Web Exclusive: More Than the Main Course

At IL Angolo, meals come multi-plated.

As we discovered in this month’s issue of FOX CITIES Magazine, coursed meals are proving to be a popular option among adventurous diners in the Valley. The coursed meals, with anywhere from four to nine plates, offer gastronomes a new way to approach food. Servings are typically smaller, with an emphasis on exotic flavors, interesting ingredients and the chef’s creativity.

Always on trend, IL Angolo Resto-Bar in Appleton has been offering a variety of coursed menu options for about the past two years. According to Chef Fortino Solano, the restaurant typically sees about 40 percent of guests choosing “the challenge” on any given night.

“We call it the ‘chef’s challenge.’ It gives me the challenge to cook something different on a small scale,” he says. “I can be more creative with different textures and flavors than if it was just one plate.”

Chef Fortino Solano

Solano and his kitchen staff can create five, seven or nine course meals, each tailored to the diner’s preferences. The meals consist of selected salad, soup, appetizer, seafood, protein, starch and vegetable courses. (Of course, always ending with a house-made dessert such as gelato or sorbet.)

Solano starts his mornings by checking the reservation book to see what the evening will have in store, so he can prepare the kitchen for your visit. He might also give you a call to talk about the direction you want the culinary trip to take.

“I ask customers what they’re thinking, if I can be creative and ‘wow’ them. I find out if they are eating with friends, clients or family,” Solano says.

Diners should not be bashful — any allergies, likes or dislikes should be expressed up front to ensure the courses will be something you can stomach. Keep in mind that coursed meals provide the opportunity to try small portions of interesting food, so have faith in the chef to create delicious, if unusual, dishes.

Offerings from IL Angolo

Often times it’s the seasonal bounty that determines of what a course selection will consist. For instance, Solano purchases small quantities of seasonal seafood up to four times per week. This way, diners can be sure that what they’re being served is at the peak of freshness. Browsing farmer’s markets, Solano will prepare dishes inspired by the ingredients he picks up. New sauces are made every day so dishes can be presented differently each night.

That’s the other thing we should mention. The five, seven and nine course meals are constantly changing. Not only do the courses change from night to night, but they even differ by table.

“Nothing will look or taste the same,” Solano, a 20-year culinary veteran, assures. “The next time you come in and try the five course meal it’s going to be a totally different approach or highlight a different culture.”

Cultural cuisine often serves as themes for coursed meals at IL Angolo. Be it French, Italian, Spanish or a homage to his home country of Mexico, Solano brings diners on a culinary voyage across cultures using ingredients such as peppers, chiles and infused oils.

“It gives customers a chance to travel the world,” he says.

IL Angolo servers are educated in wine pairing suggestions to enhance each course should diners choose to imbibe. With more than 100 different wine offerings, the wine pairings can progress from light to bold or anywhere in between.

Multi-course meals lend a sense of anticipation with diners never 100 percent sure of what their next dish will be. The only warning Solano has for diners is that the anticipation can become addicting. 

“In general a lot of [customers] will take the challenge,” Solano says. “They want to see what will be created next.”

A Perfect Pair

Coursed, chef-selected meals bring experimentation, as well as entertainment, to the table

Wine pairing events such as chef’s tables or chef tasting menus, once reserved only for VIP guests, have become all the rage among diners in the Fox Cities who are searching for something beyond the average restaurant experience.

Instead of simply choosing an entrée from a restaurant’s menu, chefs pre-plan an exquisite multi-course meal and personally select a wine pairing for each. Guests not only are able to experiment with a variety of high-end food and wine, but these events also provide an educational dining experience where even the well-trained wine enthusiast or seasoned foodie can learn a thing or two.

Five-Star Experience

Diners have been blown away by the high-end appearance of chef’s table events and the elaborate menus. However, these events are especially enjoyable because guests are receiving a five-star dinner at an affordable price — around $35 per person.

Chef Dion Block of Flanagan’s Wine Review in Appleton wanted to bring his experience of working in fine dining restaurants in Chicago and San Francisco back to Wisconsin by introducing a more unique way of doing things.

“I was looking for an avenue to still be creative, while not being too far outside the box for some of the more traditional diners,” he says. “Our diners that come in for the chef tasting menu tell us they love the variety.”

Having the dinners divided into five or six courses allows guests to try a variety of items in smaller portion sizes so they are not stuffed by meal’s end. This way, each course can be highlighted and the different flavors won’t get lost within the meal.

Most restaurants that feature coursed chef’s menus offer at least one to two events each month, some in private dining areas. These popular events book quickly so diners are encouraged to make reservations early to guarantee a seat. Attendance is usually limited due to space and in attempts to maintain intimacy.

