Words by Olivia Lockwood, Photos by Andrea Paulseth, Kyle lehman, and Logan Slaght, Design by Eric Christenson
Words by Olivia Lockwood, Photos by Andrea Paulseth, Kyle lehman, and Logan Slaght, Design by Eric Christenson
I think we can all agree that brunch is defined as a late-morning meal that typically replaces breakfast and lunch. Beyond that, it appears many diners are divided on the intricacies of how else to describe this hybrid meal we know as brunch.
There seem to be two schools of thought on the matter. The first are the brunchers who love the classic all-American breakfast food. They flock to those cozy, family-style restaurants where the waitress knows you by name, saves you your favorite table, and endlessly refills your coffee cup while asking how your mother is doing. The second school of brunch lovers looks for a more modern version of the mid-morning meal. They prefer inventive libations and farm-to-table, locally-sourced ingredients. They like to peruse a seasonally changing menu, listen to some live jazz, and know the name of the farm where their bacon was raised because it’s 20 minutes away.
In the end, there is no right answer. Brunch means something different to everyone, and that’s OK. But one thing that I think we can all agree on is that the Chippewa Valley’s brunch scene is finally catching up to the rest of the country’s. If you’ve traveled outside the Chippewa Valley, you’ve no doubt noticed the popularity of brunch in larger cities, and – if you’re like me – maybe you were a little jealous. Along with many recent changes and upcoming renovations to this beautiful city, Eau Claire’s brunch scene is finally giving other cities something to envy.
For the purposes of this article I will be looking at restaurants in the Valley’s brunch scene that are known for their exceptional dishes and creative craft cocktails. I will focus on eateries that serve a separate brunch menu on the weekend and offer a little something different, whether it’s live bluegrass or outdoor dining.
If you’ve lived in Eau Claire for more than 5 seconds, chances are good you’ve heard about The Nucleus (405 Water St.). And if you’ve dined there, it’s not hard to understand why The Nucleus is consistently voted as the best local breakfast spot in Volume One’s “Best of the Chippewa Valley” poll.
The Nucleus is packed to the gills every single weekend, and if you come during peak hours you’ll usually be greeted by a smiling server telling you how long the wait time is for food. Trust me, whatever she says, it’s worth the wait.
Pro Tip: Head to Racy’s (the coffee shop attached to The Nucleus), find the organized girl with the notepad, put your name in for a table, and then grab your favorite latte and have a seat on one of the vintage couches while you wait.
It usually doesn’t take long to get a table, and they’ve got tons of board games to keep you occupied, although I prefer to just sit back and people-watch while I sip my Americano. The exposed brick, vaulted tiled ceilings, and alluring art make this a classic favorite for any Eau Claire-ian or out-of-towner.
Once you’ve had a latte, done some people-watching and gotten a table at The Nucleus, ask your server if they have any Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes left. They will be the best thing you’ve ever eaten, but they sell like, well, hotcakes! If you’re in the mood for something savory try the Nobel Prize (three eggs, hashbrowns and toast, choice of applewood bacon or sausage, and coffee), but if you’re in the mood for something sweet – and a challenge – order the Strawberry Nutella Crepes (creamy Nutella and strawberries with home-made whipped cream and chocolate drizzle). You’ll never see a crepe so large in all your life and it’s worth every calorie, I swear.
However, if you’re looking for something on the lighter side, the Real Housewives of EC (three eggs with two of the yolks removed, sautéed red onions, tomatoes, crimini mushrooms, fresh spinach, goat cheese, and Italian seasoning, served with fresh fruit and wheat toast) might be just what you’re craving. A clear favorite among hungover college kids, 30-somethings, families, empty nesters, and retirees alike, you will find a wide customer base here because the food is worth coming back for again and again.
When you’ve got friends and family in town, be sure to bring them downtown and make a stop at The Informalist (205 S. Barstow St.). As its name suggests, The Informalist is just that: an informal-yet-elegant, sleek, and modern brunch destination in the heart of downtown Eau Claire.
Nestled inside The Lismore Hotel, The Informalist has become well known for its remarkable and locally sourced breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner menus created by highly talented Executive Chef Amy Huo.
Wondering how local The Informalist’s ingredients are? Check out the back of the menu for a full list of the farms the ingredients originate from. If the weather is nice, definitely try to snag a seat outside on the nicely shaded deck overlooking Barstow Street.
Also, if you’ve got little ones, you’ll be happy to know The Informalist is family friendly (they have high chairs) and you won’t have to wait long for a table or for your meal. Don’t forget to make an afternoon of it and peruse the shops on Barstow Street after your meal!
