Chomping and Chugging

your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2010 winners for food and drink

Jump right to ...

 

BEST UPSCALE DINING

1st Place: Mona Lisa’s
2nd Place: Shanghai Bistro
3rd Place: Houligan’s (tied)
3rd Place: The Creamery (tied)

A lot of people say there just aren’t any nice restaurants in the Chippewa Valley. These “people” apparently just sit at home drinking sherry and making fun of the hired help. Clearly, they are ignorant of their options, because this year’s winners represent a fairly diverse assortment. They all have cloth napkins, dim lighting, and tablecloths. How much more fancy could you handle? Oh, and they all have delicious, unique food. Mona Lisa’s represents the Mediterranean, with elegant pasta dishes in a classic Water Street atmosphere. Shanghai Bistro focuses on Asian fare and is best known for their sushi (real sushi, even, right here in Wisconsin). Third place is a dead lock tie: The Creamery in Downsville is all local, focusing on seasonal ingredients, while Houligan’s is the master of meat, both the land variety and ocean variety –ER

MOST INSPIRED/INTERESTING RESTAURANT ATMOSPHERE

1st Place: The Livery
2nd Place: Manny’s
3rd Place: Stella Blue

For the second year in a row, The Livery has been voted the most interesting restaurant atmosphere – not surprising, considering its unique blend of country and modern-day style are uniquely complimented by the building that, in fact, used to be a livery stable. In second is Manny’s, where you’ll find a sweet taste of Mexican culture, complete with softly painted walls, colorful floor tiles, and a plethora of Central American paintings. Coming in third is downtown Eau Claire’s Stella Blues – a soulful restaurant that offers a spicy atmosphere reminiscent of the Cajun south, with high-top seating in front or cozier lounging in the back. – EL

BEST PIZZA

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

You don’t need to be Italian or a college student to enjoy a fresh piece of pie. It is a quick dinner if you have a family to feed and the toppings are endless so that everyone can have what they want and be happy! Sammy’s Pizza Palace came in number one, which is no surprise considering their wide variety of thin-crust pizzas. Second place goes to Jeff & Jim’s Pizza and if you ask anybody waiting amongst the crowd to get a piece of pizza from that place at bar close, they’ll tell you how delicious it is – although they might be slurring their words and stumbling around a bit. Their famous Smotherella sticks can’t be done justice without some sort of scratch-and-sniff section of this magazine! Third place goes to Pizza Del Re, the all-you-can-eat pizza and garlic bread buffet. Need I say more? – LdF

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

1st Place: Azul Tequila
2nd Place: Harmony Corner Café
3rd Place: Pizza Ranch

Over the past year, a few dozen new restaurants opened up in the Chippewa Valley, ranging from Indian cuisine and authentic Asian restaurants to a handful of cafés. But Chippewa Vallians have spoken, and the cream of the crop was Azul Tequila, an excellent Mexican eatery with reasonable prices, over-the-top Mexican décor, and fantastic staples including nachos with salsa and guacamole, chimichangas, and sizzling fajitas. Close behind is downtown Eau Claire’s Harmony Corner café, now known for their all-organic menu, which includes paninis on their signature homemade bread and some truly sinful cookies and scones. Also worth noting is the Midwest-based pizza chain Pizza Ranch, whose formidable buffet bears not only specialty pizzas, but also fried chicken and other heart-stopping delicacies. – BB

BEST SUBS/SANDWICHES

1st Place: Erbert & Gerbert’s
2nd Place: Acoustic Café
3rd Place: Jimmy John’s

A sub is a sub is a sub. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the top three places for sandwiches in the Chippewa Valley. Those three are out-of-this-world delicious and convenient for a quick lunch break or a more laid back dining experience. Coming in at number one is Erbert and Gerbert’s. With goofy names like the Narmer, Girf, and Boney Billy, the subs taste anything but. If you’re into something more local, Acoustic Café offers that comfortable Eau Claire ambiance along with their tasty sandwiches. Jimmy John’s comes in third place where their freaky-fast subs and service will have you coming back for more. – CP