Passionate chefs who create amazing food want nothing more than to share it with others. These events allow diners to gain a new appreciation for something they might not have tried before.

“It’s all about relaxing the apprehension and risk found in trying new and exciting things,” explains Scott Roekle, director of operations for Fratellos in Appleton. “We love to celebrate those that want to try something different, because we like to drink and eat something different ourselves.”

Nothing is more important to the chefs than the seasonality and quality of the ingredients when planning these extensive menus, not to mention using local ingredients whenever possible. During the warmer months of the year, Chef Block heads to the Farmer’s Market in the Festival Foods parking lot and creates his upcoming week’s tasting menu based on which produce items are at the peak of freshness.

Importance of Pairing

When food and wine are paired correctly, there is harmony among the flavors. Wine has the ability to pull different flavors out of food items, causing different ingredients to shine.

“Food and wine is one of the most natural matches we have,” Chef Block says. “The flavor profiles of both play off each other and enhance them, leaving the diners reaping the benefits of the pairing.”

To a novice wine drinker, pairing seafood with white wine or steak with red wine might sound appropriate, but these chefs go the extra mile when developing their specialty menus to create the perfect combination of food and wine.

“It’s a lot more intricate than most would think due to having to balance it over all six courses,” Chef Block explains. “But when you take the time to know how to layer the flavors, the result is a dining experience that you won’t soon forget.”

Chef Block creates his menu first by selecting the food items and then pairing each course with an appropriate wine, but every chef has their own method and style of doing things.

Chef and owner Peter Kuenzi of Zuppas in Neenah does a wine tasting each month prior to his chef’s table to ensure the best pairings possible. After he chooses the wines he wants to highlight in the upcoming event, he plans his menu around the different flavors.

Being a certified wine specialist, Roekle knows the importance of having a successful food and wine pairing.

“The significance is found in presenting items that when separated are wonderful, yet together can become magical,” he explains. 

Sue Bogenschutz, owner of Atlas Coffee Mill in Appleton, brought in local wine expert Tom Jensen of Badger Liquor to educate and entertain 42 guests during their holiday wine and dine event. While the diners enjoyed live music and amazing food, they also were given a crash-course on wine origins and other fun facts regarding tannins and the viscosity of different types of wine.

For non-wine drinkers, Fratellos has created events where each food course has a liquor pairing instead. Their recent Jim Beam tasting event with host Fred Noe, grandson of Jim Beam himself, provided diners with different liquors for each of the six courses, as well as “insight and knowledge into the world of bourbon.”

Slow Down & Savor

Whether the dinner is for two or 42, the experience can be intimate as well as a social gathering, bringing friends or even perfect strangers together over a great meal.

“There are few greater treats in this world than to sit down with those close to you and enjoy the perfect marriage of food and wine while indulging in conversation,” says Chef Block.

Knowing that the guests thoroughly enjoyed the meal makes these events worth the time and effort that each chef and owner put into making them special.

“We want them to smile a little more than they did before they sat down at one of our events,” says Roekle.

These chef’s tables and tasting menus are definitely unlike your typical dining experience. This is not a meal to rush through. Savor each sip of wine and try each item of food. You may just find a new favorite dish.

“In a society where the focus is on the now and how fast things can be done, it’s nice to slow down our hectic lives and truly enjoy something,” Chef Block says. “What better way than with friends and family over great food and wine?”


All Grown Up

Food to bring out the kid in you

Just because you’re a “grown-up” doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the foods you loved as a kid. FOX CITIES Magazine has found restaurants that are revamping dishes usually seen on the children’s menu. Relive your childhood with these sophisticated dishes and drinks that cater to even the pickiest of gastronomes.

Mac & Cheese, Please!

The phrase “kid food” probably inspires thoughts of wagon-wheel macaroni garnished in a powdered cheese sauce, but local restaurants in the Fox Cities have put a gourmet spin on this iconic staple so it’s no longer just for the under 12 crowd.

Green Gecko Grocer & Deli in Appleton is the frontrunner for changing up the basic macaroni and cheese with its weekly feature of different specialty cheeses, meats and other gourmet ingredients. One famously featured pasta is creamy baked noodles mixed with smoked pheasant, smoked gouda and aged 10 year-old cheddar cheese.

“People love it because it’s comfort food,” says owner Bob Wall, who also notes the seasonal appeal of the dish. “On a cold day, there’s nothing like a steaming bowl of mac and cheese.”

As to the inspiration for his cheesy concoctions, Wall notes that the ideas “just come to him.” The mac and cheese dishes he makes change frequently, sometimes made with bleu or feta cheese and various smoked meats. With these ever-changing recipes, customers can find new twists on the classic dish every week.

