North-central Wisconsin offers a lot of places to eat. But which ones are the best?
A few weeks ago I asked this question on my Facebook page: "What is the best local restaurant? Tell me what it is, where it's located, and the best dish or item there. (Chain restaurants don't count.)"
After receiving dozens of ideas, I tried some of those suggestions in search of the best places where the locals eat.
Our first recommendation took me to downtown Stevens Point to the Wooden Chair, a place Linda Landowski told me was excellent.
The restaurant, on Main Street, was just wrapping up business for the day when I got there. It's open from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., every day. Inside, the restaurant is filled with—what else?—wooden chairs, and a lot of food.
"It's very unique," said Carrie Kawski, owner of the Wooden Chair along with her husband. "It's homemade, home baked, every day."
She says her restaurant's food is special.
"Basically we cut fresh every day, so, you know, there are no deep fryers," said Kawski. "We're on the healthier end of it."
There's a lot to choose from at the Wooden Chair, but I heard the Crabby Guy is excellent. I decided to try that.
"It's an open-face sandwich on an English muffin which has our combination of crab, tomatoes, cheese," said Kawski.
It was excellent! Customers at the restaurant told me the food is delicious. That's why they say many of them said they come back again and again.
"We're not a franchise where you may see somebody once or twice a year," said Kawski. "Our repeat customers are once or twice a week."
The Wooden Chair—a place where the locals eat.
Next, I headed to Wisconsin Rapids at the recommendation of Jere Michalsen who said I had to visit The Branding Iron. It's a place he described as "very quaint...great atmosphere...great drinks and food!"
"We're just down home, good old Wisconsin cuisine," said Jeff Powell. He and his wife own The Branding Iron. It's been in Powell's family for decades.
"I will have been here almost 40 years in July, so a long time," said Powell.
He not only owns the place, he cooks, too.
"I started dish washing when I was 11, and started cooking when I was 15," said Powell. "I've been cooking ever since."
The Branding Iron is a traditional supper club with a lot on the menu.
"Steaks, seafood, chicken, chops," said Powell. "Mozzarella sticks, cheese curds--Wisconsin cheese curds go well."
While at The Branding Iron, I tried one of several soups available there. One of them, invented by Jeff Powell's wife, included potatoes, ham, and sauerkraut. It was delicious.
Like other small-town restaurants, The Branding Iron relies on repeat customers.
"It's probably 60 percent, 70 percent regulars," said Powell. "Summer would be more travelers and stuff."
The Branding Iron—family-owned, and a place where the locals eat.
Finally, we visit Pinewood Supper Club in Mosinee, a restaurant the owner and chef says definitely fills a niche.
"We're certainly a destination place," said Steve Allen. "You don't just drive by and see us. You have to know where you're going."
The restaurant, sitting on Half Moon Lake, has been in Steve Allen's family since 1974. Six nights a week he cooks up steak, seafood, chicken, and other items.
The Allen's rely on word-of-mouth advertising to let people know about it.
"We have a great core of regulars that come in, a great customer base, and we also get a lot of travelers," said Allen. "We also get a lot of skiers from Rib Mountain area."
One unique item on the menu—gator balls. Elizabeth Szekeress said I had to try them.
"It's ground gator tail rolled into meatballs, basically," said Allen. "We fry them, and they're served with a stone ground mustard sauce and pico de gallo."
Allen says this is a popular appetizer. And judging by the big birthday party that was going on next to us, the rest of the menu is pretty popular as well.
Pinewood Supper Club—another place where the locals eat.