Appleton, Wisconsin, located approximately 100 miles north of Milwaukee and 30 miles southwest of Green Bay, makes the perfect Midwest road trip destination. It sits on the Fox River and features big-city conveniences plus the warmth of a small town. Of course, one of those big-city amenities is the food. When you think of Wisconsin food, things like beer, dairy products, and supper clubs come to mind, and Appleton offers all of them.
I chose these seven amazing restaurants to try in the greater Appleton area because they highlight something iconic about the Wisconsin food scene. They are listed randomly.
Thank you to Fox Cities, Greater Appleton, Wisconsin, for hosting my stay. All opinions are my own.
1. ACOCA Coffee
Located in downtown Appleton, ACOCA Coffee, known for sustainable sourcing and custom blends, roasts its coffee beans in-house in small batches, ensuring the freshest coffee possible. In addition to coffee, while they serve breakfast all day, they also offer lunch. First, order at the counter and then take a seat in various settings — high-top or standard tables or a living room setting with couches. The décor includes exposed ductwork, distressed concrete floors, and vibrant artwork.
ACOCA’s version of avocado toast features sourdough bread toasted with chunky avocado spread topped with red pickled onions and garnished with everything bagel seasoning. They serve it with a dill pickle spear, yes, even at breakfast. It’s surprisingly tasty as it cuts the fat of the avocado. They offer it with their ginger-infused fresh fruit cup.
Another favorite is the Belgian waffle with whipped salted butter and maple syrup sprinkled with powdered sugar. This dish also comes with a fresh fruit cup.
If you’re craving some of those Wisconsin cheese curds, they offer a half-pound of deep-fried white cheddar cheese curds with a choice of dipping sauces.
Pro Tip: Arrive early to avoid metered parking, which begins at 9 a.m.
2. River Tyme Bistro
River Tyme Bistro waterfront restaurant, located in the historic Atlas Mills on the Fox River, features a coffee bar with a great selection of specialty drinks and house-made bakery items. They’re wildly popular for their delicious lunch and dinner items complemented by a fine selection of spirits, wine, and beer.
The view of the dam through the window or on the deck is stunning. With a play on words, the restaurant’s website declares it the best “dam” bistro in Appleton.
My meal here started with an Italian-inspired antipasto platter. The plating reminded me of the relish trays found in Wisconsin supper clubs. It featured marinated artichokes, peppadew peppers, green olives, and candied walnuts. With three types of meat (salami, prosciutto, pepperoni) and two types of cheeses (provolone and sharp white cheddar), this was almost a meal.
My husband and I went with sandwiches for our main course. First, the chef built the open-faced herb and caper tuna salad on toasted bread, sliced Roma tomatoes, and melted white cheddar cheese, and then they topped it with tuna salad and pickled cucumbers with an aioli drizzle. The sandwich comes with a mixed greens salad with pickled red onions and toasted pine nuts. The maple vinaigrette adds a slight sweetness to the dish. The chicken salad sandwich featuring dried cranberries served on a croissant was equally good.
Pro Tip: While you’re in the building, located next door to River Tyme Bistro is the Paper Discovery Center, a museum and workshop center focused on papermaking, an important local industry. Plan your meal around a trip to explore the world of paper with hands-on experiences.
3. Mondo! Wine Bar
Located in downtown Appleton, Mondo! Wine Bar is home to the periodic table of wine, a system developed by the owner, David Oliver, to help guests select which wine is best suited for their tastes. The Mondo! Periodic Table of Wine is a visual map to help you find a wine perfectly suited to your tastes.
The venue features a retro mid-century modern vibe, where they offer cheese boards featuring Wisconsin cheese. We enjoyed a snack of their 12-inch thin-crust house-made pizza. In addition to the traditional cheese or pepperoni pizza, they offer some specialty pizzas, including a vegetarian version with a garlic spread, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes with a tri-blend of cheese.
In addition to drinking wine at the restaurant, you can purchase it to take home.
Pro Tip: Check the events page on their website for their monthly free wine tasting.
4. Hop Yard Ale Works
Established in 2021, Hop Yard Ale Works is one of Appleton’s newest breweries, and it focuses on small-batch ales and wood-fired pizza in a relaxed atmosphere. They don’t have servers, so order at the bar, and they’ll deliver your pizza to the table.