“Adults can better appreciate my dishes because they have more sophisticated ingredients,” comments Wall. “Kids don’t necessarily like smoked meats, aged cheeses or unconventional vegetables.”

The number of places to find “grown-up” macaroni and cheese like the ones at Green Gecko Grocer & Deli are endless. In Andrew Commons of Lawrence University, Eat at Ed’s Diner invites diners to make their own special combination with a macaroni and cheese bar offered every other Monday. Students and community members pick from regular or chipotle cheese sauce as well as an array of toppings such as broccoli, ham or bacon to top their macaroni noodles.

Customers crave the comfort of Zuppas’ mac and cheese, made gourmet with a special roux sauce. The Neenah restaurant uses American, cheddar, muenster and parmesan cheeses blended together to make a delicious dish. Additionally, in downtown Neenah, Madhouse Grill serves an elegant Mac and Cheese appetizer garnished with bacon and granny smith apples.

Play with Your Food

Most kid-friendly dishes make mealtime fun by combining playtime with sustenance. Children love kicking the fork and knife habit by using their hands to dig in.
Although requiring utensils, Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant in Appleton offers a Crunch Chicken Salad so kid-inspired, you might just throw out the fork. Nestled on a bed of romaine lettuce, baby spinach, red onion, roma tomatoes and cucumbers, these crunch chicken tenders will remind anyone of the nuggets popular when they were kids.

“So many adults order chicken tenders,” says Fratellos Corporate Chef Foster Deadman, “because a lot of them like to be nostalgic and not so serious about their food.”

What’s special about this seemingly simple chicken dish? The breading of that crunchy crust comes from an old favorite: the sugary cereal Captain Crunch. The sweet and salty mix of these chicken tenders are bound to bring out the kid in you—so much so that you might just grab the tenders by hand.

Another utensil-free favorite for both children and adults can be found in the sandwich. Ladybugs Bistro on College Avenue has perfected the art of the sandwich with paninis that cater to both children and adult taste buds. This restaurant offers an upscale menu based on the classic peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and other childhood-inspired sandwiches.

“Adults need higher-end ingredients with more texture that kids probably shy away from,” notes owner Susan Richards. “We try to take it outside the box with a menu that appeals both to children and their parents.”

Thinking about the parents and adults coming into the restaurant led Richards to really evaluate what her customers would enjoy seeing as well as eating. She decided to aim toward childhood favorites, but direct the menu toward her target audience.

“This idea eventually spiraled into sandwiches with kiddie names that can remind adults of their childhoods,” Richards comments.

With titles such as Papa Smurf, Popeye, Aladdin, Fraggle Rock, Sgt. Pepper and Mario Bros, these paninis are whimsical, delectable and reminiscent of many parent’s favorite childhood figures.
Richards believes that customer favorites include Turkey in a Jam and the Speedy Gonzales, both based on the basic turkey and cheese sandwich. While Turkey in a Jam includes raspberry preserves, swiss cheese and lettuce, the Speedy Gonzales features guacamole, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato and red onion.

“A lot of these ingredients aren’t something you would normally think to put in a turkey sandwich, but are really good,” Richards says.

Richards’ favorite is the Popeye, which includes herb cream cheese, parmesan, artichoke, organic baby spinach and red onion. Inspired by a basic grilled cheese, this out-of-the-box panini offers pizzazz with its sophisticated cheeses and vegetables.

Many other Fox Valley restaurants are spicing up their grilled cheese options. Kangaroostaurant, a new Fox Valley favorite on wheels, offers a Margarita Grilled Cheese which is partly inspired by the kid’s sandwich and partly by a margarita salad.  Made of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes between two slices of Mom and Pop’s crusty Italian bread then sprinkled with parmesan for a crunchy crust, this cheesy, Italian grilled sandwich is a favorite with customers. Although mostly a summer special, this grown-up grilled cheese can be found year-round in new versions. Each week, Kangaroostaurant updates its grilled cheese with new flavors and ingredients. Fajita grilled cheese, anyone?

Got a Sweet Tooth?

What child’s dining excursion is complete without a ride to candy town? It’s true, every child’s favorite meal of the day is dessert, and FOX CITIES Magazine can’t help but agree with these delicious kid-inspired drinks and dishes.

Searching for an unparalleled sugar rush? Look no further than the Melting Pot in Appleton, which ups the sugar ante by offering chocolate by the pot. Customers make their own dishes by dipping fruits, brownies, pound cake, cheesecake and other delicious bite-sized desserts into a variety of flavorful chocolate-based fondues at this one-of-a-kind restaurant.

