you have a taste for, and we create a course around it.” These customizations are exactly what set Draft apart from other restaurants. The restaurant itself seats 160 people, which includes a bar that boasts craft beers, craft cocktails and a wide array of red and white wines. Kratz says the cocktail list is one of the biggest draws to the restaurant. “The entire craft cocktail list is exclusive to Draft,” he says.
Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza, Menasha
Though the original restaurant opened in Kiel almost nine years ago, Parker John’s took a leap this year and branched out to the Fox Valley. “Originally, Parker John’s was a little pizza place catering towards kids, complete with a small arcade and nightly pizza buffet,” says Aaron Sloma, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Jennifer. “We kept this model through the recession and decided after three long years it was time for a change.” This change included a two week closing, purchasing a meat smoker, and emerging as Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza. After the success of the remodel, the Slomas began searching for the perfect area to establish a second location. Initially, the second location was Sheboygan not Menasha. “When we began the search for the second Parker John’s, we found a great site on the Riverfront in Sheboygan,” explains Sloma. “In January 2016, while working towards the beginning of construction, we came across the property in Menasha and instantly felt it was the perfect fit.” The Menasha location opened in September 2016, while the Sheboygan location is scheduled to open sometime in April. Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza also offers a menu inclusive to the whole family. All of the meats including pork, brisket, ribs, wings, sausage and turkey breast are smoked in house. In addition to the meats, the sides of potato salad, cole slaw, smokehouse beans, brisket chili and hand cut fries are also made in house. The pizzas offered use Wisconsin whole milk mozzarella and freshly cut vegetables. “We work with a local meat market to make our sausage and Manderfield’s for all our buns,” Sloma point out. “We also sourced our cheese curds from Arthur Bay for our popular appetizer menu.” Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza also offers off-premise catering. With their ever-expanding business, Sloma has a soft spot for his new Menasha location saying, “We knew within a very short amount of time that Menasha was a perfect fit for us and we are thrilled to be part of the community.”
Popupfoxcities, various locations
Popupfoxcities launched last October, bringing an ongoing pop-up dining scene to the Fox Valley. The pop-up restaurant was founded by chef Tracy Darling, who also owns Heirloom Kitchen Company in Brillion. (In her words, “Heirloom Kitchen Company creates the pop-up events; popupfoxcities is the portal for them.”) Darling describes her pop-ups as “innovative, handcrafted meals in unique settings with a special sense of place and a convivial joy poured over it all.” The decision to pursue a pop-up format, where meals are ticketed, one-time affairs was two-fold for Darling. “It is essentially what we do in our specialized catering work and a natural extension of that. Also it is wicked fun,” she says. Dinners have been hosted everywhere from museums to farms to storefronts, each having a distinct theme. Previous themes have included a meal based on comfort food, a vegan feast and a new Nordic dinner. “We do fuss over the food, whether rustic or elegant, and we endeavor to tie together themes relevant to where we are and what we are eating,” Darling says. “There is a really nice connection between us and guests during the meal.” What can diners expect from popupfoxcities in the coming months? Think hangover brunches, more vegan and vegetarian dinners and perhaps an excursion to a fragrant field of hay. Sounds good to us.
In response to the growing demand for convenient, health-conscious food, the Fox Valley gained some new fast and fresh dining options over the last year. Snaps on College Avenue’s west side in Appleton put a new spin on the drive-thru when it opened last spring. It is owned by Abbas Amin, who also owns Chicago Grill in Appleton. Snaps is a drive-thru only restaurant, but you won’t find typical fast food here. The menu consists of healthy salads, soups and wraps like the quinoa kale salad and falafel wrap. For fresh-seeking diners looking for a quick and healthy weeknight meal, Green Gecko Grocer & Deli in Appleton recently debuted a home-meal menu, in addition to the items available in their deli case. “During the holidays, people just started asking us to do large batches of various items, so we decided to formalize the program and have been working on the menu you now have,” says owner Bob Wall. The home meal menu emphasizes high-quality ingredients like grass-fed beef and organic vegetables. Offerings include everything from from pot roast and coconut curry chicken to vegetarian entrees and sides. On-the-go diners must place their orders 24-hours in advance and can pick up their meals hot and ready to eat or to be heated at home.
Hot Dish: Buffalo Chicken MAC
Your map to the newest coffee shops and cafes.
Appleton’s Riverfront: Tempest Coffee Collective
Tucked in the river-facing ground level of RiverHeath’s Prairie apartment and retail development is Tempest Coffee Collective, which made its debut last November. Operating partners Stephan Witchell and Tyler Lonadier met and bonded through their shared love of coffee, both having worked at area coffee shops in the past. When setting out on their own venture, the goal was simple. “We wanted to make good coffee available to everyone,” Lonadier says. Witchell and Lonadier had observed how customers “coffee shop hop,” sometimes going well out of their way for a caffeine fix. This influenced their decision to set up shop off the beaten path. “We chose a place as a destination and wanted to serve things to people they couldn’t forget about,” Lonadier says. It worked. Customer word of mouth spread the news of Tempest’s Spyhouse Coffee offerings, menu items like the waffle egg sandwich and toast bar, and even its Instragram-worthy lighting and decor. While the duo can lean toward scientific (read: nerdy) when discussing what constitutes the perfect cup of coffee, their mission is heartfelt. “We want to make coffee a career for people by providing employees with a livable wage, especially as the business grows,” Witchell says. Come summer, the coffee shop’s riverfront outdoor patio will be filled with pergolas, fireplaces and intimate seating arrangements.
