Tasty, Tried and True
by Jenni Eickelberg
They’re the restaurants you know and trust. They’re the ones that consistently have great food and customer service. They’re the ones that made it through the pandemic and will continue to serve great food for generations to come. Some have been a part of the Fox Cities landscape for more than 90 years, while others have recently joined the scene. They are staples in the diverse food landscape that we are lucky to have in the area.
Some of them have decided to slim down their offerings while others kept their traditional menus intact. A few of them even decided to specialize in the meals that they are known for to help draw in business. Most of them looked at their books and shrunk their hours to only serve food during their high-demand times.
They’re the places you go to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays or just to eat a great meal. Their food, drinks, and friendly service fit any mood. We all enjoy these restaurants that embody the best of who we are here in the Fox Cities.
Great customer service. Generous portions. Inexpensive, yet delicious food. Classy atmosphere. You will get all of this and more when you visit Angels Restaurant in Appleton. An icon in the Fox Cities for many years, people come from far and wide to enjoy breakfast or lunch at this easy going family eatery.
While known for their hearty breakfasts (which are served all day), they also serve homestyle comfort fare up until their daily closure time of 3 p.m. While visiting this inviting place, I decided to sample a few breakfast items along with one of their burgers.
The Farmer’s Skillet was very filling. Sausage, onion, green pepper, and cheddar cheese were placed on top of a large serving of American Fries. This tasty combination was then garnished with two eggs, which I had cooked over easy. As part of the meal, I got a side of pancakes and was pleased with how fluffy and tasty they were.
The Cinnamon Swirl French Toast was divine. Six ovals of cinnamon swirl bread were dipped in egg and turned into a delectable feast of French toast. The cinnamon swirl in each piece of bread was easy on the eyes and added extra flavor throughout. I added an order of sausage links to make this a true meal.
One of my friends told me that the burgers at Angel’s Restaurant were good, so I knew I had to try one. I was intrigued by the Olive Burger, as I’d never had Spanish olives as a burger topping before. A ½ pound burger patty was cooked to perfection and placed on a fluffy bun. The brininess of the sliced Spanish olives complimented the juicy ground beef flavor. I didn’t even need to use ketchup on this burger. It was that good!
All burgers come with a complimentary cup of soup, and I chose the creamy chicken and rice. It was super creamy!
As you can imagine, the restaurant was busy for brunch on a Sunday. The staff did a great job of seating customers (even large groups), meeting customers’ needs, bussing tables, and collecting payments. The staff is a well-oiled machine that is super friendly and accommodating. I’ll be back for more!
Benny Hajdini has worked in restaurants all his life. Benny’s father, Zahn, set an example of the great success a person could have as a restaurateur.
Zahn grew up in Macedonia and came to the United States at a young age to study filmmaking. Zahn has won many awards for his short films and documentaries. The next time you dine at Angels, be sure to look at the photos behind the cash register to see Zahn in action. To help pay for his filmmaking expenses, Zahn opened his own restaurant. Zahn had worked in restaurants his whole life and knew exactly what to do.
Benny worked for him since he was a little kid. When Benny was at work, his father treated him like any other employee and didn’t give him preference. Zahn trusted Benny enough to have him run an entire restaurant in Macedonia at age 10 (because there was no minimum working age in Macedonia).
Benny would never ask an employee to do something he wouldn’t do himself and leads by example. You’ll often see Benny bussing tables, doing dishes, cooking, or waiting on customers.
Benny takes pride in strong customer service. He has instilled a welcoming culture and has the expectation that his staff should be friendly and accommodating to every customer that walks through Angel’s doors. Benny and his staff even help people out of their cars if they need help. If the parking lot is full, he’ll let a customer park underneath the restaurant’s awning, help them inside, and then park the car for them.
Benny is passionate about the restaurant business and knows that he’ll do it until he retires. The Fox Cities is very lucky to have the Hajdini family own and run a restaurant here.
Founded in 1998, El Azteca’s stellar reputation for fresh, authentic Mexican food has helped them grow to three locations in the Fox Valley. They cook with fresh ingredients and use family recipes for favorites like their homemade guacamole and queso.
The vibrant and colorful interior of their restaurants makes you feel as if you’re entering a Mexican festival. As a starter, every table receives a basket (or two) of their homemade tortilla chips, along with their house-made bean dip and pico de gallo. Be sure to pace yourself when eating these addictive chips because it would be really easy to fill up on this delicious start to your meal.
