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Central Wisconsin, Chowishness in General

Central Wisconsin ('CW') - Very Roughly Wausau, Stevens Point, points about 30 miles north, south, east, and west.

Where many people from the south and west pass through on their way to vacation in northern Wisconsin and the U.P. Where many reluctantly have to come for business trips.

I've had the honor of working in Wausau and Stevens Point for roughly two years (about three years ago so my info might be slightly outdated). I've posted a few times a couple of years ago and just now had a little fun and read what the hounds think of the area. I've lived in Chicago and New York since then and have had my fair share of good food.

OK - remember that you're 100+ miles away from a major city. People in Central Wisconsin are value conscious - the don't eat out that often and when they do they want a meal for five that costs less than $30, with the kids HEAVILY encouraged to not get drinks. In Wausau, for instance, it's going to be like the freakin' rapture when and if a Red Lobster opens its doors. That being said, CW is not without culture or money - there is a large university in Stevens Point, the area is home to four or five large insurance companies, and there are a number of prosperous manufacturing outfits that provide well paying jobs. It is by no means a dying region or the absolute hinterlands. Still, most people go to church, and you will be hard-pressed to find a lot of stuff open on Sunday or the streets jam-packed after 5:00 on any day of the week.

The diatribe above was meant to help crystallize the following - don't expect 'exotic' food. There is a large Asian population in the area but, for a variety of social and political reasons keep pretty quiet. No “real” Mexican restaurants, not even a Chi-Chis. No Sushi, no little Vietnamese sandwiches. No bagels or deli. This is Midwest meat and potatoes cheese lovin’ country.

Perhaps a bigger question - what is cowishness? I've seen this used and have used it myself. I know it as 'seeking good food, and a really nice, authentic experience.' I would love to see other's take on the term because I'm sure it is different for alot of people.

So, you can have a dynamite dining experience keeping in mind where you are and what the people are all about. That being said, here are my two-cents regarding Central Wisconsin.

1) The Wagon Wheel Supper Club - Wausau. Truly, one of the best dining experiences on earth (in my opinion). The restaurant has been around for 40+ years. The current owners' parents opened it, and the current owners worked there as children. When you go in you'll probably be the only one there. There will be three people working - Gary is the bar man, and I don't recall the others' names. It is a traditional steakouse. They have a fabulous wine list with many hard-to-find bottles (I think they have a side E-Bay business). Gary was friends with the guy who started wine spectator when it was just a leaflet. The restaurant is relativley pricey (not by 'big city' standards) but he told me that "we can't compete in this kind of town if we go for volume."

2) Stay away from any and all Italian restaurants in the area. They all suck. Mino's in particular. The one exception is Wausau’s abundance of reasonable thin crust pizza.

3) Lucci's Back When Cafe (Downtown) - I loved eating here for lunch (sandwiches and salads with a fresh gourmet twist). Never tried their dinner but my friends have given it great reviews and there are a few Chowhound posts about it as well.

4) Stay away from Asian restaurants. There is NO REASONABLE THAI OR JAPANESE in the area. Please let me know otherwise. It is mostly fast-food style Chinese, the Peking downtown, however, is acceptable but five out of ten at best. If you are into fast food Chinese CW is golden.

5) Freddy's Club Orlow (Amherst, 10 miles east of Steven's Point) - Great bar. Everyone is extremely nice, Freddy, especially. No food except his signature hot beefs (I think they are $1), and he even has a variety of horseradishes to go along with it.

6) The Mint Cafe (Downtown Wausau) - This is a breakfast spot. I used to go here before work with my boss. We'd grab some coffee and bullsh*t with the stream of people who would continually come in and out. Breakfast is solid, it's the scene that’s the best.

7) Frank's (Wausau, Stewart Avenue just off I-39) - 60s style breakfast / lunch joint. The food is good and very cheap. Recently come under ownership of some younger people who are trying to do some more creative things with the menu. I had a smoked barbecue beef sandwich that was made using a small smoker you could see outside of the dining room menu.

8) The Silver Coach (Stevens Point) - on Highway 10 about halfway between the interstate and downtown. It is a 'fine dining' place, and the food is really good. The bar is great...great drinks, great bartenders, and is in the dining car of an old train (hence the silver coach). Ask what the specials are and they are usually good.

9) Tomorrow River Supper Club (Amherst) - I have never been here, but people tell me that the prime rib is great, and it's a great Wisconsin old-fashioned supper club.

10) The Royal Cafe (Coloma) - If you are on I-39, you will see the Coloma Exit. The place is just off the interstate. Another true small town breakfast spot. Nothing fancy, very cheap, very good. The building is partially new construction, the rest of it is an original 1930s bungalow that was actually moved from the southern end of town about 15 years ago (we used to eat there on family vacations when I was younger).

11) Wausau Mine Company – I don’t remember where it is. The pizza is good (great spot for the kids) but the kicker is that restaurant was designed to look like the inside of a mine complete with Styrofoam stalagties-stalagmites and a mannequin miner bar patron. Kitsch value.

12) Michael’s – This place might not be open any more – it’s on the southerninsh end of Wausau by the Best Buy, etc. Great bar with good drinks and appetizers. Dinner is so-so. Once again, Kitsch value joint as the bar is done in 80s style complete with elevator music and faux grey-leather swivel chairs with rollers.

I had a great time up there. Hope you guys try some of these spots and that my recommendations were remotely helpful. Feel free to throw your two cents in.

