Chomping and Chugging

your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2009 winners for food and drink

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson

BEST UPSCALE DINING
1st Place: Mona Lisa’s
2nd Place: Houligans
3rd Place: Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grille

We’d like to start with the mussels. Tell me, will that pair well with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon? Splendid. She’ll have the pan-fried halibut. I’ll have the candied garlic New York strip. Medium rare, please. When it comes to the upscale dining experience, from appetizer to atmosphere, Mona Lisa’s has got it down. Its menu changes both seasonally and weekly, almost always featuring pasta, seafood, steak, and vegetarian options, while their bar features an excellent selection of fine wines and microbrews. Houligans is the Valley’s beacon of surf and turf, specializing in scrumptious steaks and salivation-inspiring seafood. Despite only being around for a year, Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grille is turning people’s heads in Chippewa Falls with an intimate environment, unique dishes, and a menu of more than 70 wines. – Trevor Kupfer

Downsville Distinction: The Creamery, a true dining destination

 

MOST INSPIRED/INTERESTING RESTAURANT ATMOSPHERE
1st Place: The Livery
2nd Place: Stella Blues
3rd Place: Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grille

The Livery is as welcoming as it is distinctive, moving its atmosphere into first place just months after opening. Its style of country and urban vibes is a perfect juxtaposition, taking advantage of the building’s history as a livery stable and adding awesome tidbits like a bowling game-turned table. Stepping through the floor-to-ceiling velvet drapes of Stella Blues, you are met with both a mass of local historical artifacts and the sensuality of the Cajun south. Whether you want high-top seating in the front, or more cozy seating in the back, this restaurant has got soul. Duncan Creek Wine Bar and Grille is the place to go when looking for the modern, worldly feeling of a metropolitan bistro. This fun, flirty, and jazzy little restaurant gives you a taste of international experience right here in the Chippewa Valley. – Ashley F. Dziuk

 

BEST PIZZA
1st Place: Jeff & Jim’s
2nd Place: Sammy’s
3rd Place: Pizza Del Re

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Sammy’s Pizza has been an Eau Claire institution for millennia, serving up delicious thin-crust pizza in scrumptious little squares. But last year, they closed their downtown location, which allowed Jeff and Jim’s, with its manjare rolls and late-night Water Street appeal to swoop in and nab this year’s best pizza title. Regular crust lovers are undoubtedly dancing in the streets after so many years of thin crust rule. Not only are their pies tasty, their sides are delicious and their sauces are unique. Sammy’s of course, retained the number two spot and will forever be associated be with pizza in Eau Claire, as will Pizza Del Re, our third place purveyor of thin crust ‘za and the endless pizza buffet. But, for the moment, the newest kid on the block reigns supreme pizza. – Eric Rasmussen

 

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
1st Place: Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grille
2nd Place: The Livery
3rd Place: Water Street Deli

No matter your taste or how you slice it, the past year’s crop of new restaurants has been worth your weight in saliva (and that’s a delicacy in some places!). If you need reminding, there was Milwaukee Burger Co., Sonic, Secret Garden, Taverna Grill, and Asia Palace. Pretty dang good. But the cream of the crop was Chippewa Falls’ Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grill, an excellent upscale eatery with reasonable prices, an intimate date night atmosphere, and fantastic food on a regularly changing menu. Continuing the development in Phoenix Park, John Mogensen opened the much-anticipated Livery over summer. Perhaps playing off the unique transformation of the building, The Livery strangely combines country and urban for the atmosphere, and its menu bends classic items like a monte cristo with French toast. Brilliant. Also worth noting is Water Street Deli, providing Mediterranean cuisine like gyros and hummus and a small specialty grocery store. – Trevor Kupfer

 

BEST SUBS/SANDWICHES
1st Place: Erbert and Gerbert’s
2nd Place: Acoustic Café
3rd Place: Jimmy John’s

Hold the cucumbers! Maybe it’s that special storybook-based menu, the interior decoration (seriously, where else can you ordered a “Bornk”?), or that one of the two Eau Claire stores resides smack-dab in the center of Eau Claire’s Water Street district, but Erbert and Gerbert’s came in first for the best sub/sandwich shop in the area, now two years in a row. The Acoustic Café came in second, what with that wide selection of hoagies in three sizes, great downtown locations, and providing a stage for local and touring performers of all types. And Jimmy John’s came in third, maybe for their specialty subs, the rock ‘n roll that fills the Brackett Avenue store, or their witty anecdotal interior decor. – Tyler Griggs