The first thing I tried was the Burrito Mexicano. A large flour tortilla is stuffed with rice, chorizo, bacon, and grilled chicken. This behemoth is then topped with both a cheese sauce and a tangy jalapeno green sauce and finished with a dollop of sour cream. The combination of ingredients that filled this burrito was very tasty. If you like the zing of jalapenos, then you’ll love this sauce, which puts a spotlight on the flavors of the burrito ingredients.
The Tacos Callejeros really hit the spot. Three Mexican sausage tacos were served in corn tortillas topped with cilantro and onions. Authentic Mexican tacos are always made with soft corn tortillas and tend to be double-stacked to retain their structure. Plus, if any meat falls out you can use the second tortilla to gather it up. The standard topping of Mexican tacos almost always includes cilantro and onions.
For comparison, American Tex Mex Tacos are served in hard shells and should technically be called a “tostada.” The taco toppings are “Americanized” to include lettuce, tomatoes, refried beans, sour cream, and shredded cheese.
If you’re looking to try a sampling of El Azteca’s tasty enchiladas, be sure to order the Enchiladas Supremas. Four rolled corn tortillas are each stuffed individually with ground beef, chicken, cheese, and beans. They are then smothered in a tasty enchilada sauce and topped with cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and tomatoes.
If you’re not in the mood for Mexican food, El Azteca has other menu options from their grill. I also tried the Pollo Margarita as I was curious to see how one of their grill menu items tasted. This meal consisted of a tender grilled chicken breast that was marinated in their special margarita sauce. It was then topped with cheese and pico de gallo. The margarita sauce was the highlight of this meal.
El Azteca is known for its male wait staff who bring out the entrees precariously stacked on their arms. They promote having a family atmosphere and can host reservations for parties with up to 40 people. It’s also a great place to celebrate birthdays (if you’re not easily embarrassed, that is.)
Be sure to stop in at El Azteca if you want to eat fresh, fast, authentic Mexican food.
Open since 1998, Galvan’s Restaurant and Pancake House is known for its breakfast, but also has a full menu that includes lunch and dinner entrees. There’s something here to please everyone.
Galvan’s menu offers everything from light breakfasts to the hearty, filling, multi-course breakfast to get your morning started. It’s known for offering large portions of food for an affordable price. Many people end up bringing home leftovers.
My family went to Galvan’s for breakfast on a Saturday morning. Despite the restaurant being packed, we got speedy (and friendly) customer service.
Torn between getting an omelet or a skillet? Why not get the best of both menu choices by ordering a frittata! The Farmhouse Frittata includes layers of potatoes, sausage, onions, and green peppers mixed in with fresh eggs. This delectable combination is then topped with melted cheese, sausage gravy, and two strips of crisp bacon. In addition to the ingredient combination, the sausage gravy is the showcase in this breakfast meal.
Galvan’s Pecan Crepes were next on the list. Delicate crepes were filled with cream cheese and topped with cinnamon, pecans, and whipped cream. Pour some maple syrup on top and voilà – you have a full-flavored breakfast meal.
Maybe you’re more in the mood for a breakfast sandwich. Be sure to try Galvan’s Torta Melt. Scrambled eggs, chorizo, and jack cheese are served between two pieces of buttery, grilled French bread. Perfectly crispy hashbrowns are served on the side of this tasty dish.
I’ve always loved Galvan’s Cranberry Baked Oatmeal, one of their distinctive house offerings. This is not your mother’s oatmeal. The healthy ingredients are baked in an oven to form a slightly dense, cake-like texture that is cut into a pie wedge. Dried cranberries are added to the cinnamon-flavored oatmeal for a burst of tartness. The best part of this breakfast dish is pouring the included glass of milk on top of it which creates the ultimate taste and texture.
George’s Steak House
George’s Steakhouse is an award-winning place to dine. It has been a fixture among Fox Valley restaurants since the late 1930s. In terms of cut and quality, their steaks and prime rib are known as the best in Appleton. It’s no wonder they’ve been named the best steakhouse in the valley 10 times!
Not a steak-lover? No worries.George’s offers a tempting array of seafood, chicken, veal, lamb, and pork. Their complete dining experience includes traditional cocktails and drinks, an impressive wine list, and delicious desserts. Be sure to stop in for their popular Friday Fish Fry. They also have 10 different Friday specials, including their homemade Boston clam chowder.
