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Food for Thought 2016

Posted on April 1, 2016 by Amy Hanson

New restaurants and cafés brought their expertise to the table this year as they welcomed patrons to explore a variety of flavors. Others changed hands as new owners took over spaces vacated by previous establishments and still others recognized the need to expand. Here is a taste of what happened and what lies ahead for food in the Fox Cities.


NEW OPPORTUNITIES

 

Photo courtesy of Katsu-Ya of Japan

Photo courtesy of Katsu-Ya of Japan

Katsu-Ya of Japan

“I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on the location,” shares Lisa Nakashima, manager of Katsu-Ya of Japan, who says people were happy to see an established restaurant expand in downtown Appleton.

The new location, which opened to the public on Jan. 14, is now double in size. Nakashima says it had outgrown its old College Avenue location. The new space also has a more modern feel while staying true to the restaurant’s roots with the tanuki for good luck, sake kegs and traditional lanterns.

“We’re trying to keep it a really cozy atmosphere,” Nakashima explains. “We know our customers loved our old building and we’re trying to bring (that feeling) in.”

The new restaurant has hibachi dining rooms separate from the bar and lounge, and a sushi room. A Yakiniku or Japanese barbecue station also has been added.

Broken Tree Pizza

“What sets our product apart from other pizzerias is that we do your classic cheese, pepperoni and sausage, but we’re not afraid to throw something unique on a pizza,” explains Keith Schreiner, owner of Broken Tree Pizza, of his wood-fired pizza. “We’ve had a fairly overwhelming response from the valley since we opened.”

Broken Tree Pizza Manager Arin Pagel. Photo by Julia Schnese

Broken Tree Pizza Manager Arin Pagel.
Photo by Julia Schnese

Broken Tree, which opened May 5, 2015, has been thriving via word of mouth, Schreiner shares.

In addition to pizza, Broken Tree also offers calzones, a salad bar and lunch buffet. The Fun Guy and the Dixie Chicken are just two of the pizzas getting attention from customers.

“The great thing about pizza is it’s kind of a blank canvas and you can do so many things with it,” shares Schreiner who has two young children. “Pizza is one of those foods we all can agree on.”

As Schreiner notes, the versatile staple goes well with celebrations from birthday parties to football games to holidays and has become part of many families’ traditions. With that thought in mind, Schreiner also purchased the name and equipment from Cherry On Top Ice Cream Shop after they closed in December 2015. Schreiner hopes to have the ice cream shop, which will be in The Marketplace in Neenah next to Broken Tree, open by this month.

Town Council Kitchen & Bar

Town Council Kitchen & Bar recently joined the downtown Neenah dining scene in early March with new French flavors.

“We describe our food as locally sourced, from-scratch, new American cuisine,” shares Chef/Owner Jonathan Horan who was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in French cuisine and returns to the Fox Cities with his new venture.

Town Council Kitchen & Bar. Photo by Adam Shea of Adam Shea Photography, adamsheaphoto.com

Town Council Kitchen & Bar. Photo by Adam Shea of Adam Shea Photography, adamsheaphoto.com

Town Council Kitchen & Bar has a good portion of seating at the bar and can accommodate 45-50 people total. The small-format restaurant focuses on a seasonally rotating menu with a selection of cocktails, beer and wine that also will change. “We’ve seen that format work in other markets we’ve worked in and wanted to bring it here,” Horan says, adding there will always be at least one dish that includes either beef, pork, poultry, fish or is a vegetarian option. He also plans to do in-house made charcuteries, pasta and small plates.

“We’re going to try to keep it fresh, lively and energetic,” says Sean Hathaway-Casey, general manager.

Guests can look into the kitchen from the bar. The restaurant’s layout is open and features different areas for socializing, like a long table that will seat parties of six to eight guests or be used for communal dining.

The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday beginning with a happy hour menu at 4 p.m. and switches to a separate menu at 5:30 p.m. for the dinner crowd. Four to six Sunday Fundays also are planned for throughout the year with a laid-back, limited menu.

Heirloom Kitchen Company

Co-owned by Tracy Darling and Brooke Werner, Heirloom Kitchen Company in Brillion combines farm-focused catering services within a 50-mile radius of the community, product line assistance for local farms and menu item development.