College Avenue: Lou’s Brew Cafe & Lounge
Lou’s Brew Cafe & Lounge celebrated its one year anniversary on February 9. It is the second Lou’s location for owner Laura Loukidis and her family – the original location is in Oshkosh. The coffee shop and restaurant is located in the former Harmony Cafe spot on College Avenue in Appleton. Visitors will recognize much of the vintage decor that was previously part of Harmony Cafe, but will appreciate new additions like the wood beams suspended over the service counter from which exposed Edison light bulbs hang. Lou’s offers breakfast items like muffins, Brew Bars, scones, oatmeal and egg sandwiches, along with lunch items like wraps, soup and salads. Grilled cheese fans have a plethora of options from which to choose, from The Basic (cheddar cheese on panini bread) to the Cheesy Mac-N-Rib Melt (mac and cheese, BBQ pulled pork, cheddar, onions and peppers on panini bread). The cafe’s beverage menu includes speciality coffee drinks, teas and smoothies as well as wine and beer.
Downtown Menasha: Your Daily Grind
Your Daily Grind made its grand opening in Menasha this past November. Owners Rebecca Mader and Tim Lenth offer customers a wide variety of menu choices, including vegan-friendly food. “All our bakery is homemade and we even have vegan baked goods,” says Mader. “We promote healthy eating through our organic products that we buy locally.” Buying locally is an important philosophy at Your Daily Grind. In the warmer months, Mader explains the cafe will try to source most of its produce and ingredients from the outdoor farmers market. “All of our coffee beans are organic,” she points out. “Even our syrup is organic and not sugary, so we support the locals and get great organic goods at the farmers market.” All of these ingredients combine to make Your Daily Grind’s unique menu. Their top sellers currently are the Turkey Blueberry panini and Green Goddess sandwich, but it won’t stay that way for long. “What’s interesting about our menu is it changes about every three months. We want to make sure we can try out new options and keep the menu fresh,” explains Mader. Another interesting aspect to the menu is the addition of Benjamin Teas. This tea is based in Chicago and is exclusive to Your Daily Grind; it is the only coffeehouse in Wisconsin that sells this tea. Looking to the future, the cafe is hoping to add a smoothie bar and its own signature drinks. Mader and Lenth hope to eventually expand into a two story coffeehouse.
Hot Dish: Eggs Monterey
Lindo Michoacan, Appleton
In October, Lindo Michoacan expanded to the storefront next door within its strip mall on Richmond Street. Owner Pedro Juarez says he had been looking to expand ever since acquiring the building in 2015. “As soon as we got the space and signed the lease in 2015, I knew we would have to somehow negotiate to get more space,” he says. The biggest reason for the expansion was to shorten the wait time for guests. The new space was previously a Bose Mobile, but the store relocated and Juarez jumped at the opportunity to expand. Along with now being able to seat 100 guests, the expansion includes a full-service bar and a private party room. “The private room is great for events,” explains Juarez. “Bigger families can have a more private dining experience.” Looking to the future, Juarez hopes to finish the remodel to give Lindo Michoacan a more vintage feel with the addition of a more adult-friendly space. “We are working on getting more wood for the walls and plan on creating a tequila lounge.”
Broken Tree Pizza, Neenah
In March, Broken Tree Pizza opened a new banquet room in the lower level of Neenah’s Marketplace building on Wisconsin Avenue. Broken Tree Pizza restaurant operates on the ground level of the Marketplace. Owner Keith Schreiner says he began renovations on the space when it was vacated by a business that moved. Schreiner plans to rent out the room for small parties, private dinners and meetings. In addition to the new space, Broken Tree also expanded its menu by offering more appetizers and entree salads, and doubling their specialty pizza list. New appetizers include wood-fired spinach and artichoke dip and a bruschetta sampler with pesto, mushroom and traditional tomato bruschetta. Schreiner says the new entree salads offer a gluten-free option for guests. “A lot of the salads we’ve added are like our pizzas but in salad form,” he says. To accommodate a growing Sunday crowd, in February Broken Tree began opening at 10 a.m. (instead of 11 a.m. as it does the rest of the week), serving a special brunch menu with items like chicken and waffles pizza and huevos rancheros pizza, as well as bloody marys, screwdrivers and Irish coffee. Broken Tree will continue operating its mobile pizza oven by catering weddings, parties and community events like Future Neenah’s Wednesday Evening concert series in Shattuck Park. “The mobile trailer is really the anchor of what we do,” Schreiner says. “It’s how we started and continues to be a very large part of our business, besides the brick and mortar location.”
