24th Annual Golden Fork Awards

By Amelia Compton Wolff & Erika Hearden 

Photography by Jordan Ashwood

The ballots have been tallied and the results are in. For our annual reader survey of area food and drink, Fox Valley foodies selected their favorite establishments in 33 categories of dining, from Best Steak to Most Vegetarian Friendly. Learn more about the winners in the following pages, then make it your mission to visit each and find out exactly why they came out on top. 

Click here for a complete list of winners. 

Best Overall: Carmella’s Italian Bistro 

After an upset in 2017, Carmella’s Italian Bistro has found its way back to the top spot in 2018’s Golden Fork Awards. This is the eighth Best Overall win for the Appleton restaurant and it’s extra sweet this year, says co-owner Nicole DeFranza.

“There are so many great new restaurants. It’s nice to be included in this whole new crop,” she says. “It only elevates the food scene here in Appleton.” 

A lot has changed since 2009 when DeFranza opened the restaurant with her sister, Kristen. The pair launched a second restaurant, began selling their jarred pasta sauce in retail outlets and grew from 25 to 120 employees. But some things haven’t changed much. 

“At our core, who Kristen and I are in our philosophy is what perseveres and you have to keep teaching it and finding the right people in the front and back of house who hold themselves to a higher standard,” DeFranza says.

Carmella’s also took home Golden Forks for Best Salad, Best Ambiance and Best Waitstaff. DeFranza says the Best Waitstaff win is especially meaningful, as she and Kristen come from a long line of restaurateurs who pride themselves in hospitality. 

“When you are born into the restaurant industry, you become a person who likes to make people happy through food. That’s where our background is and where we get to connect with people,” she says. “It never ceases to amaze us how lucky we are to have found so many amazing [employees] who are great at what they do and who love people.” 

The menu is served in the traditional bistro style and is complemented by a hand-picked wine and beer selection. From fresh pastas to thoughtfully prepared entrees, guests can take their pick and never worry about going wrong. 

“We are so thankful for our guests and, since day one, for the community who has rallied around us the way they have,” DeFranza says. “The friends we make at the restaurant are truly a gift.” –ACW

Best New Restaurant: Author’s Kitchen & Bar

Author’s Kitchen & Bar opened in Appleton on June 22, taking over the old IL Angolo spot. 

Owners Josh Sickler and Matias Whittingslow met four years ago while working together at SAP Brunch, Brown Bag & Bakery. Author’s is their first independent venture. 

“We’ve always worked for other people really hard and we were at the point in our careers where we either needed to do it for ourselves or get out of the business,” Sickler says.

Since opening, the restaurant has gained a reputation for their handmade pastas (particularly the gnocchi), fresh seafood and innovative specials. The menu, which changes frequently, also offers small-bite snacks, shareable appetizers, salads and entrees. 

“People who come here really enjoy food,” Whittingslow says. “We see that because they are willing to try new things. I feel like we are gaining their confidence.”

With just 16 tables in the restaurant, Sickler and Whittingslow knew a spacious, relaxing wait area would be essential. The lounge offers bar seating and living room style furniture arrangements where food can also be ordered. Currently the restaurant serves only dinner Monday through Saturday. 

Sickler and Whittingslow took a start-up approach to opening the restaurant, using their own savings and utilizing personal equipment to get it operational. Even the large table used for groups is Whittingslow’s own kitchen table from home. 

“We started with two ladles, a couple whisks, two bowls. Every pan, every pot we own, it’s all here,” Sickler says. “I go home and I have one small knife left, but it’s got a great story behind it.” 

For a restaurant named Author’s, the story is always front and center. 

“We aren’t authors because we write. We are authors because we choose everything that happens here,” Whittingslow says. “We are the authors of our lives, our story and the food that comes out of this kitchen.” –ACW

Best Dine-in Deli

“I enjoy New York Deli because you really get a feel for the New York style sandwiches. My favorite sandwich is the turkey d’aosta panini. But what I really enjoy is the tortellini pasta salad and the skin-on red potato salad. I usually buy an extra one to take home with me.” — Samantha Lutz, Appleton

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