Food for Thought

12 months of dining scene updates, broken down in one digestible review


Meghan Diemel // Cheryl Kaczmarek

Sarah Wells // Cody Wiesner // Kate Youdell

Photography by Jordan Ashwood

Fresh Faces

313 Dodge, Kaukauna

Opened December 20th, 2018, this bistro opened by Janel Abel and fiancé Kyle Megna has been a great location for a combination experience of music and dining. Featuring live music two nights a week, 313 Dodge offers great entertainment with their food. They host events, with a 30-person room upstairs and a smaller room downstairs. “If anyone wanted to rent the whole place, that’s possible,” Abel says. With experience in the catering business, Abel’s ability to host and serve food has been fine-tuned. Most of the staff are friends and close acquaintances, stepping up to help Abel and Megna make their dream come true. Their menu centers around communal dining, as each plate is considered “small.” “People think they won’t have enough for dinner, but they’ll order a bunch of plates and share. It’s a more communal and conversational way of dining,” Abel says. The menu, ever rotating, recently changed in March, to keep the menu fresh and options interesting. They even do specialized menus for events. -KY

Barrel 41 Brewing Co., Neenah

Barrel 41 Brewing Company opened November 19 of last year as a result of the hard work of lifelong friends. Nathan Sharpless, Barrel 41’s head brewer, and Lance Goodman served as the backbone to getting the idea off the ground. Sharpless worked on the recipes while Goodman handled the behind-the-scenes legal and financial needs. Once the lease was signed for the property, it was all hands on deck as Matt Stubing, Dan Kraus and more friends started to gut the space to ready for its November opening.

“The first few months of being open have been great,” says Stubing. “The community has been so supportive and wonderful. We consider ourselves to be very lucky to be in such a strong community, and the overwhelming support really makes us proud to have come home in order to make the Barrel 41 dream a reality.”

One of the things that makes Barrel 41 unique, explains Stubing, is its variety of beer you won’t find at many other places. From a traditional beer like the “White Mustang” saison or the “Dullmore” Belgian Quad to their more experimental beer like the “Cinnamon Roll Crunch,” he says they strive to keep coming up with fun and new beers to try, all while keeping traditional roots. The beer list is complemented by a menu of items that can be ordered from Zuppas Market, Café and Catering down the road, or guests can carry in food from other neighbors such as Marco’s or Cranky Pat’s Pizza.

The ambiance at Barrel 41 is warm and inviting, with an open concept floor plan that gives Barrel 41 a great vibe.

“The other noteworthy thing about our space is how almost everything in the building is an original piece from someone in the area,” Stubing furthers. “For example, local artist Ben Erickson hand-painted two massive murals, local craftsmen hand-finished our unique bar top and tabletops, local craftsman David Bennett hand-crafted our tap handles and menu boards, [and] our friends and families helped assemble our wood wall – we could go on and on.”

Barrel 41’s tap list is ever-changing between the in-house beers and their guest taps. As of March, there were nine Barrel 41 beers on tap, with the goal of having 16 taps of their beer available by the end of summer.

“Our lineup has something for everyone, from our ‘Birthday Suit Blonde’ to our ‘Lancelide Imperial Brown Ale,’ says Stubing. “We have two brews that have been recently added to our taproom that have been popular options. Our ‘Cinnamon Roll Crunch’ is a cinnamon/vanilla milk porter that is very well balanced and comes in at 6.1 percent ABV. The other is ‘Built Berry Well,’ a fruited saison made with raspberry and peaches. It is a great first taste into warmer weather, and half of the proceeds from this beer go toward building a home for a family in the Fox Valley with Habitat for Humanity. We also offer a gluten-free beer option, root beer on tap, kombucha and at limited times cold-brew coffee.”

And, even if you are a novice when it comes to the craft beer world, Stubing says the staff at Barrel 41 will be more than ready and willing to help guide guests toward something they’ll enjoy.

“I personally love helping new people get their foot in the door to the craft beer world,” Stubing says. “We are able to give samples and break down each beer to help dial them into something they will enjoy. We get plenty of people who come in and say, ‘I really don’t drink beer; what is something I may like?’ and it always is fun to see them pleasantly surprised to find a beer they like.” -MD

Crazy Donkey Burrito Grill, Menasha

Crazy Donkey Burrito Grill opened last October when the owner, Mario Nuñez, decided that his second home, Menasha, needed more authentic food from his first home, south Texas.

The result is a Tex-Mex restaurant that specializes in a wide variety of burritos. To name a few, the signature “loco donkey burrito” mixes beef and chicken and also has the standard beans, pico de gallo and cheese, and other burritos mix nacho cheese or buffalo sauce. The burrito grill also offers pork and steak tacos, burrito bowls, pizza and sandwiches. Nuñez appreciates the positive feedback he’s gotten so far since the restaurant opened.