“We get a chance to go deep into what farms do so that’s great fun,” Darling shares.

Heirloom Kitchen Company’s kitchen is in the same building as Bakkheia Wine Bar and Eatery, and supplies their menu selections.

Darling, originally from Brillion, had the intention to do something like what she’s able to do now when she returned to the area four years ago, but went to Village Hearthstone as its executive chef.

“It was good for me to see and assess the area,” she explains. Heirloom Kitchen Company also will be teaming up with the local farmers market and hosting unique, themed dinners.

Lindo Michoacan

Pedro Juarez, Jr. is ready for a restaurant of his own, but as the owner of Lindo Michoacan in Appleton, he’s bringing his family along for the experience.

Between grocery stores and restaurants, Juarez’s family has at least 13 years of experience on the Fox Valley food scene.

“What we offer is the authentic, made-from-scratch food,” Juarez explains. “I learned everything from them. It was fair of me to bring them along.”

After the family’s last restaurant on College Avenue, Juarez opted to move away from downtown to Richmond Street to make his restaurant accessible to the hispanic population. He also added more vegetarian selections, a kids menu and seafood options.

“The response has been good. The people who knew our food are even more excited to try new things,” Juarez says. Lindo Michoacan also incorporates more meat options, like barbacoa, a goat meat marinated in a mole sauce.

Home Burger Bar

After working at the former Mad Hatter in Appleton for a year as their assistant manager, Mandy Ferg went on to purchase the business with her husband, James. The couple took over on Jan. 1, closed for two weeks and reopened as Home Burger Bar on Jan. 16.

The focus of the restaurant is burgers and appetizers, but don’t expect just your regular burger on the menu. A top-seller is the Crabgoon, a beef patty topped with homemade dip, green onions, wonton strips, and a sweet and spicy sauce.

“We definitely have burgers you won’t find everywhere else,” Ferg shares. “I tried to go with as different as I can. … I try to push the envelope to make something new and different that we haven’t already had.” While some burgers carried over from Mad Hatter, a Burger of the Month also is offered.

Ferg admits that when she dines out, she’s apt to gravitate to specials because she wants to try new things and hopes her customers will do the same. She wanted to maintain a sense of “home,” which she says comes from the state of Wisconsin in the design and feel of Home Burger Bar with touches like a new bar top, bar back and lights made from vintage license plates. She describes the establishment as “a bar that serves excellent burgers,” but also is family friendly.

Café Debé

“I had been approached by Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology when they opened,” Owner Deborah Wichman shares of her new venture, Café Debé, that opened Sept. 21, 2015 in Appleton. She is no stranger to the food business, however, after opening her catering business in Neenah seven years ago, which continues to operate.

Café Debé, open Monday through Friday, serves hot soups, fresh-made salads and sandwiches, a full coffee bar and bakery items, including cookies, bars and mini cheesecakes made from scratch, which are available for dine-in or to go. The café offers seating for 40, with an additional 50 spaces in the atrium and 30 more on the patio.

“We have more people coming in every day,” Wichman says. “You can come in and out of here in three to four minutes, but still get a healthy lunch.”

Linda & Logan’s Family Dining

Following 19 years of employment with Galvan’s in Appleton, 12 as a partner before it changed ownership, Linda Bovair decided to try her hand at a new restaurant. The result is Linda & Logan’s Family Dining in Kaukauna, which opened Jan. 11. Bovair bought the site, which was the former home of Plum Hill and then Kangaroost, vacant in November 2015.

“Everything we can possibly make from scratch, we make from scratch,” Bovair shares, noting there’s anything from Italian to Mexican to American options, along with homemade soups, on the menu. Come this summer, Bovair is excited to open the restaurant’s patio, which will seat 30-35 people.

Bovair is grateful to the City of Kaukauna for being so welcoming and accommodating with her new business, along with assisting with parking. There is a public parking lot across from the restaurant and another paved lot is being created around the corner to help with traffic from the public pool, park and 1000 Islands Environmental Center.

“They’ve been fabulous to us. Really, they’ve gone above and beyond to help us be successful,” Bovair says.