 

BEST COMFORT FOOD
1st Place: Culver’s
2nd Place: Randy’s Family Restaurant
3rd Place: Altoona Family Restaurant

What’s more comforting than great food at a decent price? Yeah, I know, right? This year’s battle was very close and the top three all deserve a round of applause and a hug. But, the victor is Culver’s and their Butterburgers. Although the burger is the most known item on the menu, they do offer a great fish fry and fried chicken plate with mashed taters and exceptional green beans. Let’s not forget the iced cream that always doubles your pleasure during the ordering process. Numero dos is Randy’s Family Restaurant. I’m not sure who Randy is, but I can only assume he ate like a king when with his family. Everyday breakfast specials, homemade soups, bread, and desserts round out a diverse home-style menu. Finally in third place we have the Altoona Family Restaurant and their packed daily specials. Monday alone includes meat loaf with gravy, beef stroganoff, BBQ pork ribs, and all you can eat chicken and spaghetti! Geez! – Mark Koenig

 

BEST BAKERY
1st Place: Marie’s Original Bakery
2nd Place: Great Harvest
3rd Place: Dessert First

Marie’s Original Bakery reminds you of how food is supposed to taste. Chocolate croissants may be the scrumptious favorites, but squeezing caramelized poetry out of something as understated as a pinwheel is the kind of talent that keeps people coming back for more, even in a poor economy. Despite the varied selection, it is hard not to pick a favorite from Great Harvest and stick with it. Whether picking up a round loaf of flavorful goodness for dinner or sweet scones for breakfast, regulars know that if they are picking them up at the farmers market they have to get there early because they go fast. Dessert First also has a devoted following. Thankfully, people can now get their fix at the Meat and Cheese Shop (2424 Seymour Road) or in Benny HaHa’s (204 S. Barstow St.). Now the only question is:  Red Velvet or Chocolate Indulgence? – Betty Rae Matthews

 

BEST BURGERS
1st Place: Mogie’s
2nd Place: Court’N House
3rd Place: Milwaukee Burger Co.

Oh man, I don’t even need to tell you how important this category is. If you’re one of many folks who quite nearly live on delicious burgers, then you know how tasty the beef sandwiches are at Mogie’s on Water Street. Serving up a patty even Wimpy could be proud of, Mogie’s has the sports bar atmosphere and easy going style that makes every juicy bite that much more enjoyable. After that, shoot up to the Court’N House for their famous two-for-one burger specials, but get there early as lines for food are a common occurrence due to understandably high demand. If a burger that’s bigger than your face is more your style, then check out Milwaukee Burger Co. and bury your patty in fried eggs, potatoes, onions, bacon, or whatever delicious artery-dam your little heart desires. – Aryn Widule

Chippewa Choice: Bridge Street Station

 

BEST ASIAN RESTAURANT
1st Place: Shanghai Bistro
2nd Place: Pad Thai
3rd Place: Tokyo Japanese Restaurant

Filling out a rare winning streak of three years of reader’s poll domination, the Shanghai Bistro stir-fried the competition yet again in the Best Asian Restaurant category. Maybe it’s the sushi happy hour. Maybe it’s the cheap lunch menu (around $4). Maybe it’s how the lights go down Friday and Saturday nights, setting the mood to maximum sensuality as smooth jazz fills the place. In another streak, Pad Thai came in second place for the third year in a row, a family business, a downtown favorite, and a great place to measure your spiciness threshold. Tokyo Japanese Restaurant came in third for the second year in a row, and is known for making the food right in front of you. – Tyler Griggs

 

BEST PLACE FOR MEXICAN FOOD
1st Place: Cancun Mexican Grill
2nd Place: Tacos Juanita
3rd Place: El Patio (tied)
3rd Place: Manny’s Cocina (tied)

Everyone is looking for good deals and good meals. Cancun Bar and Grill is the first place winner for Mexican eats in the Chippewa Valley. With lunch specials and nine different combinations, it’s tough to stay away from their enticing menu. Second place goes to Tacos Juanita where I’m told you cannot go wrong with ordering tacos. Figures. They’re open late, so go ahead and notch up your late night snack. Third place is hectic with a tie between Manny’s Cocina and El Patio. Manny’s offers seafood from the Pacific Coast region and customers can go online to see what the menu offers. El Patio holds its own with three locations in the Valley, making it a desirable weekend dinner. – Emily Diehl