“I’m surprised with the response of the people,” Nuñez says. “This is our style [in Texas]: simple places, but unique in taste.”

According to Nuñez, people really like the name “Crazy Donkey.” Not only is this a double meaning, since “burrito” means (roughly) “little donkey” and the food we know and love, but “Crazy Donkey” is also the nickname Nuñez goes by.

“Every[one] likes the food and the name,” Nuñez says. “My son call me one day with the name Crazy Donkey, [which] means Burrito Loco.” -CW

The Daily Pint, Appleton

Replacing Dieter’s Ale Haus in December 2018, The Daily Pint is a recent neighborhood bar in Appleton serving the Northland Avenue area.

Manager Izzy Killeen says The Daily Pint’s small location creates an open and comfortable atmosphere, which is ideal for unwinding after a long day. “It’s just kind of like your hometown bar.”

In addition to standard domestic ales, Killeen says several craft beers are available on the menu. “We have Guinness, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Spotted Cow, Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, Scottish Ale by Stone Arch, Blue Moon and Badger Club Amber.”

But she says the old fashioneds are the most popular drinks on the menu so far, particularly whiskey and brandy.

“We muddle them, so they’re made from scratch,” Killeen says. -CW

Doughlicious, Appleton

Opened April 2018, this delicious store will be opening a second location in the Fox River Mall April 1 this year. Inspired by the popular trend of cookie dough restaurants in larger cities like New York, owner Kathy Schuman opened her own location at 2125 S. Shaefer St. in Appleton. A cookie dough lover herself, Schuman experiments with recipes to offer cookie dough to as many customers as possible. With a menu boasting gluten-free and vegan options, Doughlicious is great for anyone on any sort of diet, be it keto, gluten free, vegan or a combination. They also offer two party rooms where people can host events like birthdays or baby showers, offering hair and nail services for little girls. “We wanted to be different,” Schuman says. “We wanted to bring back old time party ideas where you’re in the room doing an activity together, it’s really taken off.” With a diverse customer base from teens, college kids, and patrons aged 40 and older, Doughlicious is a popular new location for a sweet treat. -KY

Electric City Gastropub, Kaukauna

“For 100 years, it was a typical bowling alley,” says Lori Hurst who co-owns Electric City Gastropub with her husband Jason and three other partners.  “So, when people walk in the door now, they usually go, ‘Oooh! This isn’t what I expected.’”

After a history that dates back to 1914 when it was called Hilgenberg Alleys, the West Wisconsin Avenue building changed owners several times, but was always a bowling alley. After it closed in 2015, it sat vacant until 2017 when the present owners bought it and completely remodeled it into a full-menu family-friendly restaurant, opening in May of 2018.

Menu items include specialties from maple-glazed Salmon to guinness meatloaf to chicken coconut curry with rice and Vegetables.  All appetizers are homemade and the cheese curds are hand-breaded every day.

The owners didn’t want to lose the bowling alley history, however. So, they kept eight lanes, but turned the rest of the space into a warm, casual and inviting place to meet friends for dinner or hang out with co-workers around the fireplace for happy hour.  The unique bar and table counter-tops are custom-made from the wood that was once the original bowling lanes.

“It’s pretty unique in the valley,” says Hurst, “because it’s a full-menu restaurant — appetizers, soup, salad, entrees and desserts — that just happens to have a bowling alley attached to it.” -CK

Fress Restaurant and Bar, Appleton

Fress, which officially opened April 2, seeks to bring more innovation to Downtown Appleton with from-scratch ingredients, an eclectic menu and fun atmosphere. The concept comes from the creative minds of owner James Dudley and chef Colton Roberts, who decided it was time to make something new by starting a business.

“I’ve been working for other people for a while and it’s always someone’s dream to open up their own place,” Dudley says.

Instead of focusing on a specific region of food, Dudley and Roberts thought it better to bring in “our style of cooking” from a variety of inspirations.

This includes Italian pasta dishes, Asian and American foods that — like most everything on the menu — is farm to table and made from scratch. They’ll also be dry aging and butchering meats.

“It’s something that’s never been around here. We’re excited to introduce Appleton to that style of cooking,” Dudley says.

The bar, which seats 36, serves an “extensive” wine list, craft cocktails and beer. It surrounds an open-concept kitchen where customers can directly see the food being prepared.