Foxxy Chicken & BBQ

Fried catfish, perch, chicken, ribs, brisket, collared greens, red beans, okra and hush puppies are just some of the Foxxy Chicken & BBQ’s menu selections.

“There’s no food around here like it — you’re not going to get fried catfish elsewhere,” says Devin Burks, co-owner with his wife Shiequane. He also cooks at the 30-seat Menasha eatery. “It’s just down-to-earth cooking.”

Burks wanted to bring the food that he learned to cook with his mother and grandmother, along with the men in his family, to the area.

The Kentucky Bourbon Classic at Mr. Brews Taphouse. Photo by Julia Schnese

The Kentucky Bourbon Classic at Mr. Brews Taphouse. Photo by Julia Schnese

Mr. Brews Taphouse

On June 15, Mr. Brews Taphouse joined the Fox Valley dining scene as it opened near Lock No. 4 on the Fox River in Appleton.

“People like the selection of craft beers and our burgers,” shares Tammy Verhagen, co-owner with her husband Craig, of the 47 craft beers on tap that change out weekly, along with bottled mainstream options.

For non-beer drinkers, Mr. Brews also offers red and white wines.

“It’s something new, it’s exciting, it’s opening up avenues for a lot of small businesses,” Verhagen notes. “For my husband and I, it was about the business model and concept.”

The relaxed, casual restaurant provides a simple menu focused on burgers, but also includes a chicken sandwich, salads, a kids menu and fresh-cut fries, which are made to order and cooked in sunflower oil. The restaurant seats 137 patrons inside and 60 outside during the warm months.

Egyptian Delights

Macaroni Bechamel at Egyptian Delights. Photo by Julia Schnese

Macaroni Bechamel at Egyptian Delights. Photo by Julia Schnese

After four years at the Downtown Appleton Farmers Market, Ezzeldin “Ezz” Ismail was ready to take his business to the next level. Egyptian Delights opened its Appleton location in February. Ismail also plans to return to the market.

He came to Wisconsin from Alexandria, Egypt in 2009; his wife is an Oshkosh native. Ismail notes he was drawn to the food business after noticing many ethnic families in the area had restaurants of their own. He looks forward to sharing his culture with the community.

As his business starts, he describes it as a café which is open daily with menu items including hisbiscus juice, gollash, kofta, stuffed grape leaves and baklava.

“I was surprised, shocked even, how many people had been to the Middle East,” shares Ismail who has received good feedback. “I think it will be a good business. I believe the American people have a good adventure to try new food.”

Chung’s Sandwich Bar

A Bánh Mi sandwich from Chung’s Sandwich Bar

A Bánh Mi sandwich from Chung’s Sandwich Bar

Located inside Long Cheng Marketplace in Appleton is Chung’s Sandwich Bar, which serves Bánh Mi sandwiches — including selections like beef, chicken, barbecue pork, tofu and pork meatloaf — on toasted baguettes with mayo, jalapeños, fresh cilantro, cucumbers, pickled daikon and carrots. Chung’s has been open since August 2015.

“We want them to have that crunchiness when they bite into the sandwich,” shares Maiyoua Thao, owner of Chung’s, who brought the sandwiches to the area after visits to see family in Laos and at the suggestion of her son. Bánh Mi sandwiches are very popular street market fare in Laos, Thao notes.

“Every time we wanted it, we had to go to the big cities,” she says. “A lot of people comment that it’s the best Bánh mi they’ve had.” Thao adds that many customers from outside the area will come in and buy multiple sandwiches to take with them.

In addition to the sandwiches, Chung’s also serves salads, soups, French fries, stuffed chicken wings and Kimchi.

Song’s Cuisine

Song Siebert serves egg rolls, fried rice, stuffed chicken wings and other fare at Song’s Cuisine in Appleton. The egg rolls, as she explains, are made with more simple flavors, more meat and the finest quality ingredients.

There’s something on Song’s menu, however, that is unexpected — pasties. A pasty, known for its connections to Upper Michigan, is a small, pie-like pastry that usually contains meat.

