While in Appleton the night before we went to see the Green Bay Packers play at Lambeau Field, we decided to take in some of the local drinking establishments before we went out to dinner. Like myself, George has an affinity for Wisconsin brewed beers - especially beers from the Capital Brewery and Esser's Best. He wanted to go find a couple places with good beers and a relaxing atmosphere. We ended up at the Stone Cellar Brewpub for a few beers and a good meal that evening. But more on that later.
We stopped in Madison, WI on the way up to Appleton to have lunch at The Avenue Bar, owned by my good friend Paul Zach. Paul told us, "Hey, there's this great bar up in Appleton that you guys need to go to."
He turned to his buddy, Dave, sitting at the bar and asked him the name of the place. Dave thought for a second and said, "Cleo's!"
Paul said, "Yeah, it's a pretty cool bar. They've got all these decorations up year round and they've got these amazing drinks."
It turned out Cleo's wasn't far from our hotel and we found it easily in downtown Appleton. It was decorated with Christmas lights, wreaths, over-sized ornaments and other stuff. Turns out it's like that 365 days a year in Cleo's. First of all, it was far from a beer bar. Most of the people in the place were drinking mixed drinks. When George asked the bartender what kind of pale ale beers she had, she said, "Not much. We've got Bass."
So he got a Bass and I got a Bud Light. He said, "I didn't come all the way here to Wisconsin to have a Bass!"
Cindy said, "You guys notice anything weird about this place?" I looked around the nearly full place and noticed a lot of guys sitting together drinking what I would call rather feminine looking drinks. Now, my "gaydar" is an economy model, but Cindy's "gaydar" is a top-of-the-line model. There were a lot of male/female couples in the place, too, but the men sort of stood out. Cindy said, "I think Paul sent us to a gay bar!"
I wouldn't call Cleo's a gay bar, per se. But there did seem to be a lot of guys checking George out. At least, that's what I teased him about as we finished our beers and got along to the next place.
We found something next that was right up George's alley - an authentic Irish bar situated in the middle of Appleton. McGuinness Irish Pub is located - literally - right across the street from the Appleton Police Station (see map). We found a parking spot out front and George and I openly wondered if the cops would sit across the street and watch people come and go from this place and the bar just two doors down from McGuinness Irish Pub - the Fox River House.
McGuinness Irish Pub was about as realistic of an Irish Pub as you can find in North America. So realistic that it didn't have a television set in the place, which was sort of disappointing to George and I at first as there were a couple good football games on that evening. Oh, wait. There was a television set in McGuinness Irish Pub - two of them, as a matter of fact. There was a flat screen over the fire place mantel that showed a number of pictures in rotation, and a small tube television in the fireplace hearth that was showing a DVD of a fire. I thought it was sort of funny, but it fit in with the hip surroundings in the place.
George was also in heaven. In addition to a number of great imported Irish and Scottish beers, they had Capital Brewery's winter brew - Winter Skal - a beer that I turned him onto a couple years ago. I had a Smithwick's, while - I think - Hanna had a beer. The bartender talked Cindy into getting a Shamrock Martini with Irish whiskey and green Creme de Menthe. She liked it a lot.
Not having a television around forced us to carry on a conversation at a table that was bordered by two old church pews and a couple chairs. It was actually kind of nice getting caught up with George and Hanna - they became very good friends before they moved earlier this year. And even though they're only two hours away, it's still a long haul for us to get together on a regular basis.
After a quick stop at the Fox River House for a beer and a look around Appleton's oldest continuous tavern, we took off for the Stone Cellar Brewery. When we got there, I quickly realized that Cindy and I had been there before a number of years ago.
The brewery was once called the Adler Brau brewery - one of the first brewpubs in the state of Wisconsin. In 2004, the father-son team of Tom and Steve Lonsway bought and re-opened the brewpub as the Stone Cellar Brewery, named after the stone cellar in the 150-year-old "Between the Locks" building on South Olde Onieda St. (see map). The building was originally a covert brewery built back in the late 1850's before Appleton's citizens allowed for the brewing and sale of beer.
That brewery, called the Appleton Brewing and Malting Company, eventually was sold to Carl Muench, a young plant foreman for Joseph Schlitz in Milwaukee. The Appleton Brewing and Malting Company ran for 58 years, surviving a fire in 1884, before it was sold to George Walther in 1918 who renamed it the Walther Brewery. The Walther Brewery temporarily went out of business during Prohibition, but it reopened in 1929 when Wisconsin repealed the law on a statewide basis (I've always loved the State of Wisconsin). Walther Brewery's signature beer was Adler Brau (German for Eagle Beer), a smooth and mild lager. Having to keep up with modern marketing and sales techniques versus much larger breweries caused the closing of the Walther Brewery in the mid-70's.
The "Between the Locks" building became a small shop mall, but was reopened as a brewpub in 1989 by John Junger. Junger brought back the Adler Brau brand name and kept the place going for the next 15 years before the Lonsway's - who owned a homebrewing supply store in Appleton - bought it from him and changed the name. Steve Lonsway is the brewmaster at Stone Cellar Brewpub.