“It’s fun. You get to see it, hear it, you get to smell it, and it enhances the dining experience,” Dudley says. -CW

Frio Mexican Treats, Appleton

Frio Mexican Treats in Appleton specializes in desserts many might not be immediately familiar with, like Mexican chocolate, bubblegum and avocado flavors of ice cream, but owner Hugo Ramirez says that’s the point: introducing the Fox Cities to new foods from different cultures has been the goal since they opened in August.

“The flavors are a little bit different that more people are used to, but that’s kind of the main goal,” Ramirez says, “to try new things.”

Ice cream is just one snack on Frio’s eclectic menu as they also offer elotes (Mexican street corn), mangonedas (sweet and spicy fruit drinks) and specialty nachos. Ramirez says one of the most popular items are churros, which are paired with ice cream and have flavors ranging from cookies and cream to apple pie to s’mores.

Ramirez hopes that Frio can be a place in Appleton to experience new flavors and have fun.

“We want to get that Appleton vibe,” Ramirez says. “Bring the kids, bring the grandkids and get some quality time.” -CW

The Jerk Joint, Kaukauna

The Jerk Joint officially opened just recently on March 5, but owner Roderick Godwn says Kaukauna is be a great place to bring a Caribbean-style restaurant since Fox Citians crave variety.

“[We opened] just because the people are so diversified,” Godwn says, “and they really do understand the difference between types of foods. Everybody’s well traveled.”

Jerk chicken is a classic, and Godwn also recommends the curry chicken, “jerk doobies,” which is jerk chicken and cabbage wrapped egg roll-style, and rum pork.

“We make our own rum sauce for it,” Godwn says.

And to match the food, The Jerk Joint aims for an authentic atmosphere.

“We have a totally Caribbean vibe. When you in here, it’s just like you’re in an island for a day,” Godwn says “And we constantly play Caribbean reggae music.” -CW

Wissota Chophouse, Neenah

Following suit after the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites opened in late 2018, the hotel’s restaurant Wissota Chophouse opened to the public on January 10. The hotel and restaurant corporate office has been in Neenah for the past 10 years and wanted to bring the brand here for both the hotel and restaurant. Wissota Chophouse Director of Food and Beverages Calvin Klapa says, “We thought the the brand would be good for the Fox Cities area. It’s a very unique place for dining options and we just wanted to be another one.” Wissota Chophouse’s best-selling items has been their high-quality steaks, the restaurant’s distinguished menu item, and the “shareables” alligator appetizer. The shareables appetizers are made to share between two to four people who want to try something different. For drinks, Wissota Chophouse has 30 different craft beer lines, all from Wisconsin breweries. “We want to introduce Wisconsin companies to others who haven’t had them before. So it’s a great thing for travelers since we are connected with the hotel brand.” Coming in the spring and summer, the restaurant will also be opening their patio to bring people together for any after hour events, parties and business meetings. -SW

My Boondocks Cafe, Menasha

Diners and cafés are and will always be awesome, but all the butter and oil that goes into preparing breakfast foods can be a turn-off for some. But My Boondocks Cafe in Menasha, which opened last October, shakes up the traditional concept: nothing is fried.

“Everything here is baked or made on a panini press, so everything’s a little different altogether,” owner Amanda Thompson says.

This means omelets are made frittata-style and eggs are always scrambled. The breakfast skillets, which are baked and include eggs, hash browns and various meats and vegetables based on what type you order, is one of the more popular menu items.

“It’s probably one of our favorites around here,” Thompson says.

There’s also something for coffee shop enthusiasts, too, with a characteristic calm setting complete with a manmade waterfall and pond, and a full coffee menu including lattes, frappuccinos, macchiatos and more.

“It’s a very cozy, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere,” Thompson says. “And we have fish in our pond.”-CW

Xe54: an Offbeat American Wine Bar, Neenah

“As I traveled, I would frequent wine bars, and I often felt that one would work out here with New York and Chicago being my main influences,” says Pamela Barnes, proprietor of Xe54. This new wine bar opened its doors to the Neenah community on October 19, 2018. It goes beyond being a wine bar as it offers craft cocktails and domestic beers as well. Xe54 also has local Simon’s Specialty Cheeses and Wilmar’s Chocolates for people to enjoy with their drinks. The wine bar hopes to create a comfortable and casual approach to wine. “I feel like there’s a group of people that’s out there who enjoy wine, know a little bit about it, but might be intimidated by it,” Barnes says. “I wanted to be sure to create an approachable atmosphere so people can enjoy themselves.” Xe54 also hosts live music for people to listen and relax to in the background. In the future, the wine bar also hopes to take advantage of their location near a bike trail by offering a dog-friendly patio and bike racks for people coming off of the trail. -SW

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