While Siebert intended to just make the type of food she specializes in, people kept stopping by prior to her opening asking if the pasty would be part of her menu. Song’s, which opened Jan. 13, 2015 occupies the space that once belonged to The Pasty Koop. When a friend offered up his 1937 recipe for pasties, Siebert did some research and decided to try making them.

“It didn’t look that good, but my house smelled amazing for that week,” she says. Siebert had her friend taste the result and then took an excursion to Michigan to check it out in person.

“The pasty is basically a godsend to me,” says Siebert who believes she’s the only one in the area making pasties. “I wanted to nail that down really good and provide a quality product for my customers.”

Eggrolls Inc.

When Blong Yang opened Eggrolls Inc. in Grand Chute on June 15, 2015, he was looking for a way to bring Hmong egg rolls to the masses in a healthy way.

Blong’s “higher-end, fast food” as he calls it focuses on baked Hmong egg rolls that are two to three times the size of a typical egg roll and go through a three-stage baking process that keeps the outer shell crispy and the inside moist. All of the meat for the egg rolls, with the exception of shrimp, come from The Meat Block in Greenville.

Blong shares that he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and took note of what other successful, healthier, fast food chains were doing. While Eggrolls Inc. is not currently a franchise, Blong hopes to create that, or at least multiple locations, down the road.

“You can get egg rolls at a number of places locally,” Blong notes. “The food that we’re making is for the population as a whole, not just our population. … We didn’t want to be another mom and pop egg roll store.”

In addition to egg rolls, cabbage rolls, lettuce wraps, Pho rolls, spring rolls and egg roll bowls are on the menu, along with gluten-free options. Over 75 percent of Blong’s business is currently takeout for lunch and dinner, he shares. He also offers small catering and delivery through fooddudesdelivery.com.

Freshii

After teaching for four years, Desiree Geffers decided to switch gears and try a different career path following her dining experience at a Freshii in Chicago. Geffers, who has been a dancer her whole life and competed in the Miss America program, has been into healthy eating for awhile.

“I was always looking for a place to eat that was fresh and affordable,” she shares. “The community has been awesome. It’s been interesting to see all the dietary needs and be able to meet that.”

Geffers, who co-owns the Appleton Freshii location that opened June 22 with her fiancee Jake Nerenhausen and future father-in-law Scott Nerenhausen, describes the franchise as healthy, casual, affordable and on the go for those who are focused on their overall health and well-being, along with seeking options to fit their lifestyle. The produce is cut onsite and Freshii also offers a Juice Cleanse, Meal Box program, and delivery during the week within 10 minutes of the restaurant. A map of the delivery radius can be found on their website.

Timshel Cafe Photo by Adam Shea of Adam Shea Photography, adamsheaphoto.com

Timshel Cafe
Photo by Adam Shea of Adam Shea Photography, adamsheaphoto.com

Timshel Cafe

In December 2014, a tenant moved out of The Marketplace in Neenah that made room for an unexpected business venture. Timshel Cafe, which opened a year ago this April “felt like the right thing to do,” shares owner Umer Sheikh of his business housed in the building he also owns.

The name of the café comes from the Hebrew word meaning, “Thou mayest,” and the idea that everyone has a choice, explains Sheikh. While it may be more expensive, he believes in bringing in products that are socially responsible.

“Whatever we do here, we want to do it right. If we’re not comfortable eating it, we’re not going to serve it,” he says. “We’re incredibly proud of what we’re doing behind the scenes.”

Tea, sandwiches, soups and breakfast items also are served at Timshel. The bakery items are made from scratch daily.

Sheikh credits manager Noelle McGinnis for making Timshel work and says had she not agreed to come aboard, the café likely wouldn’t exist.

“My thought process has always been, you find the right person and get out of their way. — Noelle is a rock star,” he says.

CHANGING HANDS

The Appleton Street Sports Bar & Grill

“Our menu has changed a lot,” explains Renee Thiede, bar manager at The Appleton Street Sports Bar & Grill, which was formerly Cheyenne’s Sports Bar & Grill and reopened in September under new ownership.