To satisfy that inner child, Melting Pot manager Fritz VanStraten recommends the S’mores dessert fondue, which is so popular because it “reminds adults of summer and campfires.” This dessert favorite includes a milk chocolate fondue topped with marshmallow cream, flambeed and garnished with graham cracker pieces.

Adult Dessert

For dessert cocktails that will have you running for the playground, visit the cocktail crafters at Déjà Vu in downtown Appleton. Owner Kelly Koroll evolves his extensive cocktail menu constantly, adding new drinks when inspiration strikes. The menu currently features drinks aptly named for your inner child and flavored for the youngest of tongue like the Scooby Snack, Oatmeal Cookie, Twisted Chocolate, Butterscotch, Banana Split and Strawberry Dream. The Scooby Snack, which Koroll was inspired to make from a shot that a customer ordered, is made from a combination of coconut rum, midori and pineapple juice; a juice-infused drink that will get your sugar levels spiked.

“The drink is a childhood throwback. Customers order it for the name and reorder it because it tastes good,” Koroll says, “It’s strong, but doesn’t taste like it’s strong.”

Another beverage sure to satisfy the kid in you can be found at Fox River House. The bar on Walnut Avenue in Appleton offers a variety of hard ciders, craft beers, and most recently, a new creation by Adult Beverages aptly named Adult Chocolate Milk. This delicious mix of chocolate, caffeine and vodka packs a 40-proof punch. The creation was inspired by a little after-hours mixology when Tracy Reinhardt, co-owner of Adult Beverages, spiked some chocolate milk with vodka one night after her kids had gone to bed. Now Reinhardt and her business partner, Nikki Halbur, sell their product with the slogan, “Re-taste your youth. At 40 proof.”

But if beer’s more your flavor, try the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on tap, that, in bartender Kate Kedrowski’s recommendation, “goes great with a Nutter Butter.”


A Gourmet Gathering

Festive fare unites a group of faithful foodies

It could have been any brilliantly blue-skied fall afternoon. The kind of cloudless day that begs to be savored with travel mugs filled to the brim with hot cider, a full tank of gas and nowhere to go. But on this particular Saturday, the draw wasn’t to the open road, but rather to the kitchen, at least for four couples throughout the Fox Cities.

These couples, who come from all walks of life including education, the arts and finance, band together over their shared love for our culture’s universal icebreaker—food. Several times a year, they convene in each other’s kitchens for a celebration of good grub, wine and conversation.

Chad and Maria Van Laanen, Rod and Julie Huth, Bob and Pat Gioffredi along with Marvin Murphy and Ruth Ann Heeter are the couples donning aprons and oven mitts, busy in their kitchens concocting holiday-inspired dishes for the evening’s festivities.

The way the group works is simple: the couple that hosts the gathering is in charge of planning the menu and assigning dishes, usually two each, to the other members. Everyone makes their dishes and brings them to pass at the evening party where triumphant dishes are cheered and culinary struggles commiserated. The rules are straightforward: practice attempts are frowned upon, recipes are to be strictly adhered to (more on this later) and whatever the finished product, it must be shared with the group. No exceptions.

The goals are many: exposure to new foods, wider cooking repertoires and fostering relationships with like-minded peers. The latter, some group members would argue, becomes most important during the bustling holiday season that is upon us.

Before the party must come the prep, as Maria and Chad Van Laanen know well. They are the couple hosting this year’s holiday gathering which means they are also at the masthead of the menu.

For the Van Laanens, menu planning is an ongoing process spanning weeks and multiple revisions. It also is one that starts in a different place depending on who you ask.

“My husband and I are so opposite,” Maria laughs. “He’s the internet guy so he wants to hop online and look for menus, and I’m very tactile so I’m pulling books off the shelves and pouring through them.”

The couple’s ideas of what constitutes a holiday feast differs almost as much as their research techniques. When the pair decided bread was essential to the meal, Chad had his sights set on a sweet bread with fruit and nuts, while Maria was envisioning a hearty loaf to be served with the meal.

The way Maria sees it, they don’t always have to agree, but they do have to plan together. Planning the menu as a couple is part of the unifying power of a gourmet group. Even the Van Laanen’s 11-year-old daughter, Alexa, is included in the fun.

“Everyone is very welcoming to her,” Maria says. “She is really excited to be the hostess for this gathering.”

The appetizer Maria and Chad chose, a baked brie, is another reflection of their familial food ties. The recipe comes from a cookbook carefully complied with original recipes by Maria’s brother, Jason, who is a chef. The cookbook was a birthday gift to Maria and has become a cherished family resource. When menu planning, the Van Laanens routinely turn to Jason’s cookbook in hopes of finding the perfect family recipe to share with the group.

“Our group is a testament to food bringing people of different ages and backgrounds together,” Maria says. “We all come from different industries and grew up in different places. Our common thread really is the food.”