Chippewa Choice: Casa de Mexicana

 

BEST COFFEE
1st Place: Racy D’Lene’s
2nd Place: Gloria Jean’s
3rd Place: Coffee Grounds

Scores of stores across the Valley grind their own beans and brew their coffee daily. According to the majority, however, nobody does it like these three places. Hunker down with a cup of organic coffee or blended espresso at first-place finisher Racy D’Lene’s – the quirky, mixed-furniture coffee lounge that happens to face the Chippewa River and the bike path. Your second choice is Gloria Jean’s, a store which, for years of my childhood, I thought was called Gloria’s Beans. And for good reason. Any mall walker with a decently developed sense of smell can’t help but want a cup, or a pound of whole beans to take home. While you’re on a caffeine kick, be sure to check out third place finisher Coffee Grounds, where the beans are roasted on site and four varieties are brewed every day, including flavored and decaffeinated options. – Kinzy Janssen

 

BEST PLACE FOR A CHEAP LUNCH
1st Place: Acoustic Café
2nd Place: Court ’n House
3rd Place: Shanghai Bistro

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but there is definitely a thing as a cheap (affordable) lunch. A mainstay of the South Barstow area, the Acoustic Café delights customers with tasty hoagies and high-backed booths. Complete your lunch hour by perusing the rotating art on the walls, and sate your gullet with a gigantic, and delicious, cookie of your choice. If burgers and bar food are more your style, pop on down to the Court ’n House. Complete with daily specials and comfortable atmosphere, sometimes all you need for that pesky hangover you got at the bar last night is a burger and fries from a bar today. Shanghai Bistro may be the dark horse of the list, but don’t let the upscale rep fool you. Eau Claire’s favorite sushi joint has extremely reasonable prices for lunch, and a nice patio that is popular in summer. – Aryn Widule

 

BEST ALL-AROUND DESSERT
1st Place: Olson’s Ice Cream
2nd Place: Dessert First
3rd Place: Obsession Chocolates

Olson’s Ice Cream Parlor & Deli in Chippewa Falls, heralded for their homemade ice cream and up 28 to delicious flavors (including Raspberry Green Tea, Glacier Bay Lemon, and Butterfinger) took the cake this year for Best All-Around Dessert, also marking the first year Olson’s appears in this category. Last year’s first place winner, Dessert First got a frosting-drizzled batch of second place for 2009. The bakery’s congenial downtown presence, personalized catering and zest for experimenting at the fraying edges of cupcake-ology makes itself a piping hot contender for delicious treats in the Chippewa Valley. Obsession Chocolates came in third, boasting specialized chocolate truffles, candies, and sauces with high-quality ingredients. And we can’t wait for their new downtown store to open! – Tyler Griggs

Menomonie Morsel: Legacy Chocolates

 

MOST NEEDED STYLE OF  RESTAURANT
1st Place: Indian
2nd Place: French
3rd Place: Norwegian

Eau Claire is hungry for something hot and spicy. An Indian style restaurant was voted as the most needed in the Chippewa Valley. After Flavors of India closed a couple of years ago, the Valley has been completely void of any Indian cuisine. And we’re aching for it, so someone get on that! French cuisine came in second. Don’t worry, we aren’t talking snails. Think fine wines and cheeses. For the moment, satisfy your palate with some authentic baked delights at Marie’s. Norwegian cuisine came in third place, which is not a shock as many people from the Upper Midwest either have Norwegian roots or know someone with them. I can smell the lutefisk already. – Heidi Kraemer

 

BEST APPETIZER
1st Place: Mogie’s Spuds-O-Plenty
2nd Place: Dooley’s cheese curds
3rd Place: Eat My Fish’s Hickory Smoked Trout Spread

Let’s get down to business. You got a craving and the only thing that’s going to fix it is more spuds-o-plenty! Mogie’s tops the appetizing charts with a cheesed-up version of the Taco John’s potato ole. A hybrid cheese and tot combo, you will get more enjoyment out of these babies than owning a Prius. A mouth watering second goes to Dooley’s and their exceptionally large cheese curds.  Once you pop, you actually might need to stop, if only just to chew and enjoy for a few seconds. (Also so you don’t choke)  Without the use of large quantities of cheese, Eat My Fish’s Hickory Smoked Trout Spread comes in third. Fish raised in a controlled environment will send your taste buds to trout heaven, so catch this treat if you can and smear it on a cracker. – Mitchell See