Thiede shares that the burgers have been upgraded with meat coming from The Meat Block in Greenville. Some of the popular burgers are The Cheese Head Burger made with cheese curds, aged cheddar and Swiss, and The Prime Time Burger with hickory smoked bacon, pepper jack, onion rings and garlic aioli. The Appleton Street Sports Bar & Grill also upgraded its pizzas with a new crust recipe and a switch in sauces. Customers will find a Blackened Salmon Sandwich and The Appleton Club House on the menu as well.

“We have our very friendly servers. It has that feeling of ‘Cheers,’” Thiede adds of the restaurant’s vibe.

While its interior looks largely the same, the restaurant has received bigger TVs, gambling machines and lighting above the bar, with some decor updates.

City Cafe

After five months of ownership, Yee and Thong Vu are making the former location of CSI Appleton in City Center Plaza their own and have already opted to expand their business after acquiring where Green Gecko once was as well. The expansion of City Cafe began on Feb. 22 and has allowed the restaurant to sell food and do service out of the new space while cooking in the former.

“It has always been a dream of my husband and I to open a business,” Yee shares.

City Cafe serves a mix of both Western and Eastern cuisine, adopting some of CSI’s recipes and incorporating more soups and currys. An example is Thai Tomato Basil with Chicken, which Yee describes as a very simple dish with flavor. To educate customers, she puts videos up on Facebook to explain recipes, offers samples and rotates out the menu. The healthy, fresh selections are made to order and the service is quick to accommodate breakfast and lunch crowds.

Yee is no stranger to the restaurant business. She grew up helping her parents, the owners of Mai’s Deli.

“I was part of their journey and their dream, so it made me realize that I could have my own journey and dream as well,” she says.

D2 Sports Pub

Adding to the existing D2 Sports Pub locations in Green Bay near Lambeau Field and Austin Straubel Airport, Anduzzi’s in Appleton was renamed as another D2 location following a change in the partners of the restaurant from four owners to three, shares Mike Lenarduzzi, an owner in the business.

D2’s menu remains similar, with items ranging from Ahi Tuna to pizzas to salads to wraps.

“We have the same model we’ve always had,” explains Lenarduzzi, noting D2 will still cater to sporting events and Mile of Music, while offering a great late-night bar scene.

Jacks or Better

A mainstay in the culture of Little Chute, Jacks or Better, returned Oct. 15 when new owner Matthew Spielbauer reopened the restaurant, last known as the Flying Dutchman.

The casual dining establishment focuses on steak, seafood, pasta and barbecue for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is served on Sundays.

“It was a family gathering place for a number of years,” shares Spielbauer who adds that his family was friends with the previous Jacks or Better owners. “You were always made to feel welcome and the food was always good.”

Paninoteca

Tostones Tropical — fried green plantain and smoked pork chops with sweet peppers in tropical tomato sauce — at Paninoteca. Photo by Julia Schnese

Tostones Tropical — fried green plantain and smoked pork chops with sweet peppers in tropical tomato sauce — at Paninoteca. Photo by Julia Schnese

Donny Orozco is looking to bring some Dominican flavor to the Fox Cities. As the new co-owner of Paninoteca in Appleton with is brother, Freddy, the restaurant is seeing customers throughout the day.

“Our food is different than Mexican food,” Orozco says of the misnomer. “It’s time we bring something to town.” Orozco also is hoping to introduce more of the Dominican culture to the community with special events.

Some new menu options that are going over well with customers are El Tipico, a chicken breast served with rice, sweet peppers and a mango glaze, and fried and mashed plantains.

“When you eat it, you feel the difference,” he says. “People love those dishes.”

Sai Ram Indian Cuisine

After the Chalasne family said goodbye to their beloved restaurant of 16 years in August 2015, Sai Ram Indian Cuisine in Appleton didn’t stay closed for long.

Reopening on Oct. 5, the menu remains the same, but the management has changed.

“The food is really awesome,” shares Priya Sivakumar, business manager, adding the Makhani remains a popular dish. “They had a very good customer base.”

Sivakumar says she has seen even more customers coming in and staff has been added to accommodate the increase. Interaction with customers also is a priority.

“Since it is a family owned business, we try to stop at each and every table,” Sivakumar shares.

