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Special Section

Apps & Sides

some of the more interesting side dishes out there beyond the curds, wings, and rings

V1 Staff, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Takoyaki, Shanghai Bistro – The golden brown shell gives way to a warm, doughy interior packed with chewy, mildly smoky hunks of octopus.

Does anyone still get excited about French fries? It’s not like the old days when every other restaurant patron would look at his or her waitress with wide eyes and gasp, “You have French fries here?!? That is so exciting! I will take six orders!” No, after many years and many lacerated potatoes, the side dish stranglehold of the French fry is overdone and soggy. So what tasty foodstuff will amble up to the entrée sitting upon your next restaurant plate and completely blow your mind? What innovative appetizers will rise up to conquer your taste buds? Several local restaurants serve some creative contenders.

SHANGHAI BISTRO - TAKOYAKI • Shanghai Bistro’s Takoyaki appetizer features a plate of five flash fried, crispy octopus dumplings. The crisp, golden brown shell gives way to the warm, soft, and doughy interior packed with chewy, mildly smoky hunks of octopus each speared on a toothpick for easy eating. The dumplings are served with a thick, tangy Japanese mayonnaise (called kewpie sauce) and the light-as-air crunchy texture of bonito, flakes from a cousin of the mackerel. This tangy octopus treat meets your table for $6. – Tyler Griggs

DAS BIERHAUS – SCHNITZEL STRIPS • There’s another reason to stop at this authentic Bavarian brewery and beer hall than just the fantastic, fresh brewed beer. To complement the boot or stein filled with your beverage of choice, order another of Das Bierhaus’ genuine, mouth-watering treats – their Schnitzel Strips. Whether alone, with their dipping sauce, or on a sandwich, these hand-breaded and seasoned pork strips are prepared fresh daily. And you can taste it. Biting into this world-class delight reminds you of your favorite homemade cooking mixed in with European old-world charm. You just can’t miss it. The crispy strips of heaven run for $9. – Ashley Dziuk

FISCHER’S ON THE GREEN – CREAMY GORGONZOLA FONDUE • This Altoona mainstay of steak and seafood recently ramped up their “small plate” menu with 15 unique appetizers ranging from bruschetta to escargot. But one of their most popular is the Creamy Gorgonzola Fondue. The gooey sensation is comprised of four different cheeses (but heavy on the gorgonzola – hence the name) poured on a platter with toasted and buttered French bread stacked in a criss-crossed pattern. Dip in and enjoy this formidable starter that’s like a Lincoln Log cabin residing in the state of Bliss, USA – population: you. The gooey awesomeness is yours for $7 (or half off during happy hour). – Trevor Kupfer

DUNCAN CREEK WINE BAR & GRILL – TEJAS SHRIMP AND BEEF WONTONS • Mexico meets Asia in this intercontinental appetizer that will leave your mouth, if not the world, a little richer. First up is the Tejas Shrimp – two black tiger shrimp seasoned in the Creole and Hispanic traditions, stuffed with a blend of cheeses, and wrapped in rich, wood-smoked bacon. Not to be outdone, the two deep-fried Beef Wontons are stuffed not only with a load of steak filling, but a fair amount of fresh ginger and garlic to boot. To top it off, the plate is served with both a Dijon dipping sauce for the wontons and a citrus chutney for the shrimp. This appetizer has had such success at this Chippewa Falls eatery that the items have likewise appeared on the entrée menu. International cross-promotion has never tasted this good, and for a mere $9. – Matt Ledger


THE LIVERY (AKA COWTOWN SALOON) – BRAISED RABBIT ON A RAFT • If you’re looking to try something strange and impress your friends, but you’re no Anthony Bourdain, The Livery is the place to go. Their appetizer menu includes rare items like the Cowtown Taco (with grouper), Almond Crusted Duck Tenders (with cranberry orange sauce), Steamed Mussels, and Hand-Breaded Calamari. However the Braised Rabbit on a Raft is a perfect choice for something new and daring, but mild. Their culinary artists perfectly pair the flavors of the tiny-bit-gamey rabbit, sharp peppers and onions braised in duck fat, and creamy avocado and polenta (made of cornmeal). Hop down and give it a try for $8. – Trevor Kupfer

LUCY’S DELICATESSEN – CRAN-WHEATBERRY SALAD • The sandwiches at Lucy’s full-service deli are all the rage with patrons, but they’re stealing a bit too much attention from the phenomenal homemade soups and salads you can order on the side of said sandwich. One of the standouts has to be the Cran-wheatberry Salad, which the terribly kind lady behind the counter described to me as “a trail mix salad – a combination of ingredients thrown together.” Among them are wheatberries, walnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds, a base made of red wine vinegar, and a few secret seasonings and spices. There’s no greens in this salad, though; think of it as a potato salad that is far more healthy and with a little “bite.” This popular item is definitely something different to spark your taste buds. Try it as a side for $1, or in take-home containers starting at $2.29. – Trevor Kupfer

SWEETWATERS RESTAURANT – COCONUT SHRIMP SKEWERS • This Sweetwaters treat features three, four-inch shrimp dressed in coconut, slivered almonds, and breadcrumbs dipped in a homemade beer batter and served on skewers. Each skewer takes about three bites to finish, and each sits on a large hunk of grilled pineapple over a bedding of sautéed sweet potato hash, garnished with paprika and fresh parsley. The skewers come served with a dipping cup of piña colada sauce, catapulting the ensemble flavor below the Tropic of Cancer. Ultimately this is a savory, fruity appetizer with a bright tropical taste. All Sweetwaters appetizers are available for $6, or buy two for $11 or three for $15. – Tyler Griggs

STELLA BLUES – FRIED CRAWFISH BITES • Whether you call them crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads, these freshwater crustaceans are delicious – and a mainstay of southern cuisine (especially in Louisiana), but around these parts they’re a rarity to be found almost exclusively at the Cajun hotspot Stella Blues. A precursor to their signature creole dishes like gumbo, blackened catfish, or jambalaya, these scrumptious sea creatures have the texture of lobster (obviously on a much smaller scale) and are surrounded by a crispy and spicy deep-fried exterior. Give them a dip in the accompanying remoulade sauce (imagine tartar sauce with cayenne pepper) and prepare to be swept away to a land where they’ve never heard of cheese curds. Fill your gullet with ’em for $7. – Trevor Kupfer