 

BEST VEGETARIAN MENU
1st Place: Pad Thai
2nd Place: Noodles & Co.
3rd Place: Haymarket Grill

Usually, vegetarians in the Chippewa Valley get the same things from the same places when they eat out because they know exactly which one or two dishes are meat-free. Pad Thai and Noodles & Company both have menus full of tasty dishes that are either vegetarian or can be ordered sans the meat bits. Pad Thai was the clear winner with selections like Golden Tofu, Traditional Thai Fried Rice, and Som Tum (a spicy papaya salad), but Noodles and Company held its own in second place with comfort food favorites like the Wisconsin Mac & Cheese and Pesto Cavatappi. Haymarket Grill came in a close third. One could get full on the small plates alone, from Mushroom Rangoons to Walnut and Cheddar Croquettes. Even the entrees look just as tasty when you modify them for the veg set. – Betty Rae Matthews

Menomonie Morsel: The Raw Deal

 

BEST RIBS
1st Place: Famous Dave’s
2nd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse
3rd Place: Texas Roadhouse

I know it’s a chain, and we’re supposed to hate that. But it’s hard not to like the rags-to-riches story of Dave Anderson, or the fact that the chain started in Hayward, Wis., and even harder not to like the succulent barbeque sauce and falling-off-the-bone ribs that have made Famous Dave’s top dog for three years running. Popular local carnivore spot Mike’s Smokehouse holds strong in second place, as many will stake their life on it being the best BBQ in the Valley. It’s that good. Another chain known for its award-winning ribs, Texas Roadhouse, “steak-ed” its claim in third. And have you driven past that place? Is the parking lot ever not full? – Trevor Kupfer

 

BEST CHICKEN
1st Place: Chicken Unlimited
2nd Place: Buffalo Wild Wings
3rd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse

We thought this award would go to that kid we met this summer who wouldn’t jump off the cliffs at Mt. Simon! Wuss! Buck-buck-buckaw! But apparently the readers interpreted this category differently. First place, three years in a row, are the fryer magicians, the breast-and-thigh wonders, Chicken Unlimited. Their chicken is juicy, salty, and is one of the few foods that may be worth a serious cholesterol spike. Buffalo Wild Wings, in second place, is an entirely different type of chicken joint – Chicken Unlimited relies on its simple 60’s stripmall charm, while B-dubs is a fancy sports bar featuring no fewer than 477 mouthwatering wing sauces. In third place is our own little barbecue joint on Eau Claire’s west side, Mike’s Smokehouse, whose smoky chicken earned its award on its tasty and non-fried merits. – Eric Rasmussen

 

BEST FISH FRY
1st Place: Mike’s Smokehouse
2nd Place: Court ‘n House
3rd Place: Bullfrog’s “Eat My Fish” Farm

Isn’t adorable when Midwesterners try to act like they have any idea at all about seafood? Good job, flyover country, you have walleye! Mmmm! I’ll try some just as soon as I choke down my hours-old fresh crab! Actually, despite our detestable coastal arrogance, we do recognize that limited fresh fish options have not stopped all sorts of local establishments from performing some fryer wizardry to craft all sorts of really tasty fish. Mike’s Smokehouse, for example, whips out delicious, steaming filets, accompanied, of course, by their myriad tasty side dishes. And Court ‘n House serves up a good old-fashioned greasy bar fish fry like no other. And what’s that? Third place Bullfrog Fish Farm will fry up the fish you just caught while you stand there? Alright, we people from the coasts promise not to be smug any more. – Eric Rasmussen

 

BEST BREAKFAST SPOT
1st Place: The Nucleus
2nd Place: Altoona Family Restaurant
3rd Place: Randy’s Family Restaurant

In 2009, the best place to curb conspicuous morning stomach-grumbles is simultaneously (probably) the best answer to question No. 3 on your basic bio test. Yep, it’s The Nucleus for the second consecutive year. Perhaps it is the array of spiffed-up pancakes, omelets, and atypical crepes that keeps everyone salivating. For something that screams “American Breakfast” a bit louder, head to this year’s second place finisher, Altoona Family Restaurant, where the coffee pot rounding never slows and the hashbrowns never end – no matter the angle of the sun. In third place is Randy’s Family Restaurant, serving up top-notch morning meals prefaced with a complimentary cup of warm, homemade pudding. Because you should always eat your pudding before your pancakes. – Kinzy Janssen