EXPANDING POSSIBILITIES

Houdini’s Escape Gastropub

“We were up to our gills with the little kitchen we had,” explains Cole Plamann, general manager of Houdini’s Escape Gastropub in Appleton, of their recent expansion. “It’s been nothing short of a full success.”

The revamp of the restaurant with its new kitchen has provided the opportunity to serve three times as many customers daily with more bar space to help push the gastropub feel. Adding a new patio space also was part of Houdini’s revamped look. The patio provides seating for 40, while inside there is seating for 75, with 35 of that coming from the bar.

The restaurant has been playing with new menu items, which they expect to launch in spring and tie to the opening of the patio. Customers also have 180 craft beers to pick from.

“The plan is that now that we have the space to do so, I want to gear the menu around more local products,” Plamann says.

The newly expanded open kitchen offers not only transparency about how food is prepared, it also adds an entertainment value to Houdini’s. Where the old kitchen used to be, there’s now space for a stage to accommodate performers two to three times a month.

Mojito’s Mexican Grill & Bar

Mojito’s Mexican Grill & Bar new bar area. Photo by Courtney Martin

Mojito’s Mexican Grill & Bar new bar area. Photo by Courtney Martin

“We wanted to have that quaint, cozy, welcoming feel,” says Shirley Vazquez, owner of Mojito’s Mexican Grill & Bar in Appleton with her husband Luis, of the new bar area that opened Feb. 28. “It has improved the atmosphere in this restaurant 20-fold.”

The remodel integrated both the dining rooms and bar experience at Mojito’s. It also allowed for a better presentation of the alcohol selection the restaurant offers, more visibility between the spaces and easier access for the staff to a bar area while making customers feel like they’re on vacation with the sounds of the fountain and karaoke on Friday nights at 9 p.m., which was moved from the back bar. There also are four TVs in the space.

“It gives people more of that different dining room experience,” Vazquez notes of the space beyond the bar that was once used more as a party room, but also is now open at least five nights a week for dining.

The back bar is currently under construction to be converted to a space for banquet and catering services and will seat 169 people with a raised area for bridal parties. The room also will include its own bar and can be utilized for business gatherings and presentations as well. Vazquez hopes to have the area complete within 30 days, which would be right around the middle of this month.

WeatherVane Restaurant

Pat DuFrane is anxious to gain extra space for the WeatherVane Restaurant in Menasha. With its new expansion, the restaurant, which DuFrane owns with his wife Julie, will not only gain additional seating, but also another kitchen, waiting area, bar and small gift shop. The DuFrane’s daughter, Melanie, also is a partner in the growing business that celebrates five years May 2 and served 75,000 people last year. A kitchen and dining area renovation was done in 2013.

The new expansion, which DuFrane hopes to have open for business by the first part of June, will allow the WeatherVane to seat up to 160 guests when complete and afford space for a soup and salad bar, and buffets. The restaurant, however, will remain open during construction.

“If you want good breakfast food and sandwiches, that’s what we do,” DuFrane shares. “People really seem to enjoy it and come out. It’s a meeting place.”

Osorio’s Latin Fusion

The thought of enjoying margaritas outside was enough for Kimberly Finnell, co-owner of Osorio’s Latin Fusion in Appleton with her husband Liborio, to consider adding a patio, she joked.

“We love eating outdoors when we can. The summer is so short,” she added. “Our customer base was begging for it for years actually.”

Because the space where the restaurant is located is leased, options were limited. Upon closer inspection, however, the potential of removing and improving existing landscaping was realized to create a new patio that opened in August 2015.

As soon as the weather is consistently above 60 degrees, Finnell plans to have it open for business again. The patio seats up to 40 guests and will likely have a special bar menu. Entertainment options also are being explored.

“I just have this picture of a really beautiful summer time and people out enjoying,” says Finnell.
on the horizon

Dairyland Brew Pub

Just in time for the Green Bay Packers season, Dorri and Bernie Schmidt plan to open Dairyland Brew Pub in Appleton in August in the former Moose Lodge.

The pub will focus on Wisconsin dishes from build-your-own burgers and brats to a Friday fish fry.