Baked Brie (serves 8)

8 oz. brie wedge or round
½ t. cinnamon sugar
8 oz. egg wash
12 oz. puff pastry sheet
8 oz. mixed berries

Unwrap brie and sprinkle both sides with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Cut the puff pastry sheet to appropriately cover brie, using the wrapping paper as a guide.

Prepare the egg wash by mixing a large egg with two ounces of water. Stretch pastry and brush the egg wash on one side. Place brie onto brushed surface of pastry and wrap it completely, careful to seal all seams.

Seal with a touch of flour and turn over onto sprayed wax paper so that smooth surface is showing. Brush the entire surface with egg wash and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon sugar.

Cut a decorative pattern out of excess dough using a knife or cookie cutter, dredge it in flour for contrast and lightly press onto surface. Bake at 450° until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Carefully transfer to a serving plate and surround with fruit and berries. Serve with water crackers. Recipe by Jason D Tuzinkewich.

It’s early afternoon, but Rod and Julie Huth are already busy in the kitchen readying their assigned dishes—baked brie and a rustic triple-corn chowder. While Rod is the regular family cook (he even owns an authentic chef’s coat he sports in the kitchen), preparing dishes for the gourmet group is a team effort. Rod takes the lead, giving Julie tasks such as dicing a red pepper for the chowder. As the couple cooks, they reminisce over past gourmet cooking experiences.

“One time, the dish I was making started on fire,” remembers Rod, who explains how baking corn syrup for a dessert garnish turned treacherous. “You have to be really careful with corn syrup and heat.”

“Don’t worry,” Julie jokes. “It wasn’t even necessary to call the fire department.”

Julie enjoys the experiences and memories her involvement in the group provides, but there are some perks she didn’t quite expect.

“You look at people and what they do, and form an opinion about them,” says Julie, who works as an accountant. “But then they invite you into their home and you realize ‘Oh yeah, they’re normal just like us.”

At a home nearby, Bob and Pat Giroffredi, the group’s resident rule-breakers, are also at work in their kitchen. But these rebels take a different approach.

“When I’m cooking I do my thing and when he’s cooking he does his thing,” Pat explains. “The meal is where we come together.”

This couple prefers the divide and conquer method. Pat takes ownership of the polenta bread and Bob tackles the orange and olive salad, but not without making a few improvements.

“We aren’t supposed to make any changes to the recipes,” Bob admits. “So we’ll call them little tweaks.”

Bob added fresh basil to the salad, substituted kalamata olives for black and topped it with some feta cheese to liven things up.

“I thought the original recipe was a little plain,” Bob says. “This salad was begging for cheese.”

Bob’s Orange & Olive Salad (serves 4-6)

1 small red onion, sliced into paper-thin rounds
5 large navel oranges
1 jar kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
Fresh basil, chiffonade cut
Feta cheese, grated

1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. tarragon vinegar
4 T. olive oil
Reserved orange juices
A splash of water
Spices to taste: Kosher salt, black pepper, parsley, oregano and Beau Monde

Peel the oranges, trimming away all the white pith. Slice into ⅛-¼” rounds. Overlap orange slices on serving platter or individual plates. Place onion rounds over oranges, keeping ring intact (one round per serving). Season with salt and pepper.

Scatter olives on top and sprinkle lightly with feta cheese. Drizzle with prepared vinaigrette and finish with a touch of fresh basil. Recipe adapted from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Over in Fremont, the aroma of roasting butternut squash is wafting out of Marvin Murphy and Ruth Ann Heeter’s galley-style kitchen. While the squash is roasting, which will later be served with balsamic vinegar, the couple puts the finishing touches on their pear dumpling dessert.

Marvin uses a basic knife to core the pears, which came from a tree in their yard.

“They do make coring tools, don’t they?” he asks. “That would be helpful next time.”

Sometimes recipes can be tricky, but that’s half the fun says Ruth Ann, who keeps all the recipes from past gatherings in a database for later referencing.

“They aren’t all difficult,” she says, “but they do take a little time in the kitchen. It makes it way more fun to do it together.”

Besides bringing the group together, there’s something about tackling a difficult recipe as a couple that forms a strong bond.

“In relationships, it’s easy just to go your own way,” Ruth Ann says. “This forces you to spend time together, even if you fight.”

Marvin and Ruth Ann pack up their dishes now nearing completion to finish at the Van Laanen’s where the rest of the couples are waiting. When the last couple arrives, the party officially starts.

That evening, the Van Laanen’s kitchen is overflowing with people reheating and assembling their dishes, providing preparation anecdotes along the way. Julie reveals she had a hard time finding an ingredient, Corn Nuts, at the grocery store (we take this as a good sign). Bob admits his salad recipe may have been slightly, ahem, adjusted while Maria opens another bottle of wine to refill anyone with an empty glass.

