I was up in the La Crosse area for the night earlier this year as I had an appointment with a dealer in the morning. I asked the front desk people at the hotel if there were any "supper club"-type places in the area. One of them came up with the suggestion of the Red Pines Bar and Grill up the road a bit in Onalaska. "It's sort of tough to find," she told me. "But my husband and I like it a lot." With an address plugged into my GPS, I took off to find the Red Pines Bar and Grill.
In 2008, Mark Koblitz - a rental property owner in La Crosse - bought the former Red Sails Campground and Resort along Lake Onalaska which is part of the Mississippi River north of the city. He briefly contemplated building either a storage unit or an apartment building on part of the site before he decided to build a restaurant. But he didn't want it to be like any other campground/neighborhood bar that did cheap burgers and frozen pizzas in convection ovens. He wanted a place that would be nice with fresh fish dinners, steaks and high quality foods.
Koblitz broke ground on the restaurant in November of 2008 and built much of the bar and tables for the restaurant himself out of white pine wood. He made a small patio area off to the side that looked out onto the lake through the thick trees out back. The restaurant did have burgers and pizza, but they were high quality burgers and the pizzas were made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Dinners included fresh fish, steaks and chicken entrees.
Running a restaurant was a daunting task for Koblitz and he eventually sold the bar and grill to a couple of his regular patrons, Barbara and Larry Leis. Barbara Leis had been a longtime cafe owner in La Crosse before retiring to take care of her mother in 2006 and Larry Leis had recently retired as a business management consultant. Barbara missed the interaction between customers and when the opportunity to buy the Red Pines came up, the Leis' jumped on it. The Leis' are joined in the restaurant by their son-in-law Robin Godolphin who had run the Dark Horse Bar and Grill in Boulder, CO for five years. They kept much of the food on the menu, adding their own little twists here and there.
It was around 7:30 when I pulled into the Red Pines. It was sort of a confusing way to get to the restaurant, but the GPS brought me right to the parking lot. (see map) There was plenty of parking and I found a spot near the building.
It was a beautiful evening with a nearly full moon rising over the trees in the southeast. I contemplated eating out in the patio area as it was very nice out there. But it was sort of warm and humid, and I was also worried about mosquitoes annoying me while I was trying to eat.
I decided to eat inside in the dining room. The dining area is a large open space with a three sided bar as the centerpiece. Large suspension beams hung over the dining room with a number of wall-mounted flat panel televisions showing baseball games. I took a seat at one of the white pine tables near the bar. My server for the evening - Kelly - came over to give me a menu and to take my beer order. I saw that they had the Alaskan Icy Bay IPA in bottles and I like that beer very much. That was a no brainer for my beer choice.
Quite actually, calling the Red Pines a "supper club" is somewhat of a stretch. They do have steaks on the menu, but the only "real" steak is a 10 ounce sirloin steak and an 8 ounce chopped sirloin. They have a pan-fried walleye on the menu, as well as perch, haddock and catfish filets. They have three chicken entrees including a Key West chicken breast that's marinated in soy, lime and honey, grilled and served with rice.
They had eight burgers on the menu and all of them sounded interesting, but I had a burger earlier in the day. Sandwiches on the menu consisted of grilled chicken offerings, a roast beef and Swiss cheese sandwich, and a couple fish sandwiches. Appetizers included cheese curds (hey, it IS Wisconsin!), battered mushrooms and chicken tenders.
When Kelly came over to ask if I had any questions, I asked her about the tenderloin tips - beef tips sautéed with mushrooms and onions, then topped with a cheese sauce. I asked if the cheese was fresh cheese slices or if it was a warm cheese sauce. She confessed that it was a cheese sauce. I told her to give me a couple more moments to check out the menu.
I had noticed that a pizza was brought to a table near mine. It was a thin-crust, party-cut pizza just as I like. I was a little leery of getting a pizza, but I thought I'd give it a shot. That's what I ordered from Kelly when she came back.
I ordered a 10" pizza with my standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom toppings. And when Kelly delivered it to the table I was even more apprehensive because it was served on a round piece of cardboard. I grew up in a town where they had pre-made pizza crusts where they slapped the stuff on top, baked it and served it on a cardboard circle.
But from my first bite, all my fears were allayed. The crust was crispy, but not overcooked. The sausage came in the large chunks that I like. The spicy and salty pepperoni came in large circular slices and the mushrooms - seemingly from a can - were all right. Definitely not a deal breaker. The sauce had a sweet tomato taste and thick consistency. The only quibble I'd have with the pizza is that they appeared to scrimp on the mozzarella. This was a good pizza - not the best I've had, but surprisingly good for what I was expecting.
While the Red Pines isn't quite a supper club, it was still a good place to go for a meal. The pizza was surprisingly good and I had little, if anything, bad to say about it. Kelly's service was prompt and efficient. The atmosphere was welcoming and had that Northwoods lake feel to the place. The Red Pines Bar and Grill was a good find in the La Crosse area.