 

BEST ITALIAN FOOD
1st Place: Draganetti’s
2nd Place: Mona Lisa’s
3rd Place: Olive Garden

Italian food in a town with a French name? As crazy as that sounds, Eau Claire has been blessed with a bevy of delicious Italian eateries. When I tell people about Draganetti’s for the first time, they think it’s “Dragon Eddy’s” and they think it involves Chinese food. With outdoor dining, a fine lounge, and delicious food inspired by everyone’s favorite boot-shaped country, it’s hard to confuse the place with anything but fine Italian dining. Mona Lisa’s down on Water Street has continually been one of the classiest and atmospheric joints in the Chippewa Valley. With pro-grade service, creative dishes and an obvious dedication to fine dining, it’s a place you can always feel good about taking your parents. Rounding out the list is everyone’s favorite place for endless breadsticks and bowls of bottomless pasta, Olive Garden. – Aryn Widule

 

BEST STEAK
1st Place: Houligans Steak & Seafood Pub
2nd Place: Texas Roadhouse
3rd Place: Fischer’s on the Green

“Irish Whisky Tenderloin Tips,” is a phrase that would make the mouth of any steak aficionado water. This king of steaks, sautéed in red onions and portabella mushrooms, is one of the many juicy fillets of meat that helped Houligans Steak and Seafood Pub win your votes for the Valley’s best steakhouse – for the third year in a row. Texas Roadhouse with its tender steaks and signature blend of seasonings provides a one-two punch for all lucky enough to enjoy it. Fischer’s On The Green in Altoona has been serving it’s char-broiled legacy beef longer then any steakhouse in the Valley. – Bailey Berg

Nostalgia Vote: Outback Steakhouse took fourth, despite closing about a month ago

 

BEST RESTAURANT FOR GOOD WAITSTAFF
1st Place: Mogie’s
2nd Place: Altoona Family Restaurant
3rd Place: Duncan Creek Wine Bar & Grille

It’s easy to underestimate the significance of good wait staff when going out to eat. Very rarely do you say, “Honey, I want to go to that place with waiter who remembers our names. I want to leave him a great big tip.” Mogie’s Pub in Eau Claire understands the importance of service, and was selected as the eatery with the friendliest, most attentive front house staff around. It’s tough to beat the fast service and friendly feeling of the Altoona Family Restaurant. With food that shows up before you’ve finished ordering it, and refills with a smile, the family eatery will remind you how enjoyable a meal out can be. A classy atmosphere and exciting dishes match well with the excellent service at Duncan Creek Wine Bar and Grille. Eat on the patio or in the stylish dining room, it won’t matter to the attentive, knowledgeable wait staff. – Aryn Widule

 

BEST LATE-NIGHT NOSHING
1st Place: Jeff & Jim’s
2nd Place: Toppers
3rd Place: Perkins

Yes! This is my favorite meal of the week; one where caloric counts and ease of digestion are after thoughts and an extra side of ranch dressing is just necessary. This year’s blue ribbon goes to Jeff & Jim’s, where a slice is nice but it’s better to charge for a large. The pizza is the flag of the ship, but during your next visit spend an extra minute on the sandwich menu and seriously consider The Hammer with the Smother Butter. Second place is Toppers and their Potato Topper. Do it with some sour cream and some Sriracha sauce (you provide) and coast into a cool and tingly potato snooze. Finally, the third place nosher is the ever-reliable Perkins. This is the spot for the late-night breakfast lovers and the sugar addicts looking for a sample from the bakery peep-show in the lobby. – Mark Koenig

 

BEST RESTAURANT FOR OUTDOOR DINING
1st Place: The Livery
2nd Place: Stella Blues
3rd Place: Grand Avenue Café

The Livery was the hands down winner for the Outdoor Dining category. A garage door of the former Oleson’s Livery rolls back onto a spacious patio with alternating red and black seating (ample) and a brick fire pit (huge.) The ivy-covered gate provides a romantic buffer to the surrounding parking lots. Stella Blues proved to be another local favorite. A long, narrow alcove tucked between buildings, it feels like you stumbled onto a gem down an alley that only the locals know about. On the other side of the river, the tables in front of Grand Avenue Café are rarely empty. Located less than a block from the Grand Avenue bridge, diners relax just off the beaten path as cyclists and pedestrians often outnumber cars. If it rains, they are covered. Literally. – Betty Rae Matthews

Downsville Distinction: The Creamery

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