There’s something comforting about the chaotic buzz in the house—think your aunt’s Thanksgiving dinner—that lends a sense of anticipation for the meal to come. As soon as one dish is out of the oven, the next one is in. At least the meat is resting. Soon enough, it will be time to sit back, relax and enjoy the good food with good friends.

— FC


Gourmet Group Guidebook

The group offers up some tips on creating your very own gourmet gathering.

Chemistry: Finding the perfect participants will ensure a recipe for success. Heeter encourages partnering with a diverse group of people, not necessarily your best friends, to keep things interesting as long as the vital components are there. “Both parties really need to enjoy cooking. Find the right couples and you’ll be good for years.”

Consistency: Frequent gatherings allow the group to marinate. Van Laneen suggests setting the framework for regular get-togethers to keep foodie friends fresh. “It’s nice to have the frequency, because then you get to keep building on things,” she says.

Clarity: When planning a menu, working with a theme can help narrow down what may seem like endless options. Deciding on the entree first will ensure a well-balanced meal. “This month’s theme was ‘holiday’ so we started around the main course and worked our way out from there,” Van Laanen says.

— FC

Eat Well, Do Good

When selecting a restaurant, we consider its reputation, cost, menu offerings and ambiance. But when we can select an eatery that also donates some of its profits, products and staff to a cause that we choose to support, we can expect a different kind of nourishment – the warm satisfaction that comes from doing good things for others.


Mark’s East Side in Appleton took the Fox Valley Humane Association’s 2008 Tailgate Event’s Best of the Show traveling Top Tail award.

A highly coveted prize in the local food and beverage industry, it was awarded to Mark’s for their tasty donation of a beer, cheese, sauerkraut and sausage soup.

“We figured we’d put it all together tailgate-style,” he says, noting he also served German chocolate cheesecake.

That Top Tail award joins the restaurant’s Salute to Excellence Award, two Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year awards, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Big Four Chapter.
Another factor behind all of the awards the restaurant receives is owner Mark Dougherty’s generosity.

One of his restaurant customers served with the 395th Army Reserve Company. When a group of Reservists recently returned from Iraq, Dougherty donated enough $25 gift certificates so each of the returning servicemen received one.

“People in the Fox Valley area take pride in all the people who do so much,” Dougherty says of the many community-service organizations and ad hoc benefits. “We live in a community that gives and gives.”

As the second largest revenue-raiser, the Tailgate Event offers food, beer, wine and dessert samplings.

Other participants included Michiels Bar & Grill, Fox Banquets and Rivertyme Catering, Stone Cellar Brewpub & Restaurant, Zuppas, Carmella’s: An Italian Bistro, Solea Mexican Grill, Holidays Pub & Grill, Manderfield’s Home Bakery, as well as other fast food and wine purveyors.

Since most of the restaurant owners are buddies, it’s become a friendly competition.

“The Tailgate Event has been steadily growing,” says Sally Lamers, FVHA’s director of special events and programming. “It’s a successful event that’s gotten to the point where many of vendors are returning, hoping to earn the Top Tail award.”


Benefiting the work of the March of Dimes Wisconsin Chapter’s Green Bay Division in its mission to prevent birth defects and improve the health of babies, the annual Fox Cities Signature Chef’s Auction pays tribute to the culinary excellence of the area’s finest chefs.

“It’s just like Top Chef (a show on the cable television network Bravo),” says Fortino Solano, executive chef at downtown Appleton’s Il Angolo Resto-Bar. “It’s all for great cause and it’s fun—and you get to know a lot of interesting people.”

For the past two years, Il Angolo has volunteered waitstaff and donated custom-made dinners. The wonderful twist is that the meal is prepared and served at the high-bidder’s home. Solano not only prepares the meal, but also talks about the ingredients and explains his culinary work as he goes.
More recently, the establishment contributed to Food of All Nations, a fundraiser for the Fox Cites Rotary Multicultural Center, and Appleton Downtown Inc.’s first-ever Soup Walk event.

Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of the Fox Valley Region is an organization that assists youths in becoming confident and caring individuals through a relationship with an adult mentor.

For decades, the organization’s largest annual fundraisers, “Bowl for Kids Sake,” has benefited from the support of a variety of area restaurants, with Domino’s Pizza Appleton owners, Heidi and Randy Halberg provides pizza, Tom’s Drive-In donates gift cards for participant prizes and Simple Simon’s Bakery donates cookies, brownies and cakes.