As I said, Cindy and I were at the place about 12 years ago when it was still the Adler Brau Brewpub. Only it was on a Sunday night and they weren't open for food. I was sort of disappointed that we couldn't eat at the place, but we did end up at a nice downtown steakhouse for dinner that evening.
The entry to the Stone Cellar Brewpub winds down a stone stair case and opens up into the bar area. The bar area was absolutely packed and we were worried that we'd have a little trouble finding a table for dinner. But one of the waiters came up and said that they had immediate seating. He took us into the two room dining area, into the far back of the place where they used to store kegs, we were told, where he sat us and gave us dinner menus to look over.
My first job was to find a beer to drink from their beer list. Stone Cellar keeps seven brews on tap year round and has a handful of seasonal brews to choose from. The Scottish Tilted Kilt ale caught my eye and I ordered that. George got their Pie Eyed India Pale Ale. I forgot what Hanna ordered, but Cindy got one of Stone Cellar's gourmet sodas - the root beer. She figured the two Shamrock martinis from McGuinness Irish Pub were enough for her for the evening.
Stone Cellar's menu was pretty extensive featuring about 20 different appetizers, about 10 salads and a like number of specialty burgers. They had sandwiches from reubens to wraps, and full entrees from steaks, chops, seafood and a chopped Elk steak on the menu. Stone Cellar Brewpub also features a pub favorites section on the menu with Shepherd's Pie, fish and chips and a beer braised pot roast.
I was sort of thinking that if we didn't go to Stone Cellar Brewpub that we'd end up at Frank's Pizza Palace. But I saw that Stone Cellar had pizza on their menu - a thin crust pizza topped with fresh ingredients. They featured some specialty pizzas like a chicken, bacon and ranch dressing pizza, and a New Orleans-style with andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp with peppers, onions and Cajun spices. No, I thought I'd just get my old stand-by sausage, pepperoni and mushroom.
Cindy ordered the Stone Cellar's special that night - the grilled chicken breast served on a bed of rice and topped with asparagus spears. George was on some chicken sandwich kick all weekend (he had a chicken sandwich for lunch earlier in the day and had a chicken sandwich when we went to the Great Dane Brewery in Madison the next night), so he got the Brewhouse chicken sandwich - a chicken breast topped with aged cheddar cheese, bacon and chipotle mayo. Hanna got the Jaeger Schnitzel - an old world style pork chop topped with a dark mushroom gravy and served on a bed of spaetzel and topped with asparagus spears. I almost got that, but decided on the pizza at the last minute.
First of all, the beers were very good. The Scottish ale I had had a nice smooth taste and finish, but wasn't as forward of a taste that I like in my specialty beers. George said his IPA was excellent, hoppy and very forward. He was a happy camper.
Cindy's root beer was like drinking sugar syrup, however. Stone Cellar makes their gourmet sodas with pure cane sugar. I had a little taste and, man! It was like licking a candy cane, it was so sugary. Cindy couldn't even finish drinking the root beer, it had so much sweetness. She didn't sleep well that evening, she said it was probably because of the root beer.
I finished my Scottish ale and decided to order the Marquette Pilsner for my second beer before my pizza made it to the table. It was lighter than the Scottish ale and had a nice pilsner taste to it. I liked the Tilted Kilt ale better than the Marquette Pilsner, though.
Our food came out and I was pretty happy to see my pizza cut into the thin-dough party cuts that I like so much. The cheese was caramelized with plenty of fresh toppings mixed in. Fresh oregano leaves were sprinkled on the top. It was a very good pizza. A surprisingly very good pizza.
Cindy's chicken breast (above left) was butterflied and sprinkled with an herb seasoning and then grilled. She also declared it to be very good. She cut off a little chunk for me and I took a bite. It was very good.
Hanna's Jaeger Schnitzel was truly a "stick to your ribs" meal. It featured a large thin-cut pork chop smothered in a mushroom gravy. A large amount of spaetzel rested under the pork chop. And while George's chicken sandwich wasn't really much to look at, he said it was very good. The bun was lightly toasted and he said he liked the chipotle mayo and the sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese on the chicken.
I offered everyone a piece of my pizza because I knew I wouldn't be able to finish a 12" small pizza by myself. Everyone was impressed with Stone Cellar's pizza. In fact, we were all pleasantly surprised and very happy with our meals.
I'm sort of happy that Cindy and I didn't go to the old Adler Brau brewpub because I'm not certain the food would have been as good back then as it is now. And I don't remember too much about the Adler Brau beer - I do remember what I had in the past was OK - but I really liked the Scottish Ale Stone Cellar Brewpub had on tap while I have to say the Marquette Pilsner was just *OK*. The Stone Cellar Brewery also boasts a nice beer garden for summer time drinking (a beer garden that dates back to the early 1860's) and has a large room - the English Room - for parties, receptions and meetings. Good food and good beer - we all were very happy with our visit to Stone Cellar Brewpub.