When it comes to budgeting, often times ‘dining out’ is the first thing to get the boot from our list of indulgences. We don’t blame you, fine dining adds up fast! Still, we all crave the company of friends and the tastes and textures of delectable foods.
From midweek deals to happy hour steals, we did the dirty work and uncovered 10 upscale establishments in the Fox Cities that offer sizable meals without sacrificing quality and quantity. The catch? We kept the bill under $20 per person, not including tax or tip.
Trust us, these cost-effective comestibles will court your hard-earned cash!
Everyone knows what “TGIF” feels like. Any time you stop in The Seasons for Fabulous Friday, you can really let loose!
Enjoy half-off bottles of wine, ranging from $10–$13. Savor tempura (or cocktail) shrimp at $2 a piece. The Beef Carpaccio, Crab Cakes and Tuna Tacos are $12 each. The chef-made Lobster Bisque soup goes for $7.50.
Executive chef Dylan Maass gives us one heck of a vegetarian entrée worth experiencing: the Quorn ‘Chicken.’ Mocking chicken texture-wise, Quorn is made up of broken-down mushroom mycoproteins and has a chicken breast cutlery look to it. It’s pan-seared and placed atop wild, Himalayan red rice with steamed haricot verts (French green beans) and finished with a crimini mushroom cream sauce that’s simply irresistible ($18).
A welcoming upscale restaurant, Koreana’s colorful menu introduces beginner and veteran sushi lovers to a range of healthy foods made from authentic recipes.
Beginners can practice their chopstick maneuvers with the Sushi Roll Sampler (half of a salmon roll, half of a tuna roll and a California roll) for $8.50.
Another sushi option that packs a flavorful punch and eases you into the cuisine is the TNT, comprised of shrimp tempura (batter-fried shrimp) and cucumber enveloped in tempura crunch, drizzled with special TNT sauce and topped with jalapenos and wasabi tobiko for $8.
Looking to dine sans sushi? Try one of Koreana’s signature entrées. Manager Hyon Kim recommends the Rock Bowl Bi Bim Bahb, eight different vegetables with choice of meat, an egg on top of white, brown or purple rice served in a sizzling rock bowl with spicy sauce on the side ($13–$15). For a truly Korean experience, try the Beef Bulgogi, a thinly sliced rib eye marinated with mild soy-based barbecue sauce, atop stir fried mushrooms and onions, Korean sweet potato starch noodles and enoki mushrooms, served with a lettuce plate for making wraps, for $28 (split it and you’re billed $14).
Lombardi’s Steakhouse is as loved for its diversely mouthwatering menu as it is for its nostalgic atmosphere and Green Bay Packers namesake. Jay Schumerth, senior general manager of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, offered up two options hearty enough to satisfy a linebacker or an Appleton couple looking to share.
Schumerth says couples love to stop in Lombardi’s for an after-dinner indulgence, too. “As is fairly known, our desserts are excessive and almost always shared by two or more,” he says. After an event on the Ave, duck into Lombardi’s for a serving (or two!) of decadent desserts, brilliantly paired with luscious port wine, all for less than $15 per person.
A pizzeria with a penchant for “good mood food,” Stuc’s fires famous pies and captures an Italian palette of pastas, calzones and sandwiches. Not only can couples dine in for less than $20, it might be true that you could feed an army at Stuc’s. Waltz in some evening with $40 for dinner, and chances are you’ll leave with plenty for the next visit.
Stuc’s owner Eric Anderson suggests sharing a hearty Italian Vegetable calzone stuffed with onions, green olives, tomatoes, kalamata olives and Percorino Romano cheese and fresh garlic bread, paired with a couple glasses of Door County Stone’s Throw Merlot. Or dig a little deeper in your pockets for one of Stuc’s popular pastas.
Since pies are best shared between friends, we tossed up some pizzas that couples and friends can dive right into.