“The relationships that Big Brothers Big Sisters have developed with local restaurants continues to be invaluable to us,” says Executive Director Tracey Jenks. “The support that the restaurants and other businesses provide helps us to offset expenses and enables the vast majority of the funds raised at any given event to go straight our programs.

“We love the many creative opportunities we have had to work together for the sake of the children in our community,” Jenks adds.


Sweet teeth are satisfied at the Just Desserts gala that benefits Reach Couseling Services, Inc., a non-profit agency that’s been serving the Fox Cities since 1976 under its mission to end sexual violence and promote healing in our community.

At the 2009 event, approximately 300 guests were served by restaurant volunteers from Zuppas, Seasons the American Bistro and Lemon Grass the Asian Bistro.

Others vied for the coveted Crème de la Crème Award, garnered last year by Ridgeway Country Club, who served a mini cannoli that enveloped a rich, creamy filling within a tender pastry.

“I am always impressed by how willing the restaurants are to participate,” says Lyn Beyer, Reach’s executive director who helped create the fundraiser 11 years ago. “They donate all their delicious desserts, as well as their time, to set up and serve the guests. We all benefit.”

Held on the last Friday before Valentine’s Day, Chocolate Fantasia is the largest fundraiser hosted by the Neenah-Menasha Chapter of The American Red Cross.

Its 2009 event raised nearly $20,000 for local Red Cross programs and services from admission tickets, auctions and raffles. Each year area 10-15 restaurants, pastry chefs, bakers and candy makers donate their most creative chocolate creations.

Participating restaurants are asked to provide an item that has at least one chocolate ingredient. They must donate enough food to serve about 300 people.

“[It] wouldn’t be nearly as successful without all the donations from area restaurants that allow us to offer a great variety of great treats,” says Rebecca Bergin, executive director of the chapter.

The event has built a list of generous partners over the years, including the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, Jo to Go, Zuppa’s, Fox Valley Technical College and the Best Western Bridgewood Resort, the site of the party.

In addition to this highly public event, many local restaurants sign a mutual-aid agreement with the Red Cross to partner in disaster responses by donating beverages and food for victims and volunteers on site or in shelters.

In the Fox Cities, the act of dining out will not only satisfy our appetite and need for time with friends and family, but it will feed something even more wonderful... somewhere within our hearts.

CARING… ONE COMPANY’S WAY: The Melting Pot, a Supple Group restaurant, hosted a food booth at Octoberfest 2009 in downtown Appleton. With donated ingredients and some of the restaurant staff and friends serving, all proceeds were forwarded to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Through December 31, Melting Pot guests can support St. Jude through the “Thanks and Giving” campaign by purchasing a Fondue for the Kids Card for $10, which is valid for $20 off on a fondue-dipping dinner experience.

The restaurant recently presented a four-course fondue dinner, where in addition to proceeds from a raffle, $5 for each of the special dinners sold (and one dollar for each pink drink) went to the Chaska Breast Cancer Fund operated by Fox Cities Community Health Center to provide women without financial means free mammograms and other diagnostic testing associated with breast cancer.

Bless This Food

We gained access to the kitchens (and congregations) of Fox and Bay cities religious dignitaries. Here are their holiday recipes, family traditions and culinary tributes!

Hanukkah is observed for eight days, occurring from late November to late December. Even though it is
not considered to be a major holiday from a strictly religious point of view, Hanukkah emphasizes themes of national liberation and religious freedom.

When it comes to food, Hanukkah celebrations include potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts. Cooking these foods in oil is meant to symbolize the miracle of Hanukkah – when the oil in the menorah, just enough for one day, burned for eight.

Because Jewish cooking never mixes meat and dairy, this is often part of a larger, meatless meal that includes vegetables and fish. According to rules that govern kosher food, fish is considered to be “parve” – that is, neither meat nor dairy – and thus is often part of a “dairy meal.”

“At Hanukkah, latkes are usually served with sour cream and applesauce on the side,” says Jerry Zabronsky, president of Moses Montefiore Congregation in Appleton.

“My grandmother made them in the 1960s when my extended family all lived in Brooklyn, New York,” he explains of the tradition. “My mother continued the tradition, and now my wife makes them as well as anyone ever did.”

Zabronsky shares his latkes recipe:

Potato LatkesLatkes

  • 2 cups potatoes, peeled and shredded
  • 1 T. onion, grated
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  1. Remove as much moisture from the potatoes as possible. Place potatoes in a cheesecloth & wring.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir potatoes, onion, eggs, flour & salt together.
  3. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties, about 3-4 inches in diameter.
  4. Brown them on one side, turn & brown on the other. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot!

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“Our family always went to midnight Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral Church in Dodge City, Kansas, where my brother and I were altar servers,” says Bishop David Ricken of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

His most treasured Christmas tradition involved the whole family decorating the house and arranging the nativity set.