“It’s just making sure that we have the best Wisconsin cheeses,” Dorri says, noting she’s also hoping to hold tastings from different cheese and sausage companies from throughout the state. She plans to have 40 taps of Wisconsin craft beer available with some domestic options. Wisconsin wines also will be available.

“Wisconsin is a really great state, it has a lot to offer,” Dorri adds. The restaurant will seat 90 people indoors and additional 16 on the outdoor patio. For those who enjoy entertainment, live bands on the weekend, pool and dart tournaments, projection screen concerts and karaoke also are planned.

NOTABLE HAPPENINGS

Spats Food & Spirits

The “famous” Irish Burger at Spats. Photo by Julia Schnese

The “famous” Irish Burger at Spats. Photo by Julia Schnese

It’s not everyday that a restaurant in the Fox Cities is recognized globally for a menu item. Spats Food & Spirits’ recognition by Yahoo.com Travel as having “the most over-the-top hamburger” in Wisconsin came as a surprise to Bill Neubert, owner with his wife, Julie.

The Irish Burger, which received the nod is just one of Spats’ burgers to push the boundaries of beef. The 1/3-pound burger is topped with corned beef, 1000 Island dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. The burger became a permanent fixture after it was added as an experiment for St. Patrick’s Day three years ago.

“I think it’s a unique burger. I never saw one on a menu before,” he adds. “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and this worked.”

Village Hearthstone

Upon the departure of Tracy Darling as executive chef, some staffing changes began to take shape at Village Hearthstone in Hilbert. Kevin Woods went from sous chef to executive chef and Sally Peck went from running the catering operations to assuming the role of director of fun and general manager. As Peck explained, it was time to look at the bigger picture of maintaining quality staff.

To avoid turnover at Village Hearthstone, the owners examined benefits, more professionals were hired for the kitchen and other trained staff were added.

“Generally, we have a really good buy-in for this kinder, gentler kitchen,” Peck shares. “We still want to strive for excellence, but we want to do that in an environment where you can survive and pay your bills.”

While customers may not realize the restaurant has been around 19 years, its only within the last five that its concept has changed making the food more thoughtful and on, trend, carefully handled and focusing on a menu that is changed seasonally with an emphasis on local and regional ingredients. Popular dinners, like the Dinner on the Farm event coming up on July 7, are slated to continue.

As Peck notes, it’s a delicate balance between partnership, community, food and employees that makes the restaurant and the new philosophy work in a cohesive manner.

Lion’s Tail Brewing Co.

Alex Wenzel started his career as a chemical engineer, but decided to move in another direction after concocting his own beer for several years. Wenzel now owns Lion’s Tail Brewery in Neenah with his wife, Kristin.

Lion’s Tail offers a dozen taps with seven to eight of those coming from Wenzel. He plans to have eight to 12 new releases each year.

As a complement to the brewery, Wenzel recognized patrons may wish to enjoy some food with their beer, but he fully admits that he doesn’t know food and there was no room to add a kitchen into the brewery’s plans so he paired up with Broken Tree Pizza and Remington’s Restaurant to create a unique solution. Broken Tree’s full line-up of pizzas are available, while Remington’s created a menu meant to pair with Wenzel’s beers including Pulled Pork Nachos, a Pub Burger with wasabi sauce and appetizers.

“It just seemed like two close neighbors who had really good food and we could get creative and do it that way,” Wenzel says. “I love the idea of people coming down here and hopping between the destinations.”

Patrons have the option of ordering through Lion’s Tail, calling in their own delivery to another restaurant, or bringing food in, Wenzel explains. In addition to these options, he also offers cheese plates, chocolate pairings and frozen pizzas prepared onsite.

Olive Garden

Patrons now have another option when it comes to food delivery. Olive Garden Catering and Delivery, a service of Olive Garden in Appleton, is available for orders of $125 or more with a 15 percent delivery charge added.

“Basically, instead of coming and picking it up yourself, we set it up for you,” explains Joseph Meola, general manager of the service that started in November and gained popularity during the holiday season. Businesses, hospitals and those throwing parties have tried the convenient option. While any menu item is available, Meola notes that the combos, which include two entrees like chicken parmesan and fettuccine alfredo, salad, drinks and a dessert have been the best sellers.

—FC

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