They have a laser-focused menu on wood-fired pizza and beer, so you may be disappointed if you’re not in the mood for exactly that. Unfortunately, the menu doesn’t include anything else, simply pizza and beer. That said, the pizza and beer are wonderful.
They change up their pizza menu frequently. We ordered a Spicy Voodoo Mama when we were there. It featured house-made red sauce with Cajun seasoning, smoked andouille sausage, spicy Cajun sausage, onions, red peppers, mushrooms, smoked gouda, parsley, and Voodoo Sauce. I liked that there was zip and flavor in the pizza without it being overly hot with spice.
We arrived on Sunday afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to find a singer accompanied by his guitar. The entertainment added to the casual, fun afternoon.
Pro Tip: The kitchen hours are different from the taproom hours, so check the schedule before you arrive.
5. Stone Arch Brewpub
Stone Arch Brewpub started when Tom and Steve Lonsway, a father-and-son team, studied abroad in Britain and wanted to bring their newfound passion for high-quality, handcrafted beer back to Appleton. So, they opened Stone Arch in a historic building built initially as Outagamie County’s first brewery and have now cemented their place in history as Wisconsin’s oldest continually operating brewpub.
Best known for its underground, stone-cellar atmosphere, guests can sit and enjoy locally sourced, English-inspired pub food. Stone Arch is also famous for its in-house brewery, and visitors can try local favorites such as Stone Arch’s Honey Wheat, Pilsner, and Vanilla Stout — all crafted by time-tested brewmasters. For those under 21 or who want something nonalcoholic, Stone Arch serves its famous handcrafted gourmet sodas, including root beer, vanilla cream, and orange cream.
Our starter was the cheese curds, hand-made in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The curds are cut into cubes and made with a batter featuring Stone Arch Scottish Ale, then deep-fried. They served them with ranch and marinara sauces.
Another dish I enjoyed was the mac and beer cheese. It starts with cavatappi pasta and a blend of four artisan kinds of cheeses combined in a beer sauce, a Wisconsin classic, beer, and cheese. Next, they add bacon and andouille sausage and serve it with garlic bread.
Pro Tip: While this restaurant is on the building’s lower level, they have an elevator for easy access.
You’ll find Tempest tucked away at the end of the street, on the ground floor of a multi-story building, within walking distance of the Marriott Courtyard. Tempest serves Olympic Coffee Roaster from Washington, offering an innovative selection of hot and cold beverages like the chili hot chocolate and the butterscotch and sage latte. Remember, the menu is seasonal, so you may not find those items on the menu when you go, but I’m sure you’ll find something equally delicious!
At Tempest, the tiny details make the difference. They measure the espresso to a tenth of a gram and bake all night to ensure you’ll have freshly baked morning muffins and cookies. They feature a seasonal menu to ensure quality and freshness. They make most items in-house from scratch, including the house-made vinaigrettes for salads and syrups for waffles. They also use the local Lamers Dairy for their dairy products. They source the bread and pastries not made in-house from the Thunderbird Bakery in Oshkosh.
Pro Tip: I enjoyed their breakfast sandwich: made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuit, crispy bacon, a fried egg topped with aged white cheddar cheese, and honey butter.
7. Santé Wine Bar & Bistro
Santé Wine Bar & Bistro, technically located in Neenah, is about 10 miles from Appleton but worth the drive. This bistro is a gathering place for wine, cocktails, and small bites in a sophisticated atmosphere. They feature curated wines from around the world. We ordered the frozen rosé, just reintroduced for spring.
Our starter was the hummus sourdough toast, a nice change from the typical avocado toast. The chef topped the hummus with cucumbers and a paper-thin sliced radish that was pink from edge to edge. You had to look twice because it almost looked like shaved ham. Then, they topped it with a pinch of spicy salt, which provided a bit of a kick and interest to the dish.
I ordered the grilled cheese panini with tomato soup to continue the Wisconsin dairy theme. The soup was creamy, and the grilled cheese was perfectly toasted to a golden brown.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for Instagram-worthy images, ask for seating away from the pink neon sign.
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