“I want it to be a relaxing experience here,” Huo explains. “I want people to sit and recount the stories from last night or just enjoy each other’s company in a comfortable space.
Guests should feel like they are really part of something special here when they come for brunch because even though you are indulging in a crepe stuffed with cheese or a double quarter-pound breakfast patty melt, all of the ingredients still come from your local dairy, chicken, and produce farmer. My ideal situation is enjoying brunch on our patio. When you look at the wall at our grapes or down into the garden at the herbs, it should be reminiscent of those ideal brunches you see in the movies or on TV, where the host has a beautifully decorated space outdoors and it seems entirely effortless to set up and enjoy. All you notice is how good you feel, how wonderfully cool the air is, and how refreshing your mimosa tastes. Food of love.”
If you need to please a group of diverse eaters, The Informalist literally has something for everyone on its menu. In recent months they have stepped up their game yet again and expanded their menu to include a wide variety of weekend brunch options.
We’re talking everything from Raviolo (large ravioli, house-made cheese, and fresh herbs with soft-poached duck egg yolk tucked inside) and Brunch Poutine (crispy fries, maple bacon gravy, ancho chili and pickled onion, and melted cheddar cheese) to Pork Belly Benedict (sriracha hollandaise, steamed bun, pickled vegetable slaw, espresso chili-rubbed pork belly, poached eggs, and crispy potatoes) and Huevos Rancheros (corn tortillas, beans, queso, ancho chili ranchero sauce, sour cream, cilantro, potatoes, fried eggs, and chorizo). Their Huevos Rancheros is personally my favorite brunch dish of all time – which is saying a lot – but seriously, you’ve got to try it! Don’t forget to check out their craft cocktail list which of course includes several scrumptious concoctions.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from The Informalist you will find The Lakely (516 Galloway St.), an equally informal and important part of downtown of Eau Claire. This bar and restaurant is nestled amid the modern rustic decor of The Oxbow Hotel.
Known for seasonal, modern Midwest comfort food prepared by famed Chef Nathan Berg, The Lakely is likely a favorite for any brunch enthusiast – not just the hipsters!
The dining area draws you in with cozy, inviting flannel-patterned booth seats and sleek, handcrafted wood tables. It’s the kind of place where you want to sit and chat for an hour even after you’ve finished your meal.
If the weather is warm and you get there early, you might be able to score a spot at one of the high-top tables out on the deck, or sit under the pergola in the lounge seating around the two fire pits.
“Weekend brunch here at The Lakely is a wonderful example of all of the things that we’ve set out to do with our restaurant, in an even more approachable manner,” Berg says.
“We source the overwhelming majority of our ingredients for brunch from local farms and producers. We feature many great, comforting dishes on the menu but have even created a few unique dishes that just scream western Wisconsin (such as our Wild Rice Porridge or the Norwegian Hangover). I personally feel that there haven’t been enough options in the region for folks seeking something a little more unique and creative for their breakfasts.
But there’s recently been a good handful of places that have opened which are offering something new and exciting in the realm of brunch and, coupled with those old stand-bys which have offered something special for years, I think we’re sitting on the brink of a new, fresher brunch scene here in the Chippewa Valley. There’s a ways to go, but it seems to be improving pretty rapidly at this point, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Whether it’s a bottomless cup of Kickapoo coffee or an inventive craft cocktail you’re after, The Lakely is top-notch in the brunching beverage department. With literally half of its brunch menu comprised of libations, it may be hard to decide.
My advice? Start with the Forward Alert (cold-brew coffee, house crème vanilla liqueur, and house Northwoods bitters) and go from there. Decisions are always better made whilst caffeinated, and this drink is a must-try.
Add to that their wildly delicious dishes including the Norwegian Hangover (Deutsch Farm pork steak, sauerkraut, fried potato dumplings, and scrambled eggs) and the Beef n’ Cheddar (braised Wisconsin Meadows brisket on fresh-baked roll with spicy Hook’s cheddar sauce and roasted onions, served with homemade slaw), and The Lakely is a trifecta of brunching bliss: inviting ambiance, innovative libations, and supreme nourishment. They also offer live music on an indoor stage from 10am-1pm while you’re brunchin’.
Typically wait time for a table is minimal depending on the time of day, and there’s usually plenty of room to belly up to the bar and enjoy a cocktail or two while you wait.
Are you an experienced bruncher? Have you been to all the hot spots? If you’re looking for something different in Eau Claire, look no further than Forage.
Many may have never heard of this one-of-a-kind space nestled on the second floor of Banbury Place’s Building 13 (930 Galloway St.). Forage is a commercial kitchen and venue space that can be rented for a reasonable hourly fee. Enter through the green canopy-covered street-level entrance on Galloway Street, climb the stairs, or take the old-timey elevator up to the second floor and visit this classically unique space as soon as possible.