BEST COMFORT FOOD

1st Place: Altoona Family Restaurant
2nd Place: Randy’s Family Restaurant
3rd Place: Culvers

Hey, why the long face? Did your significant other break up with you? Did your pet cat/dog/rock die? Or do you just like wallowing in your own grief, licking the salty goodness from your face as the tears roll down your cheeks? No matter what it is that gets you down, you can always count on a mouthwatering burger and fries from Altoona Family Restaurant to warm your heart and belly. If it’s desserts you crave to make you feel better, stop in at Randy’s Family Restaurant and try a slice of homemade pie or two – hey, I’m not here to judge. When it comes to needing a pick-me-up, Culvers is another source of comfort. Get Culverized with some cheese curds and a double Butterburger, and melt out of your funk faster than that Brownie Thunder sundae sitting in front of you, waiting to be devoured. – LdF

BEST BAKERY

1st Place: Great Harvest
2nd Place: Dessert First
3rd Place: Sue’s Deluxe Bake Shop

When the fine people of the Chippewa Valley are craving some baked goods like the ones mama used to make, they head to Great Harvest. Known for their freshly made breads, cookies, and scones, their baked goods are worth every single calorie. Try the cinnamon bread — so moist, so cinnamony, so completely delicious. Dessert First’s genius achievement is taking the common cupcake and elevating it to the pinnacle of its form. I mean, really, what’s more decadent then their Caramel Apple Cupcake, a mini apple cake filled with caramel, topped with caramel buttercream, and drizzled with more sinfully delicious caramel? Nothing, that’s what. And rounding out the category is Sue’s Deluxe Bake Shop. A neighborhood favorite, Sue’s homemade goodness includes bars, sweet rolls, and cookies, but her most famous creations are cakes and onion rolls. – BB

BEST VEGETARIAN MENU

1st Place: Noodles & Company
2nd Place: Pad Thai
3rd Place: Shanghai Bistro

“I just love meat too much to be a vegetarian.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that phrase I could eat delicious meatless meals at the top three vote- getters in this category for the rest of my life. These places make being vegetarian even awesomer than it already was in the first place. Noodles & Company wins the battle with a menu of items made completely meat-free unless the customer asks for beef or chicken and pays extra for it! Take that, carnivores! Tofu is also available (and yummy), and much of the menu can be made vegan-friendly by request. In second place by a small margin is Pad Thai. Veggie eaters can ask for their rice or noodle plates to be prepared without the standard fish sauce, and vegans can get their fix by asking for them sans-egg. Rounding out the top three, Shanghai Bistro has plenty of options from appetizers and dinner plates to a variety of vegetarian sushi. I just love these vegetarian options too much to be a meat eater. – AP

BEST BURGERS

1st Place: Court‘N House
2nd Place: Mogie’s
3rd Place: Milwaukee Burger Co. (tied)
3rd Place: Red Robin (tied)

The burger is becoming quite the ubiquitous meal. Every store you go to is selling burgers these days. Every restaurant, gas station – even JoAnn Fabrics started selling Quilter Pounders (a play on “quarter pounder”; craft-minded grandmas LOVE them). So, it takes an extra-special meat patty to rise to the top of this category, and the local bars once again deliver all the fixins. Court’N House, soon to be on the doorstep of the new jail addition, features a deliciously juicy burger and a great small town atmosphere. Mogie’s on Water Street receives a lot of attention for its creative toppings, from the classics (cheese, lettuce, tomato) to avocado, jalapeños, and others. Tied for third are the big burger restaurants Red Robin on Highway 93 and Milwaukee Burger Company in the old Grizzly’s building on Clairemont Ave. Both serve up mouthwatering stacks of ground beef for your inner carnivore. – ER

BEST ASIAN FOOD

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

No changes here. Holding strong at the top, Shanghai Bistro stands out as reigning Best Asian Restaurant. With a sushi happy hour that makes you feel like you’re cheating the other kind of happy hour, and a late-night mood on the weekends that gets you thinking smooth and romantic, this restaurant continues to court the local folk. Pad Thai, settled in downtown, remains a family-run, spice-challenging kind of place where meals must be screaming to our sub-consciousness “come back for more!” Mothers always tell us not to play with food, but at the Tokyo Japanese Restaurant the chef tosses your meal in front of you and makes your mouth water as you wonder why playing with your food used to have a negative connotation. – KS