JW

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  1. We are heading to Green Lake next week for vacation. Anything in that area? Is it anywhere near Wasau?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Michael Florey

      We have a summer cottage in Green Lake and, unfortunately, the good restaurant selection gets smaller and smaller every year with more restaurants closing. The locals really don't go to the more upscale creative places and, if they do go out, like the above poster said they go to the fish frys or supper clubs which are cheap and offer fish frys and poor quality steaks or prime rib. That said, Mimi's in Princeton is one of our favorites. The Grey Rock at Heidel House has a new chef and menu and our meal there a couple of weeks ago was outstanding. Very creative. Two Chez in Green Lake is also good although when we were there a few weeks ago the prices seemed higher and the portions smaller. Harbor Lights in Green Lake is popular. I don't like it but my husband does. It has a salad bar and fish. Best ice cream in town is at Bayview. The sub place in Green Lake is great for lunch. Two Chez also has a very reasonable, very good sandwich or salads for lunch. Also, Blue Moon in Princeton for lunch. The Pizza Factory in Princeton has good pizza although it can take a long time to get it. We also like to share their salad while waiting for the pizza. The Republican House in Ripon has good Chinese. Lots of people go to Nortons in Green Lake. We think the view is much better than the food. Hope this helps.

    2. Nope - Green Lake is not close to Wausau. However:

      1) The Roxy in Oshkosh is a friendly supper club right downtown. The food is delicious but pretty standard - their specialty is steak. Their surf and turf (Oscar style) is one of my personal favorites. Probably about 45 mins to 1 hr from you depending on where you are.

      2) The 'Harbor Bar' (Clearwater Harbor) in Waupaca serves great bar food outdoors with a beautiful view of the lake and the sunset. I love their grilled tuna sandwich. Pretty much standard bar food (albiet good), so only go there if you are in the area as it is a little ways away.

      Amherst (the home of Club Orlow an the Tomorrow River Supper Club) is only 15 mins. north.

      3) I hear there is a restaurant in Omro that is located in a renovated bank and is supposedly really good. I have never been there, but that info is about a year old so who knows if it is still around.

      4) Montello is another town for food but I have not been there in years!

      JW

      1 Reply
      1. re: jjweerts

        Apologies - the restaurant in the renovated bank was in Ripon and it is closed.

        JW

      2. That’s a good list. And brought back some memories. (I’m in California now.)

        But what? No, 2510? This seemed to be the must go to birthday/anniversary/prom/special occasion spot. Honestly, pretty average food looking back but some goodies. Our family had been going there since back when it was a Mr. Steak probably 25 years ago before several remodels.

        Michael’s used to be a grocery store – thus the reason for the look of the dinning room. That was a little before my time – probably was an IGA until they moved across the street. This too was a celebratory dinner spot. Hadn’t heard that it may have closed.

        Agree on the good foods in the Mine Company and the space is great. It’s been like that for at least 20 years. I remember someone telling me it used to be a disco. Another good spot for pizza is Sam’s. Long time Wausau mainstay.

        If you go back, I’ve heard a restaurant called the City Grill has opened in the new hotel downtown. And if Larry Raymond opens a restaurant you’ll want to look for that. He ran the restaurant for a time in the 90’s at the Greenwood Hills golf course east of Wausau and then had one for a short time downstairs in the Washington Square Building.

        Residents would love to get a *insert any national chain* but it is slow going – just not quite large enough. I did like Tony Roma’s a whole lot.

        2 Replies
        1. re: FireFlyFiftyFive

          2510 does deserve a mention - it's probably the definitive institution in town. Had a few meetings there as well. I remember the food being pretty good but nothing memorable at all. It's like a homegrown version of Country Kitchen or maybe even Applebee's.

          The interstate was recently reconstructed and I think they may have had to relocate as they are close to the interchange, but once again I am not sure.

          Now that I think of Applebee's, I remember a funny tidbit about my time in Wausau. One night I really couldn't think of anything to eat so I just decided to go to Applebee's and get it all over with. It it was a little after 8 on like a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Line out the door...people waiting on the benches outside...reception area packed. The hostess told me that it was at least an hour-and-a-half wait. She even told me that they might not be able to get me in before they closed! Maybe Red Lobster should open in Wausau.

          Another place I forgot to mention - Hudson's Grill. It's actually right across from Applebees off of Stewart Avenune right by the freeway. Really neat decor - it's a small national chain of 50s style diners, but with a garage (hence Hudson) theme. Food is a solid 7/10 - pretty standard (burgers, etc.), alot like Chilis. There are only like 10 in the US. Good place to take the kids for a pit stop when heading north.

          1. re: jjweerts

            I forgot to mention Hereford and Hops - a pretty good steakhouse/brewpub. They make beer on site and have huge grills fer grillin' yer own steak. Fun with a group if you like sweating over a grill (kidding - actually exhaust fans and A/C keep it comfortable) while downing a beer with the guys. Of course, the kitchen will prepare any of the meat or fish you'd want too. And they have awesome fried cheese curds. Yum. The space is great.

            Heard from family that 2510 and Michael's have not been torn down. I'll be back for a few days next week so I may have an additional report.

        2. I spent my first two years of college in Wausau (1979-80). There used to be Chinese restaurant in town that required a 24 hour advance notice for squid. I also got a nice case of food poisoning from their moo goo gai pan. lol! None of the places you mentioned except the WW ring any bells, but Wausau always brings a smile to my face.
          To the poster who mentioned Oshkosh and the downtown restaurant that served surf & turf Oscar style. There used to be/maybe still is a place South of town on Lake Winnebago called Oscar's. It was always my go to place for "important" dates. ;)

          1. Simpson's in Waupaca has delicious roasted garlic you slather on bread & wonderful pickled mushrooms that they put in drinks (that was new to me, being born & bred in California - I thought celery & olives & onions were the only veggies you put in drinks - boy, was I wrong!) - I just eat them on their own - they also sell them.

            1 Reply
            1. re: torta basilica

              Thanks - i've never heard of that place and I'll check it out the next time I'm up there.