The inside is what you might expect: beautiful hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and incredibly high ceilings. The space has a modern, upscale warehouse vibe: a large open space with cushion-covered benches lining the walls.
It’s the perfect location for a company holiday party, a rehearsal dinner, a small eclectic wedding, pop-up yoga, pop-up dinner, your family’s holiday baking and pretty much whatever else you can think of.
Chef-in-Residence Michelle Thiede remarks, “I love cooking brunch. Cooking at Forage has its limitations, but I am constantly finding new ideas, recipes, and techniques; a lot from within our local restaurant scene and community in Eau Claire. I am excited to continue and grow in Forage and within the Chippewa Valley, but also to do some traveling and broaden my horizons. I think Forage offers a unique setting for all events, including brunch, where we open our doors to local musicians and artists of all kinds to share in our space.”
While Forage took a short summer break from brunches as it transitioned to its new owners, Michelle Thiede and Kristen Dexter, brunch returned in late August. Be sure to check out Forage’s Facebook page for the latest happenings and events because there is almost always something going on there.
Forage has a few regular producers who use its kitchen to make goods, including N7 Café, Honest Roast Coffee, Midwest Meals, and The Affogato.
Forage also hosts cooking classes and local vendor markets, but the pop-up brunches are quickly becoming a favorite in the community. Thiede, the chef in residence, whips up scratch-made dishes like my favorite garlic-and-herb biscuits with mushroom gravy and twisted honey-glazed bacon. Don’t forget to save room for the fresh, buttery pastries made by Severine Stein, a French pastry chef who teaches baking classes at Forage.
The space is very family friendly (there’s always a big box of Legos and other toys sitting out), and you won’t have to wait long for your food. Plan to sit back, sip on a mimosa, and catch some live music while you’re up there, too. Most of the shops in Building 13 are open on Saturdays, so set aside some time to shop local after you’ve dined!
In summation, Eau Claire’s evolving and maturing restaurant scene is awesome, and the recent brunch-centric developments are only making it better. No longer content to quietly trail behind, those at the forefront of the Valley’s culinary development are forging forward with new ideas and new tastes that will undoubtedly inspire diners – and restaurateurs – both near and far. Those of us who enjoy brunch will be the beneficiaries of these delicious developments. So grab your friends, your family, or a good book, and eat local this weekend!
29 Pines Family Restaurant and Lodge Bar
5872 33rd Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 874-2929
9150 Beaver Creek Rd., Brackett • (715) 878-4142
Bridgewater Restaurant and Pub
1009 W. Park Ave., Chippewa Falls • (715) 723-6941
Chick-A-Dee’s Family Restaurant
1928 Third St., Eau Claire • (715) 832-7724
The Coffee Grounds
4212 Southtowne Drive, Eau Claire • (715) 834-1733
Connell’s Club 12
E11295 Hwy. 12, Fall Creek • (715) 877-2140
Dana’s Bar & Grill
6505 Texaco Dr., Eau Claire • (715) 874-5954
The French Press
2823 London Rd., Eau Claire • (715) 598-7017
409 Galloway St., Eau Claire • (715) 514-0751
Goldsmith Coffee Bar
22 S. Prairie St., Chippewa Falls • (715) 379-3458
The Grand Avenue Café
119 W. Grand Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 831-1100
Heckel’s Family Restaurant
2621 Hwy. 53, Chippewa Falls • (715) 723-0844
333 Gibson St., Eau Claire • (715) 318-7399
Jake’s Supper Club
E5690 Cty. Hwy. D, Menomonie • (715) 235-2465
Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse
4751 Owen Ayres Court, Eau Claire • (715) 830-9779
The Lakely (at The Oxbow Hotel)
516 Galloway St., Eau Claire • 715-839-0601
The Local Lounge
2106 N. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 895-8080
709 S. Broadway St., Menomonie • 235-0703
Lynn’s Chatterbox Café
1410 South Hastings Way, Eau Claire • (715) 598-7035
The Nucleus Café
405 Water St., Eau Claire • (715) 834-7777
208 S. Barstow St, Eau Claire • (715) 832-8844
Silver Dollar Bar & Restaurant
315 Main St E., Menomonie • (715) 309-4440
932 N. Broadway St., Menomonie • (715) 235-6124
314 E. Madison St., Eau Claire • (715) 834-9061
Woodfire Bar & Grill
1300 Jefferson Ave., Chippewa Falls • (702) 525-8080
Yankee Jack’s Public House
2235 N. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire • (715) 225-3401