BEST PLACE FOR MEXICAN

1st Place: Cancun Mexican Restaurant
2nd Place: Manny’s Cocina
3rd Place: El Patio

When you have a craving for some good ol’ Mexican food, Taco Bell just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore these days (although it is a great place to go when you have the late-night munchies). Maybe you have a hankering for some delicious dip to go along with those complimentary tortilla chips, which you’ll wash down with a jumbo margarita, naturally. Or maybe you just really like that mariachi music! Whatever it is that floats your boat, you can always start out your work week with 99-cent margaritas every Monday and Tuesday night at Cancun, which took first place again this year. Manny’s Cocina comes in second with their authentic Mexican food and classy atmosphere. Third place goes to El Patio with their inexpensive menu choices and awesome margaritas. It’s the perfect way to start your weekend off right! – LdF

BEST COFFEE

1st Place: Racy’s
2nd Place: Gloria Jeans
3rd Place: The Goat

Once again, Racy’s takes the (coffee) cake in a region chock full of competitors in the beverage business. The café known for its atmosphere as well as its joe even survived a recent price raise to run away with its third consecutive win. Coming in second is everyone’s favorite mall stop, Gloria Jeans, which keeps up an immense selection of whole bean and brewed coffees from around the world. The Goat rounded out the Best of the Valley with its daily selections of flavored and unflavored brews, though I’m sure their exquisite soup menu didn’t hurt their cause. With this many great coffee shops in the city it’s a wonder anyone ever sleeps. – TF

BEST APPETIZER

1st Place: Mogie’s Spuds-O-Plenty
2nd Place: Dooley’s curds
3rd Place: Cancun’s chips & salsa

You’re having a few drinks with friends, and you wonder what could make the experience more enjoyable. Suddenly, you have a hankering for some bite-sized sustenance that won’t distract your attention from your company or your other hand from your beer. Hopefully, you are sitting at Mogie’s Pub and can acquire some spuds-o-plenty, the number one appetizer for the second year running. These tots of potato and cheese are little bits of heaven complete with a side of ranch. If you’re not at Mogie’s, you should be next door at Dooley’s where their mammoth cheese curds are less curd and more huge, gooey cube. Rounding out the appetizer category is something on the lighter side and not cheese-based. The chips and salsa at Cancun will satisfy all of your varying spice-related taste buds as well as your need to nosh. – CP

BEST ALL-AROUND DESSERT

1st Place: Olson’s Ice Cream
2nd Place: Cold Stone Creamery
3rd Place: Dessert First

Olson’s Ice Cream Parlor & Deli in Chippewa Falls, known as a beacon for all craving a reasonably-priced-but-hearty cone of homemade ice cream. With up to 28 delectable flavors, including Raspberry Green Tea, Black Licorice, and Superman, this marks Olson’s second consecutive year atop our candy-covered mountain of dessert supremacy. Cold Stone Creamery is making its climb up the list, this being their first year appearing in this category. Claiming the “ultimate ice cream experience,” it offers dozens of ice cream flavors, and enough add-in toppings to send you into a cool, sugar-laced snooze. Coming in third this year is Dessert First, downtown Eau Claire’s signature sweet spot for all things cupcake. Because they make really, really good ones. – BB

BEST BREAKFAST SPOT

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

The results are in (drum roll, please) and the people of the Chippewa Valley have voted the best breakfast spot to be … the same as last year. Yep, that’s right – The Nucleus, for its third consecutive year, has again taken the crown as the best place to alleviate the morning munchies. Maybe it’s their stuffed pancakes or mind-bending crepes that keep people coming back. Second place goes to Altoona Family Restaurant, where their array of skillets (big enough to feed a hockey team) is ever popular. In third is Randy’s Family Restaurant, where you’ll find delicious meals complete with a complimentary side of warm, homemade pudding. Whatever spot you choose, you’re bound to have a delicious experience of the most important meal of the day. – EL

