Taste Buds: Trio of friends stage flavorful pop up eatery in Chippewa Falls

Samantha Kobs, photos by Andrea Paulseth

GOOD EATS. Fishing buddies Ben Lester, Brendan McHale, and Weston Thier form Fontinalis, a pop up restaurant taking over Bomb Tacos in Chippewa Falls on select dates.
GOOD EATS. Fishing buddies Ben Lester, Brendan McHale, and Weston Thier form Fontinalis, a pop up restaurant taking over Bomb Tacos in Chippewa Falls on select dates.

His name’s Brendan McHale, and he’s the kind of chef who uses uses words like “polenta” and “motif” in one sentence, then makes a Portlandia reference in the next. He’s one of the Chippewa Valley’s newest transplants, having officially moved here in August from The Big Apple – and he’s ready to dig into the local food scene.

“I’ve been meeting people that have been incredibly nice and accepting and I’m like, this is freaking awesome ... This is how real life should be. And it is, in this area.” – Brendan McHale

Born and raised in Connecticut, McHale grew up fishing the East Coast, enjoying its abundance of seafood and fresh cuisines. Eventually, he became so engrossed in the practice of fishing and preparing the day’s catch that he pursued a career in the culinary arts. He worked in Boston for five years: one at The Butcher Shop alongside renowned chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch, and the other four at Sel de la Terre. After that, he bopped over to New York City where he spent 13 more years in the city’s fast-paced culinary world. His first executive chef gig was at Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar, which was followed by another executive chef position through Tasting Table, a food publication with an operating test kitchen. Eventually, he met a guy named Jason Soloway, and the two of them began their own project, a successful East Village restaurant named The Eddy, which McHale co-owned for three years.

But how’d he wind up here? Well, it happened through a string of events beginning with – you guessed it – Bon Iver. McHale had a few friends who recorded on one of Bon Iver’s albums. Long story short, he came out to visit them and ended up meeting new musician friends – who also happen to be fisherman – including Ben Lester, Weston Thier, Sean Carey,  Zach Hanson, and Brian Joseph.

“We all ended up being magical buddies … through fishing. Like, total bromance,” McHale recalled.

McHale kept visiting again and again until he eventually decided to trade in his busy city life for something a little less … hectic. “I just kind of needed a break from New York City,” he said. Between the saturated restaurant scene and the hyperactive lifestyle, he felt the need to slow down.

So here he is, living life in the Chippewa Valley, mingling with local foodies, chefs, and farmers in hopes of eventually making his own mark on the community via his culinary skills. But he’s taking his sweet time. He wants to get to know the area, know the people and their interests, and of course, get involved wherever and whenever he can.

So far, he’s pretty fond of the Chippewa Valley. “I’ve been meeting people that have been incredibly nice and accepting and I’m like, this is freaking awesome,” McHale said. “This is how real life should be. And it is, in this area.”

Currently, McHale is trying out a “pop up lunch” approach at Bomb Tacos in Chippewa Falls, a new eatery that’s been serving top-notch tacos since spring. They’re calling it Fontinalis and they’re specializing in lake-region inspired foods such as tempura-fried lake trout sandwiches and smoky squash soup with pumpkin granola. But this is only temporary.

After Fontinalis ends, it’s all up in the air. But McHale’s got a few ideas in mind, and he wants to take his time. “I want it to be special,” he said. “That’s the thing with The Eddy. I helped design it – every single thing. The amount of details that mattered to us equated to our business. And that stuff is special to me.”