Restaurant Crawl

Three progressive dinner itineraries for meals on the move 

You may have heard of (or participated in) something called a round robin where groups of friends or neighbors visit each others’ homes for one course of a multi-course meal. This concept can easily be applied to a night on the town, hitting several restaurants in one evening. Here we present three progressive dinner itineraries – one that’s appropriate for date night, one that’s family focused and the last geared toward a group excursion. 

Romance Track

Upgrade date night with the most leisurely of our itineraries. 

Drink: RYE

Begin the evening with a cocktail at RYE in downtown Appleton where the “farm
to shaker” movement is fully embraced. A great example is the “From ‘E’ with Love” cocktail made with Mesh & Bone Sotol, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, fresh blood orange and lime juices and Prosecco. Charlotte Morse, promotions and events manager at RYE, says the restaurant’s big city feel, candlelit tables and oyster shell chandeliers create a unique atmosphere to kick off a romantic evening. “RYE’s bartenders are creative and talented. They are always mixing up house-made simple syrups,” she says. “My favorite is the lavender one, which will be making its way to the menu as a lavender lemonade cocktail this summer.” 

Appetizer: Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant 

When ambiance is as important as the food, Fratellos delivers. “Whether enjoying a cocktail or handcrafted beer at the bar with sweeping views of the Fox River or dining downstairs right along the rushing rivers, you will forget that you are only blocks away from downtown Appleton,” says Jay Supple, CEO of Supple Group which operates Fratellos.

This is your appetizer location for good reason – the restaurant’s lineup of starters is fresh, yet focused. Supple recommends trying one of the featured appetizers this summer like the sashimi ahi tuna over a crisp cucumber salad.

Entree: IL Angolo Resto-Bar

Now at their new College Avenue location, IL Angolo continues to offer upscale Mediterranean cuisine that’s worthy of the splurge, especially on date night. From chimichurri-marinated beef tenderloin to filet oscar, IL Angolo offers entrees that are expertly cooked and beautifully presented. The seafood entrees are worth noting as well. Try the pistachio-crusted scallops with dijon cream sauce or the garides saganaki – baked jumbo shrimp with tomatoes and feta cheese. There’s even vegetarian-friendly entrees like IL Angolo’s risotto or the oven-roasted vegetable medley. 

Dessert: Carmella’s Italian Bistro 

This Appleton staple does everything right, from their handcrafted pastas to the curated wine list. But few restaurants put as much care and attention into their dessert menu as Carmella’s, making it the perfect place to end your evening. Pastry chef Kari Mueller’s drool-worthy creations use in-season ingredients and change on the regular. Keeping it classic? Go for the affogato or tiramisu. Feeling trendy? Choose the daily cupcake flavor or seasonal dessert of the moment. 

Kid Track

For this family-friendly itinerary, we forgo the cocktail stop (kind of) and focus on restaurants within close proximity to avoid en route hunger meltdowns. 

Appetizer: The StoneYard Food and Spirits 

Start out at The StoneYard’s Darboy location where you’ll find a great menu of shareable selections. The appetizer platter, with boneless wings, mini corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, fries and homemade onion rings, offers something for everyone. If you’re feeling adventurous, General Manager Stephanie Nytes recommends the pesto fries drizzled with balsamic glaze or the crab and pepper jack cheese dip. The advantage of this stop is that mom and dad can still sneak in that cocktail, if they wish.  

Entree: MACS Macaroni and Cheese Shop 

Is there any food more kid-friendly than macaroni and cheese? We think not. The major perk at MACS, which is basically across the street from The StoneYard, is that they offer grownup mac versions for adults too. Kids will love Mama’s Mac topped with grilled hot dogs and adults will dig the Carnitas Mac with pepper jack cheese, corn and black bean salsa and pulled pork. Orders are taken at the counter as soon as you arrive, so service is fast and the setting is casual. “I know it’s always unpredictable when you go out to eat with kids, so paying up front and being able to leave at your leisure is what my wife and I look for when we go out,” says owner Nick Morse. FYI: On weekdays, kids eat free with an adult purchase until 3:30 p.m. so consider making your progressive meal a lunchtime affair if your schedule allows. 