The petite tenderloin is the favorite of the owner’s wife and daughter, which put it on the top of my list. My meal started with a cup of beefy vegetable soup. Next, I got a salad topped with their delectable warm bacon dressing. My plate arrived with the steak hidden under a heaping pile of fried onions. When I cut into the thick steak, juices burst out and covered my plate. I ordered my steak medium, and it was perfect. I included a few of the fried onions with each bite of the steak, as the onion’s flavor enhanced the taste of the devastatingly delicious meat.
I also tried the honey apricot chicken breast glazed with honey apricot sauce. If that wasn’t enough, there was extra sauce included on the side to douse or dip the chicken meat into. Both the sauce and the chicken were delicious.
And finally I tried the chicken alfredo pasta. Large chunks of tender chicken were mixed into a rich and creamy alfredo sauce poured over tender cavatappi-style pasta, which perfectly held the sauce in each noodle. The pasta dish was topped with tomatoes and green onions to add a bit of color. Freshly grated parmesan crowned the top of this masterpiece.
Somehow, I was able to save a smidge of room for dessert. I tried a Captain Morgan’s caramel rum sundae, just because it sounded interesting. The tasty, zingy rum sauce was doused over a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. In addition, swirls of chocolate sauce and whipped cream topped this yummy dessert.
George’s is also known for having the area’s only piano bar. Begin your weekend evening with a relaxing cocktail and quiet jazz standards, then after a fantastic dinner enjoy the highly energetic and friendly atmosphere at the piano bar. The range of music is vast, covering everything from Sinatra to classical, to country and recent hits. The 125-year-old nine-foot Steinway Grand piano is played by two long-time professional pianists (Bill and Bruce), who include their sarcastic humor every Friday and Saturday night in the George’s Steak House Lounge.
Come for the steaks and stay for the entertainment at a true Fox Cities gem, George’s Steak House.
The Quimby family’s connection to George’s Steakhouse goes back to 1967 when Edie Quimby started working as a waitress at the establishment. Edie’s husband, Chuck, was also involved with the restaurant as he helped with various handyman jobs and even learned meat cutting and bartending. When the business came up for sale in 1976, Chuck and Edie Quimby were the most logical successors. After purchasing the restaurant, the Quimby family sold their house and moved into the second level of the building.
Brad Quimby was five years old when Edie started waitressing at George’s. He spent his high school years and college summers washing dishes, bookkeeping, and learning the ropes in the kitchen. Although his mother didn’t want the restaurant life for him, Brad joined his parents after finishing college at St. Norbert.
Owning and running a restaurant isn’t easy, especially if someone has a family. Brad makes the best of it and tries to have a work-life balance as much as he possibly can. He’s at the restaurant most nights and juggles his schedule to see his kids play sports.
During the peak of the pandemic, Brad took advantage of the downtime and had all his staff retrained. He kept George’s classic menu and offered a carry-out option. He also decided to stick to just serving dinners. In addition, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and holidays, which makes a job at the restaurant appealing to its staff.
Brad’s father still helps in the restaurant. Chuck hand cuts the steaks and even washes dishes from time to time. Brad has also been blessed with a few staff members that have been with George’s for more than 40 years.
Mark’s East Side
Mark’s East Side has been family owned and operated since 1967. It is our go-to restaurant every year for our anniversary, so it holds a special spot in my heart (and my stomach). I was excited to visit Mark’s for the first time with my entire family.
We started our meal with a Bavarian Scotch Egg. This interesting concoction consists of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in German pork sausage, dipped in a German beer batter, and then deep-fried to a golden brown. I was wrong in thinking that a fried hard-boiled egg wouldn’t taste good … it tasted amazing! It was presented beautifully with the egg served on top of a bed of sauerkraut and German mustard swirled into a fancy “M” on my plate.
My absolute favorite scallops in the Fox Valley are served at Mark’s East Side. While other supper clubs tend to have small scallops, Mark’s scallops are large enough to be cut into pieces so that I can savor every bite. The giant scallops are served with a side of clarified butter. I could eat these every day for the rest of my life.
I was able to choose a soup with my scallop meal. Mark’s is known for its famous crock of French Onion Soup. Sweet onions are sauteed with butter and simmered with red and white wine with select seasonings. The flavorful soup is then topped with crostini and sealed in a crock with melted Provenella cheese.
The Jack Daniel’s Butcher’s Chop Steak melted in my mouth. I love a good chopped steak and try to order it whenever I see it on a menu. Using the restaurant’s finest choice cuts of beef (and house-ground at that), the juicy chop steak was lightly glazed with Mark’s own Jack Daniel’s sauce and topped with onion rings.