Island Sushi, Appleton
“We were running out of space,” explains Alison Porter, owner of Island Sushi on Eisenhower Drive in Appleton. “We lost many customers because of waits and lack of elbow room.” After knocking down the wall of the former cocktail lounge next door, elbow room is no longer a problem for the sushi bar which expanded in December. The new space allows for 12 additional seats and more room for those waiting to be seated. The expansion also includes the addition of a bar. “Since the bar was already there when we knocked down the wall, we just took it over,” says Porter, “We are still a small restaurant, but now we are comfortably small.” The entire restaurant can now seat 70. Looking to the future, Porter says she is looking for a second location in Oshkosh. The new location will be the second Island Sushi under Porter and the third in the region.
From new owners to names changes, these old standbys shook things up this year.
In the Fox Cities, diners can have the world on a string as the past 12 months have seen a surge of delicacies from around the globe.
Spain: Castilla Bistro & Tapas
Offering small plates and Spanish style tapas, Castilla Bistro & Tapas opened on July 28 in Grand Chute. Owner Conrado Lopez, who also owns Il Angolo in downtown Appleton, says this new venture was the brainchild of his brother and business partner, Oscar Lopez. “He was the one who came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a restaurant here like this that served tapas, so we found the place and he began coming up with recipes,” Lopez says. The menu features authentic Spanish tapas like champiñones con ajo (sauteed mushrooms with garlic, white wine and fresh herbs), croquetas Castilla (bechamel croquettes with a choice of jamon serrano or spinach) and patatas a la riojana (potatoes with Spanish chorizo). “About 75 percent of our food, cheeses and dried meats are imported from Spain which is unique,” Lopez says. For a truly authentic experience, Lopez recommends the traditional Spanish seafood paella made with saffron risotto rice and a seafood medley including scallops, mussels and fish. It pairs well with Castilla’s made-from-scratch sangria, or anything off the restaurant’s craft cocktail menu for that matter.
China & Japan: Bamboo Chinese and Japanese Restaurant
Bamboo opened in April 2016, taking over the former spot of Confucius Restaurant in Appleton. The family-owned restaurant serves Chinese and Japanese cuisine including favorites like kung pao chicken, orange beef, lo mein and hibachi chicken and steak. Chuan Shun Chen owns the restaurant with his father who, serendipitously, was the chef for Confucius Restaurant back when it opened in 2004. “My dad worked in restaurants for over a decade,” Chen says. “We were always searching for an opportunity for ourselves. Then this location was available right when we were looking for it.” Bamboo’s sushi offerings are second-to-none, says Chen, who recommends the Appleton Roll with shrimp tempura, mango, spicy crabmeat and a mango honey wasabi sauce.
Peru: Pisco Mar
Laura Saintgeours and her business partner, Hugo Torres, introduced the Fox Valley to Peruvian cuisine in November 2016. Their restaurant, Pisco Mar, opened its doors in the former location of Flanagan’s Wine Review in downtown Appleton. The restaurant serves Latin food with a Peruvian twist. Diners will notice the menu’s emphasis on fresh seafood, which makes sense given the restaurant’s name (“mar” means sea in Spanish). Saintgeours says Peru is famous for its ceviche, so it’s a staple on Pisco Mar’s menu as well. It comes in several variations including fish, shrimp, octopus, scallops or a mix. Another must-try dish is the palta rellena de camarones – stuffed avocado with marinated shrimp and a mild chipotle sauce. The cozy restaurant can accommodate parties of all sizes from couples to large celebrations. “We want people to enjoy a casual, yet sophisticated meal with their family, friends or a date,” Saintgeours says.
Vietnam: Pho Saigon
After originally opening in May 2016, Pho Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine closed over the summer to repair extensive water damage and reopened in October. Despite its slow start, the restaurant has been going strong since, attracting a diverse clientele who share one common trait: a serious pho obsession. Pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, comes in many forms, but Manager Jared McGinn says his favorite variations are sliced beef and brisket. In addition to pho, the menu includes appetizers, rice and noodle dishes, as well as Thai specialities. McGinn recommends that guests also check out the restaurant’s extensive drink menu. “We have a big drink menu with things like bubble tea, Vietnamese coffee and Thai tea that are unique to this area,” he says.
Mexico: El Agave Mexican Grill
Originally from Eau Claire, co-owners Rafael Ramirez and Pedro Huerta decided the Fox Valley was the perfect location to establish their first restaurant which opened in July 2016. “We were looking for a building last year and we found this one. We thought it was a good opportunity,” Ramirez says. The restaurant serves authentic Mexican food including enchiladas, tacos and of course, margaritas (which are buy one, get one free all day on Monday and Tuesday). Ramirez recommends diners try the Super Burrito stuffed with shrimp, scallops, carnitas, rice, beans and green sauce, topped with cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. Another popular feature is the Fajita Nortena – a mix of chicken, shrimp, scallops and onions, topped with pineapple rings, cherries and cheese sauce. Ramirez says he plans to up the restaurant’s patio game come summer with additional outdoor seating and specials.
Hot Dish: Italian Amarena Cherries & Cream and Gianduia Gelato