Dessert: Mohnen’s Family Restaurant

Just a mile east from MACS on County Road KK is Mohen’s Family Restaurant which boasts an impressive dessert lineup. From homemade bread pudding to strawberry shortcake, the options are vast and the prices very affordable. Owner Linda Mohnen says the caramel apple crisp made from scratch in house is a must try. The restaurant also offers a lineup of 12 Cedar Crest ice cream flavors that change about every other week. Select your favorite flavor for a waffle bowl or cone, or try a sundae, malt or float for the perfect ending to a family progressive dinner. Bonus: the restaurant closes at 8 p.m., so you will definitely be home by bedtime. 

Group Track

Lively and accommodating ambiance is the name of the game when embarking on a progressive dinner with friends. 

Drink: Appleton Beer Factory 

Start off the night at Appleton Beer Factory (ABF), which offers options for groups of all sizes. “If there are four guests, we have a couple of nice corners at the bar, great for conversing, or six people can grab one of our large tables in the beer hall, surrounded by our brewing system where the real magic happens,” says Ben Fogle, director of operations at ABF. The College Avenue brewery carries at least eight house beers on tap year-round, with seasonal brews added throughout the year.

Try many different beers by ordering a flight, which comes with several 4-ounce sample glasses. Fogle says it’s a great way to get a complete appreciation for everything ABF has to offer. And if hunger starts setting in early, order the pickled egg as a pre-appetizer snack. They are served in a shot glass with hot sauce and a dash of hops for only a buck. 

Appetizer: Houdini’s Escape Gastropub

A quick five-minute drive across the river will get you to your next location, Houdini’s. The restaurant recently updated its menu and the new offerings are well-suited to an appetizer stop with friends. “I specifically wanted to add some smaller appetizers that would allow for ordering of more plates and creating a sort of tapas atmosphere for quick hangouts and lazy afternoons on the patio,” says General Manager Chue Yee Yang.

New additions include chicharrón, beer-battered fried green beans and a poutine that will probably include pork belly – no complaints here. Order several plates to share or hoard one for yourself. 

Entree: Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza

There’s something festive about a barbecue pit (one that serves pizza, no less) so
give your stomach a little digestion time as you and your crew make the short trek to Menasha. Parker John’s recently rolled out a new menu that includes sweet tips – rib tips marinated for 48 hours in house-brewed sweet tea. In addition to their new items, owner Aaron Sloma says the restaurant’s dinner combinations are especially great for groups. “Our Hired Hand dinner combination is popular with larger groups that can’t decide on what they would like,” he says. “It features three of our smoked meats along with three sides and double orders of Texas toast and cornbread.” And you can never go wrong sharing one of Parker John’s stone-fired pizzas. 

Dessert: The Source Public House

After dinner, make the short trek to Menasha’s The Source for dessert where pastry chef Brooke Seehawer crafts treats that change with the seasons. The Source prides itself on sourcing as many of their ingredients as possible from local farmers and growers. Because of this, their menu changes often but desserts have included everything from flourless chocolate cake and creme brûlée to vegan cashew cheesecake. Bonus: The Source often hosts live music on weekend nights. Time it right and your group could extend your evening out with a show. 

Progressive Dinner Tips

Pick a theme

Yang suggests selecting restaurants that share a similar or contrasting theme such as several different Asian restaurants. “Many of the restaurants in the Valley are uncategorical, but since pubs, diners and supper clubs are king, you could also feature a trio such as a bar for appetizers, then dinner at a supper club and finally dessert at a late night diner or local bakery perhaps,” he says.

Plan ahead

Yang recommends working with restaurants ahead of time so that they may properly prepare. “This could take a load of work off of you in organizing also since the restaurants could work together and coordinate to really make it a cohesive and seamless experience,” Yang says. At the very least, make a reservation for your entree course which will most likely fall at the busiest point of the night for restaurants, generally between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Embrace the bar 

A perfect option for adults sans kids, bar seating is often easier to nab on busy nights. “Bar tables and the bar itself are great options for the beginning or end of a progressive dinner,” Supple says. “Otherwise let the restaurant know your intentions with your reservation if you are only doing one course. That helps the host with table scheduling.”

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