Stuc’s same-named lighter-fare pizza features the restaurant’s special sauce and seasonings topped with enough onions, mushrooms, green peppers and black olives to satisfy, for $17.29 (16-inch thin or hand-tossed).
And nothing says comfort food like Stuc’s king-size Ultra Meat pie, loaded with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and homemade meatballs to cure any lingering hunger, at just $22.89 (16-inch thin or hand-tossed). Split one of these with a friend (or four), and you’re total is sure to be about $8–$12 or less!
CARMELLA’S: AN ITALIAN BISTRO
Sharing is customary in Italian culture. Just ask sisters Nicole and Kristen DeFranza, owners of Carmella’s: an Italian Bistro, an eatery that whisks guests back to Old World Italy with its authentic menu.
Because Carmella’s doesn’t charge a plate-splitting fee, it’s the perfect place to get a taste for everything from cheeses and meats to antipasta, pasta, entrées and sweets. “They can go through the whole Italian dinner and it won’t get crazy expensive,” Nicole DeFranza says. “We like to offer people the chance to explore the food.”
She suggests couples start by sharing a few items from the Meat/Cheese section, such as the Capricola (hot Italian ham), Mortadella (cold-cut Italian sausage) and Pecorino Pepato (gourmet cheese speckled with peppercorns), at $2.50 each.
Guests can also enjoy the house’s signature crusty bread, drizzled with olive oil and served fresh (free of charge) to every table. DeFranza suggests pairing the starters with a couple glasses of Ca’Del Sarto Pinot Grigio at $6 each.
With your tab at just $19.50, you’ve got room to try another course (or two).
Opt for sharing a generous House Salad and Carmella’s Spaghetti and Meatballs for just $17 (substitute whole wheat linguini or gluten-free pasta for $1.50). That brings your tummies to “full” and your balance to only $36.50.
FLANAGAN’S WINE REVIEW
Flanagan’s Wine Review knows just how to put the “happy” in your dinner hour. From 5–6pm and 9–11pm, you can explore half-priced wine and tap beer, and two-for-one appetizers. For example, if a couple ventures in and orders Flanagan’s Cheese, Fruit & Antipasta Platter ($14), they can also try the Maryland Crab Cakes ($12) free. (The lower-priced item will be removed from your check.)
The second Happy Hour, from 9–11pm, is great for guests out and about late in the evening. The kitchen stays open till 9:30pm, Tuesday through Thursday, and until midnight Friday and Saturday. It’s a great option for people mingling after Fox Cities Performing Arts Center shows or other downtown events.
IL’ ANGOLO RESTÓ-BAR
A block behind College Avenue in Appleton sits Il’ Angolo Restó-Bar, a restaurant full of charm and class. Executive chef Fortino Solano serves eclectic cuisine and this month he’s introducing a new menu full of bounce and adventure.
To complement the new menu, a new wine list featuring 20 bottles for under $20 will be available. Split a bottle with a buddy, and your bill starts at $10.
Expected to steal the spotlight is the Athena, a dish of grilled chicken breast, sautéed spinach and baked with feta cheese on top. It’s served with a side of mix vegetables and a basket of Greek fries, similar to French fries, except Solano uses olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and feta cheese ($19).
But what really has Solano excited is what he’s simply calling the Vegetable Medley. As the seasons change, so does the mélange, but Solano gave us a list of his favorites: artichokes, carrots, Chinese eggplant, mushrooms, fennel, radicchio and truffle and jalapeño potatoes ($18).
“I gather whatever I can from the local farm markets,” he says. “It’s a symphony of different vegetables and flavors.”
Get your own plate for under $20, or split a bottle of wine and entrée with a foodie friend. There’s no plate-splitting charge at Il’ Angolo, and Fortino is devoted to giving guests an affordable and memorable dining experience.
A downtown Appleton newcomer, Cena cooks up all things sweet, spicy and savory with three main entrées under $20 each. Bar manager Brian Leslie gives us two, which can be split and enjoyed between friends or lovers.