“When we finished, we’d gather around the nativity set and sing Silent Night with a music box that was a part of the set,” Ricken describes.

The bishop celebrates Christmas Eve Mass and Mass on Christmas Day at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.

The following recipe is a “Christmas Day regular” for the Ricken family:

Olive Wreath Salad

  • 1–2 cans crushed pineapple (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pkg. lime flavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup grated American cheese
  • 1/2 cup pimento, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Cool Whip
  • Small stuffed olives, sliced
  1. Drain pineapple. Heat syrup until it boils, then add lime gelatin. Stir until dissolved & let cool. When it begins to thicken, add pineapple, cheese, pimento, celery, salt & walnuts. Fold in cool whip. Place a row of stuffed olives in a round gelatin mold & then pour gelatin mix over top. Refrigerate.

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For Reverend Paul Holte, Senior Pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Neenah, the holiday’s “holy days” are an intense working time. Rev. Holte performs worship services three times on Christmas Eve, once again on Christmas morning, as well as having an Advent midweek service earlier in the week and two regular Sunday morning services on the Sundays before and after. That’s a total of nine celebrations over the course of eight days. Nonetheless, Christmas celebrations happen at the same times for the Holte family as it does for other families.

“We have to get a bit creative with scheduling around services,” Rev. Holte explains.
On December 23, the Holte’s have a “Little Christmas Eve,” when the Reverend will make rice pudding for the family.
“It’s a fun way to extend the season and, particularly for a working pastor’s clan, it’s a great way to enjoy some family time together before the rush of the big day,” he shares.

The pastor’s wife, Robin, shares this fond family favorite:

Harvest Loaf (makes one loaf)

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin pie filling
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  1. Cream butter & sugar at high speed. Beat in eggs at low speed. Add all spices, mix well. Add flour, salt, baking soda, pumpkin, chocolate chips, mix well. Pour into bread pan. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
  2. When cool, add a glaze of:
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. cream

“Because my ancestors were from ‘the north country,’ for me, no Christmas season is complete without lefse,” says Rev. Holte. “It always makes me think fondly of the holidays,” he explains. “Although my Grandma Inga was known to turn out a bit of lefse throughout the year if she had a few spuds left over from supper.”

Lefse is a soft, round crepe-like desert made from potatoes and flour, and then spread with butter and rolled in sugar. “Some folks like to dip it in the gravy on their dinner plate, or roll turkey pieces or other such things into it,” Holte adds. “I’m a traditionalist at heart, using real butter and granulated sugar is the way God intended lefse to be eaten!”

This recipe reflects on Holte’s Norwegian heritage:


  • 4 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cube butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  1. Work all the ingredients into a dough. Chill for several hours.
  2. Take a smaller-than-fist-sized lump. Flatten into a thin circle with a rolling pin on a well-floured surface. Spread it onto your grill. Cook at about 575 degrees, turning once, as small brown spots appear. Cover with a cloth as it cools; you want to keep it pliable, not crispy.
  3. Spread butter & sprinkle sugar on it, then roll it up & eat it by hand

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One Thanksgiving years ago, Joel Zeiner, senior high director with Christ the Rock Church in Menasha, wasn’t able to make it home to his family. Instead, he celebrated the holiday at his aunt and uncle’s home. “My aunt made the day special for me,” Zeiner recalls. “She created an amazing atmosphere with a delicious spread of food.” In that spread was her famous Pumpkin Cheesecake. “Every year since spending Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle, my family has made this cheesecake,” he says. “It brings back the warm and comforting memories of a holiday far from home, yet close to family.”

Pumpkin Cheesecake

  • 1 1/2 cup gingersnap cookies, finely ground
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 3 pkgs (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 T. flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
  1. Preheat over to 500 degrees.
  2. Combine gingersnaps, walnuts, sugar & butter in a medium bowl. Press into the bottom and one inch up the side of a 10-inch non-stick spring-form pan. Set aside.
  3. Beat cream cheese, sugar & flour until smooth. Add 5 eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, on low speed. Transfer 2 1/2 cups to a separate bowl & set aside. Beat 1 egg, pie spice & pumpkin into remaining filling until smooth.
  4. Pour half of pumpkin filling into crust, then half of the plain; repeat. Swirl gently with spoon.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes; reduce temperature to 200 degrees & bake for 30 minutes. Tent with aluminum foil & continue baking for 1 hour or until center appears nearly set when shaken. Run a knife around top of cake to loosen from pan. BAKER’S NOTE: To prevent cracking, place a rectangular pan of hot water in the bottom rack of oven to add moisture to heat.
  6. Cool for 30 minutes; then chill at least 6 hours.

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