Central Wisconsin ('CW') - Very Roughly Wausau, Stevens Point, points about 30 miles north, south, east, and west.
Where many people from the south and west pass through on their way to vacation in northern Wisconsin and the U.P. Where many reluctantly have to come for business trips.
I've had the honor of working in Wausau and Stevens Point for roughly two years (about three years ago so my info might be slightly outdated). I've posted a few times a couple of years ago and just now had a little fun and read what the hounds think of the area. I've lived in Chicago and New York since then and have had my fair share of good food.
OK - remember that you're 100+ miles away from a major city. People in Central Wisconsin are value conscious - the don't eat out that often and when they do they want a meal for five that costs less than $30, with the kids HEAVILY encouraged to not get drinks. In Wausau, for instance, it's going to be like the freakin' rapture when and if a Red Lobster opens its doors. That being said, CW is not without culture or money - there is a large university in Stevens Point, the area is home to four or five large insurance companies, and there are a number of prosperous manufacturing outfits that provide well paying jobs. It is by no means a dying region or the absolute hinterlands. Still, most people go to church, and you will be hard-pressed to find a lot of stuff open on Sunday or the streets jam-packed after 5:00 on any day of the week.
The diatribe above was meant to help crystallize the following - don't expect 'exotic' food. There is a large Asian population in the area but, for a variety of social and political reasons keep pretty quiet. No “real” Mexican restaurants, not even a Chi-Chis. No Sushi, no little Vietnamese sandwiches. No bagels or deli. This is Midwest meat and potatoes cheese lovin’ country.
Perhaps a bigger question - what is cowishness? I've seen this used and have used it myself. I know it as 'seeking good food, and a really nice, authentic experience.' I would love to see other's take on the term because I'm sure it is different for alot of people.
So, you can have a dynamite dining experience keeping in mind where you are and what the people are all about. That being said, here are my two-cents regarding Central Wisconsin.
1) The Wagon Wheel Supper Club - Wausau. Truly, one of the best dining experiences on earth (in my opinion). The restaurant has been around for 40+ years. The current owners' parents opened it, and the current owners worked there as children. When you go in you'll probably be the only one there. There will be three people working - Gary is the bar man, and I don't recall the others' names. It is a traditional steakouse. They have a fabulous wine list with many hard-to-find bottles (I think they have a side E-Bay business). Gary was friends with the guy who started wine spectator when it was just a leaflet. The restaurant is relativley pricey (not by 'big city' standards) but he told me that "we can't compete in this kind of town if we go for volume."
2) Stay away from any and all Italian restaurants in the area. They all suck. Mino's in particular. The one exception is Wausau’s abundance of reasonable thin crust pizza.
3) Lucci's Back When Cafe (Downtown) - I loved eating here for lunch (sandwiches and salads with a fresh gourmet twist). Never tried their dinner but my friends have given it great reviews and there are a few Chowhound posts about it as well.
4) Stay away from Asian restaurants. There is NO REASONABLE THAI OR JAPANESE in the area. Please let me know otherwise. It is mostly fast-food style Chinese, the Peking downtown, however, is acceptable but five out of ten at best. If you are into fast food Chinese CW is golden.
5) Freddy's Club Orlow (Amherst, 10 miles east of Steven's Point) - Great bar. Everyone is extremely nice, Freddy, especially. No food except his signature hot beefs (I think they are $1), and he even has a variety of horseradishes to go along with it.
6) The Mint Cafe (Downtown Wausau) - This is a breakfast spot. I used to go here before work with my boss. We'd grab some coffee and bullsh*t with the stream of people who would continually come in and out. Breakfast is solid, it's the scene that’s the best.
7) Frank's (Wausau, Stewart Avenue just off I-39) - 60s style breakfast / lunch joint. The food is good and very cheap. Recently come under ownership of some younger people who are trying to do some more creative things with the menu. I had a smoked barbecue beef sandwich that was made using a small smoker you could see outside of the dining room menu.
8) The Silver Coach (Stevens Point) - on Highway 10 about halfway between the interstate and downtown. It is a 'fine dining' place, and the food is really good. The bar is great...great drinks, great bartenders, and is in the dining car of an old train (hence the silver coach). Ask what the specials are and they are usually good.
9) Tomorrow River Supper Club (Amherst) - I have never been here, but people tell me that the prime rib is great, and it's a great Wisconsin old-fashioned supper club.
10) The Royal Cafe (Coloma) - If you are on I-39, you will see the Coloma Exit. The place is just off the interstate. Another true small town breakfast spot. Nothing fancy, very cheap, very good. The building is partially new construction, the rest of it is an original 1930s bungalow that was actually moved from the southern end of town about 15 years ago (we used to eat there on family vacations when I was younger).
11) Wausau Mine Company – I don’t remember where it is. The pizza is good (great spot for the kids) but the kicker is that restaurant was designed to look like the inside of a mine complete with Styrofoam stalagties-stalagmites and a mannequin miner bar patron. Kitsch value.
12) Michael’s – This place might not be open any more – it’s on the southerninsh end of Wausau by the Best Buy, etc. Great bar with good drinks and appetizers. Dinner is so-so. Once again, Kitsch value joint as the bar is done in 80s style complete with elevator music and faux grey-leather swivel chairs with rollers.
I had a great time up there. Hope you guys try some of these spots and that my recommendations were remotely helpful. Feel free to throw your two cents in.