BEST RESTAURANT FOR OUTDOOR DINING

1st Place: The Livery
2nd Place: The Creamery
3rd Place: Moke’s Grill & Bar

Say what you will about the smoking ban, but it has made several restaurants and taverns add outdoor seating areas. While some are essentially a plastic table on the sidewalk, there are a few exceptional ones that have taken an extra step for our seasonal enjoyment. The reason for The Livery’s popularity is simple enough, as the new downtown eatery has a comfy brick deck area with a big ole’ fire pit in the middle. Great for cool summer nights. Similarly relaxing is The Creamery’s incredible picturesque terrace along the Red Cedar River Trail. Everyone has to eat/stay here at least once, and I guarantee it’ll be a struggle to choose where to be seated for dinner. Moke’s is likewise ambitious with their outdoor area, though it’s a totally different scene, as the bar’s fenced-in area has a tiki bar and outdoor games galore. – TK

BEST RIBS

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

Carnivores, this is what you are looking for. If you want ribs, and I mean ribs in the sense of that de-li-cious tingle-to-your-toes feeling when the barbeque oozes between your fingers and requires you to use your pants and a napkin, then you are looking at the three best places in town. Ignoring the chain factor, nothing is quite the same as Famous Dave’s fresh slathered ribs, started by home-state hero Dave Anderson. Mike’s Smokehouse is a local love and most will turn their heads from any chain in order to keep this romance alive. And in third is that peanut-providing, cinnamon-bun-serving place that is the Texas Roadhouse, where ribs stay hot and award-winning while your stomach devours all that is great. – KS

BEST CHICKEN

1st Place: Chicken Unlimited
2nd Place: Buffalo Wild Wings
3rd Place: Bresina’s

Maybe it’s because the word “Chicken” is right up front in the restaurant’s title. Maybe it’s the no-nonsense, order-at-the-counter approach, or the swively stools, or kitschy red-and-white décor. But probably it’s the best fried chicken you’ve had this side of the Mason-Dixon line. The next-popular place to get your hands on some wings is Buffalo Wild Wings, a bar and restaurant that offers a 14-sauce range, from Sweet BBQ to Blisterin,’ with a handy heat spectrum to assist your decision. Bresina’s Old Home Restaurant took home third place this year due to their excellent home-style chicken dinners. Think comfort food at its best. – KJ

BEST FISH FRY

1st Place: Court’N House
2nd Place: Albertville Tavern
3rd Place: Mike’s Smokehouse

Everyone’s got their stereotypes. Like how Scandinavian people supposedly love their fish, for example. And with the Chippewa Valley’s high Norwegian and Swedish population, nothing could be better than a fish fry, right? Even if you don’t come from a family of Lars or Hans, there are plenty of places here to appreciate a good ol’ fashioned filet. Take the Court’N House – they’ll fry you a delicious serving of fish, accompanied by fries/baked potato and coleslaw that’ll knock your socks off. Or else there’s Albertville Tavern, where their Friday fish fry is known as simply “legendary.” And who could forget last year’s winner, Mike’s Smokehouse, who dishes out its own supply of tasty marine life, fried and prepared to greasy perfection. Grab your Bunad and hit the town to see (and taste) for yourself. Oofta! – EL

BEST STEAK

1st Place: Texas Roadhouse
2nd Place: Houligan’s
3rd Place: Fischer’s on the Green

When Texas Roadhouse and Outback Steakhouse opened right across the street from each other, I remember thinking to myself, “Self, how could these two houses possibly coexist so close together?” The answer was that they couldn’t. And after Texas Roadhouse “steak”ed its claim on the Oakwood Mall area, it topped our poll to become Eau Claire’s favorite place for steak. Showing that casual dining still has its appeal, it beat out the (fancier and more local) likes of Houligan’s (order with the candied garlic sauce) and Fischer’s on the Green (get it bacon-wrapped). Whether or not you’re partial to the staff line-dancing, folks from the Valley are down with the steak at Texas Roadhouse. – AW