Mark’s East Side always has the best desserts. I was tempted by the chocolate lava cake, but instead chose their Jameson Bread Pudding. A moist, dense bread pudding was topped with a rich, buttery caramel sauce. A touch of Jameson Irish Whiskey added to the caramel sauce gave it a perfect “zing”.
Whether you’re celebrating or just want to eat at a great restaurant, Mark’s East Side won’t let you down.
Parker John’s – Menasha
In 2008, a married couple living outside of Kiel, WI wanted to have a pizza delivered to their home, but there weren’t any options. They set out to fix it and opened a small pizza place. They named the pizza restaurant “Parker John’s” after their son. In 2011, they added smoked meats to their menu. Their one restaurant in Kiel has now grown to five successful restaurants across Northeast Wisconsin.
From their BBQ sauces to their beans, potato salad, and rib rub, everything is done in-house to assure that their guests are getting a product that is worthy of their son’s name. They smoke ribs, turkey, pork, brisket, and jumbo wings daily. Their goal is to continue the tradition of great slow-smoked meats served up in a laid-back atmosphere for years to come.
I started my meal with an order of ‘Sconnie Fries. Naked cheese curds, bacon, green onions, tomatoes, fresh jalapeño, and a scoop of Parker John’s house mac ‘n cheese cover a pile of their hand-cut fries. This amazing creation is then decorated with a thin stream of sour cream. You can’t beat the flavor of this.
All of Parker John’s meats are dry-rubbed with their special house blend, then hickory smoked slow and low in their Southern Pride rotisserie smoker. I was thrilled with their Kansas City Burnt Ends meal which featured double-smoked brisket and pork that was simmered in their Kansas City sauce. Paired with a slice of their sweet cornbread and served with a side of banana pudding, I felt like I was at a Southern family barbecue party.
The Pig Mac sandwich is a favorite of Parker John’s pitmaster. A generous portion of pulled pork is topped with their homemade macaroni and cheese. This tasty combination is then served on a ciabatta bun from Manderfields.
I also tried their Smokehouse Sliders. Three sliders are filled with smoked turkey, beef brisket, and pulled pork. These sliders can be topped with any of the homemade sauces. The sauces are all displayed tableside in squeeze bottles and include PJ’s Signature, Pineapple Habanero, Carolina Mustard, Memphis, and Kansas City.
I saved a bit of room to try two of their desserts. The Iron Skillet Brownie Sundae is a must. A homemade brownie is cooked in an iron skillet and served hot and gooey at your table, with a scoop of ice cream on top. The Drunken Bread Pudding is also served warm, with pecans, vanilla, and raisins baked into the luscious dessert. It is finished with a tasty bourbon sauce that marries all the flavors together for a big finale.
One of the Fox Valley’s best-kept secrets is located on a bend in the Fox River. Pullman’s opened in late 2006 and offers a majestic view of the river AND great food and service. What a great combination!
In warmer months, Pullman’s outdoor patio area offers a relaxing spot to gather with friends and family. The patio has a waterfall, fire pits, and comfy wicker furniture, which makes for a great atmosphere. Enjoying one of their crafty cocktails and delicious appetizers on the patio feels like a vacation. Be sure to keep your eye on the river to see if you can spot one of the many types of wildlife that pop up from time to time. This is one of my favorite spots to enjoy happy hour with my friends.
There is something for everyone at Pullman’s. Although they’ve shrunk their menu a bit, there is still a wide variety to choose from. They use only the freshest ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes that range from steaks to fresh salads to pasta and more.
For many years I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect burger. Pullman’s Maple Bourbon BBQ Burger is in my top three burgers here in the Fox Valley. Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, a rich maple bourbon BBQ sauce, and a fried onion ring top a half-pound of juicy certified Angus beef. This masterpiece is served on a toasted premium roll.
I always love a good salad, and Pullman’s has one of my favorites: the Berry Walnut Salad. A juicy chicken breast is cut into strips and married with candied walnuts, bleu cheese crumbles, and strawberries, all placed on top of a bed of mixed greens. The strawberry poppyseed dressing ties the salad toppings together, creating a harmonious flavor.
The Chicken and Shrimp Alfredo dish is perfect for seafood lovers. Al dente linguine is topped with a rich alfredo sauce that has ample chunks of chicken and shrimp mixed in. There is plenty of parmesan cheese in the sauce to give it a true alfredo flavor.
Go to Pullman’s for the view and stay for the great food.