Free of plate-splitting fees, try the Butternut Squash Ravioli and the Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle. And if those dishes call for an accompaniment, you still have the funds! There are three wines by the glass that will keep you right around $20: a Ponte de Barca Vino Verde ($5.50), Canyon Road Chardonnay ($4.50) and Canyon Road Cabernet Sauvignon ($4.50).
If you’re flying solo, Leslie suggests two small plates. The first, seared Mango Shrimp ($10), with mango pico, avocado, butter and crispy tortilla strips, paired with a glass of Darby & Joan Chardonnay ($6.50). For the second, Cena’s chef team takes a page from the Greeks in its Mediterranean Nachos ($8), featuring braised lamb topped with tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and a citrus gremolata served over pita chips, then paired with a glass of Tres Ojos Old Wine Garnacha ($6). Instead of wine, side with a bowl of the Tomato Basil Bisque ($4.50) or the Caprese Salad ($10) instead. Combined with either plate, you’re still under $20!
GINGEROOTZ ASIAN GRILL
At Appleton’s GingeRootz Asian Grill, the root of its happy hour is word of mouth. In case you haven’t heard, this vibrant establishment, which draws flavors from China, Thailand, Japan, and Korea, has a deal worth hyping!
Calling all imbibers. From 4–7pm on Monday through Thursday, and after 8:30pm on Friday and Saturday, diners who sit at the bar get what they spend on drinks free in food. For example, if you spend $10 in drinks (beer, martinis, wine and even soda), you can choose $10 worth of appetizers from the happy hour menu ($15 is the max). A striking selection of happy hour appetizers includes: Crab Rangoons, Lettuce Wraps, Pan Fried or Steamed Dumplings, Edamame, Malaysian Sticky Fried Rice, Tempura Eggplant, Fried Calamari, and four varieties of sushi rolls, just to name a few!
Owner Doris Ng suggests trying the Shanghai Cosmo ($7.50), a sweet concoction of vodka, sake, plum wine, cranberry and lime juice.
For evening diners, Ng says many opt for small portions of meat, seafood or traditional entrées. Take for instance the Dry Sautéed String Bean dish. A small order will cost you $6.25, (where a regular order costs $10.25). Add meat to the small portion for $2.50 extra. “It comes with rice,” adds Ng. “You aren’t overwhelmed by a large quantity, and you don’t even need to box it up.” An $8.75 entrée leaves plenty of spending room for a drink or an appetizer or two.
FRATELLOS WATERFRONT RESTAURANT
With a sophisticated and approachable menu, Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant in Appleton is a smart choice when seeking cost-effective, yet generous, meals in the Fox Cities. Although a spread of food is served under $20 at Fratellos, we asked for a new, springtime selection to tempt our tastes.
You won’t regret requesting the Chicken Mushroom Gnocchi, a dish of lightly sautéed gnocchi, grilled chicken, mushrooms and spinach in a Boursin cream sauce, and garnished with fresh basil, organic sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. And if you have room for more, you still have moola! Order one of Fratellos Signature Cupcakes for dessert.
In case you aren’t jonesing for a pasta plate, the chef suggests a few substitutes: Ahi Tuna Pizza, a wafer thin house-made crust layered with hoisin BBQ sauce and fresh tuna topped with wasabi aioli, black olives, shaved red onions and cilantro ($10.99); California Salmon Taco Wrap, of fresh salmon, blackened and topped with cilantro salsa, spinach and chipotle vinaigrette, wrapped in a tomato basil tortilla ($10.99); or Beer Battered Fish and Chips, a light tempura battered haddock with Caber Tossing Scottish Ale and served with seasoned waffle fries, tartar sauce and coleslaw ($15.99).
We’d say, go ahead and splurge, but we don’t think that’s quite the right word…
—By Sarah Owen & Alison Fiebig