BEST RESTAURANT FOR GOOD WAITSTAFF

1st Place: Altoona Family Restaurant
2nd Place: Shanghai Bistro
3rd Place: Randy’s Family Restaurant

If you dream of a coffee cup that never empties, look no further than Altoona Family Restaurant, whose wait staff totes those brown-and-orange topped pitchers wherever they go. Their friendly demeanor is a welcome side dish to their home-style food. Shanghai Bistro has the second-most savvy waiters and waitresses in the area, not least because they have to explain things like “Nigiri” and “Makimono” to plenty of blank-eyed customers. Randy’s Family Restaurant has a wait staff that knows how to treat you right with good old-fashioned friendly conversation and how-is-it-tastings. – KJ

BEST LATE-NIGHT NOSHING

1st Place: Perkins
2nd Place: Toppers
3rd Place: Jeff and Jim’s

Fifty years ago when Volume One started its Best Of poll, this category was pretty predictable. Times were simpler, and no restaurants were open past nine. We would simply print “Shucks to late night noshing, folks, ‘cause bedtime is a quarter of 10!” But the perpetually overfed modern American stomach demands constant access to fried and cheesy foodstuffs, and this year’s winners are a cornucopia of tummy-settling grease. Perkins, a mild-mannered family-style restaurant by day, becomes a den of post-witching hour feasting. Toppers will deliver you a pizza any time of day or night, while Jeff and Jim’s will sell you a slice right from Water Street, the heart of late night debauchery in Eau Claire. There is one thing we know for sure – if Eau Claire ever becomes the home of a 24-hour vegan café, they have absolutely no shot in this category. – ER

BEST ITALIAN FOOD

1st Place: Draganetti’s Ristorante
2nd Place: Mona Lisa’s Restaurant
3rd Place: Olive Garden

You can sing That’s Amore along with Draganetti’s local commercial and then drive over to their location near the by-pass where they’ve been serving up homemade Italian food for nearly 30 years (over 50 years total with their other family restaurants – The Enchanted Inn north of Hayward and Rice Lake’s Drags). Their Tai chicken pizza is this reporter’s favorite area pizza, so if you are having trouble thinking of an appropriate gift for me … All this, plus they have an extra “e” at the end of their name, not just for the Italian spelling, but, naturally for “excellence.” Mona Lisa’s continues to be the dining destination of Water Street – just follow the large signs of the enigmatic lady adorning downtown buildings. Olive Garden has a delicious Tour of Italy dinner (lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and creamy fettuccine alfredo) that should come with a wheelbarrow to haul you out after consumption. Or you can be sensible and fill up on their trademark salad, soup, and breadsticks. – RR

BEST OVERALL BAR FOOD

1st Place: Court’N House
2nd Place: Mogie’s Pub
3rd Place: Moke’s Grill & Bar

When it comes to food, nothing goes better with beer than greasy food. Delicious, greasy, salty food. And that is exactly what bar food is all about. Court’N House takes the cake when it comes to best overall bar food. If you’re a fan of their burgers, you can’t pass up their Thursday two-for-one burger night. Add a side of waffle fries to that burger and you’ve got yourself a double whammy! Mogie’s Pub comes in second and if you don’t know what spuds are, then shame on you. Go fill your belly with those deep fried cheesy potato bites and you’ll know what real living is all about. Tucked away on Highway J, Moke’s Grill and Bar comes in third for their bar food, so make sure you save room for their scrumptious Friday night fish fry! – LdF

BEST KEPT SECRET

1st Place: Nelson Cheese Factory
2nd Place: Pad Thai
3rd Place: Olympic Flame

Ah, Wisconsin. It only makes sense that a cheese place would be voted the best kept secret in the Chippewa Valley. Nelson Cheese Factory, a tiny building atop a hill, dishes out some of the most delicious sandwiches and cheese curds you can find in the dairy state. Second on the list is Pad Thai, a unique restaurant on Barstow that offers flavorful Asian cuisine, but has limited space (perhaps that’s why we keep it secret). Lastly, the Olympic Flame is an ideal spot for traditional Greek cuisine, namely its famous and savory gyro sandwich. – EL

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.