Shoe Column: Dining with the Shoe
By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
The five words I like to hear the most are, “For here or to go?”
That means I just ordered food from somewhere in Stevens Point or the neighboring towns. We are so spoiled. Stevens Point is loaded with great places to eat.
However, I think eating choices were even better “back in the day”. It’s just my opinion, mind you.
There were many outstanding restaurants in our fine city which just aren’t there anymore. I’d like to mention a few. There’s no question you also have a memory of several eating establishments that are gone with the wind, and more power to you. By all means, feel free to comment. I would love hearing from you.
Again, it’s only my opinion, but the best fish filet sandwiches were from Richard’s Drive-In when my buddy Randy Wievel worked there. They were awesome and inexpensive. For a great-tasting burger, the Mint Bar on the Square was king. Wally and Toni always made you a wonderful hamburger. As far as char-burgers go, the number one place was the Office. Sadly, it burned down. Lots of people raved about the Office char-burgers. The first burger I ever ordered from a restaurant was from Robby’s and it cost about 15 cents. That was back in the ’60s.
If you wanted a fantastic barbecue, the Unique Bar across from the Stevens Point Journal building was definitely the place to go. To this day, people still talk about the Unique barbecues and would love to eat another one right now.
For chicken dumpling soup, I’d have to go with Southpoint Restaurant — which is still serving.
I don’t think many people remember that the Congress Club on the Southside also served great chicken dumpling soup. The “Congo” also had terrific chili, and so did Woolworth’s downtown. The chili at Woolworth’s was usually served by Eleanor, the best waitress ever and a lot of fun down at the Unique after her shift.
Wanta’s Bowling Lanes where the library parking lot is now dominated the hot beef sandwiches. The first thing you would smell upon walking into the bowling alley’s bar was Big Ern’s (and Betty’s) famous hot beefs. Mouthwatering.
If hash browns were your thing, you couldn’t go wrong at the Main Street Café (“Eat with the Elite”). Golden brown, just right.
My two top choices for bacon sandwiches would be the Pal Restaurant and the River City Diner downtown which used to be Osco Drugs. That River City Diner was really a nifty place.
The Hot Fish Shop was famous for its seafood, but if my buddies and I wanted shrimp, we’d head over to Jerry O’Day’s on the way to Rapids. You sat at a table and they kept bringing you shrimp. It was all you could eat for about eight bucks. We easily ate at least 50 shrimps each outing. In fact, one of my pals even brought along a doggie bag and filled it up. I thought that was kinda tacky, but he was eating shrimp for three days.
When it came to french fries, I personally always liked McDonald’s. But if you took a poll, many votes would’ve gone to Judd’s Drive-In in Park Ridge. Judd’s fries always got great reviews. Quick story about Judds: Judd Prince owned it, and his son Scottie, our buddy, worked there. One afternoon we were all in the scorebooth at Iverson Park announcing a softball tournament. We sent Randy Wievel to Judd’s for some burgers. He came back 15 minutes later with the food bag. I was starved. I grabbed a burger and took a big bite. Then I took another big bite. Something didn’t seem right, and Randy was laughing like hell. Turned out Scottie only put a tomato in the bun. No burger! They still laugh about that.
The garlic burgers at Marvin’s were excellent. If you enjoyed steak, you could go to Anthony’s Supper Club and order a 50-ounce one. Mickey’s also put out a great steak. So did the Antlers Supper Club.
Southpoint has a lot of good things to eat. Northpoint had real tasty bacon and eggs. West Point has the army.
If your taste buds yearned for a gyro, S&J’s Palace downtown was a fine choice. Stevie and Johnnie Dimakis had that Greek cooking down pat. S&J’s made terrific spaghetti too, and so did Aldo’s Restaurant by Skipp’s. Speaking of Aldo’s, their cheese curds were a must.
When it comes to buttered popcorn, Jim the Blind Man’s Stand was way up there. Clarence made terrific popcorn. Buttered popcorn also was a big hit at the 10-51 outdoor. For mashed potatoes and dressing, I’d put the Sky Club up against anybody. Their dressing is so good! If you’re talking about chicken, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, Polish weddings at the American Legion or Wildwood Gardens would always fill you up. Karl and Kelly’s had great steaks, and you could say the same for Sadie & Jerry’s.
Springville Wharf’s Italian fries were so tasty and so filling, just like Arbuckles. If you couldn’t find mouth-watering chicken around here, then you weren’t trying. The Blue Top sold broasted chicken by the bucket. You could get a bucket of fish too, and the buckets always came with a ton of french fries. RD’s Diner has amazing broasted chicken.
The A&W Root Beer Stand downtown had a great half-chicken dinner. A nice girl carhop would even bring it to your vehicle. Those chicken dinners were delicious. For beer-battered chicken wings, Archie’s Cocktail Lounge was way up on the list. So was Hilltop. Back in the day, my buddies and I loved to close a bar on Saturday nights and go to the Country Kitchen in Park Ridge. All the fried chicken you could eat, and we went through a whole hen house. Some of the guys almost clucked on the way out. And one night, the sign outside read “Baked ham dinners”. We climbed up on someone’s car and moved the letters around so it read “Naked Ma’s Diner”. It stayed that way for two days. The Red Mill’s fried chicken was also quite good.
I don’t know where to start when it comes to pizza. Bill’s is top shelf. Pizza Hut. Dick Worzalla’s Shamrock Pizza hit the spot. Aldo’s was way up there. My neighbor Minnow ordered a pizza from Aldo’s once. They asked him, “Do you want that in six slices or 12?’” He shrugged and said: “Better make it six. Don’t think I can eat 12”.
When I was a kid, my parents went out to eat a lot. Sometimes they came back from the Country Spa with a great big cheese and sausage pizza which was half-baked. You finished baking it and it was awesome. But again, when it comes to pizza, my first choice was always Mickey’s. Drunken chicken pizza from Mickey’s! A slice of heaven. Polito’s also puts out a great slice.
It’s like I said; when it came to eating around here, Stevens Point had it good. Real good. Pretzels from Frank & Ernie’s. Royal Wood had the “Slab Burger”, named after Scottie Kovatch. (Very tasty, too). Point Bakery had whatever you wanted. Red Lantern rocked. The barbecues at Doug’s Sports Pub are beyond great. Terry Kluck makes them. Cozy Kitchen is highly regarded.
We saved fish fries for the end. Several establishments put out terrific fish fries. Rusty’s. Southpoint. Hilltop. Graffiti’s Sports Pub. The Final Score. Point After. Back in the day, the Northside Bar and the American Legion were famous for their fish fries. Personally, I would say the best fish fry I ever had was from Frank & Ernie’s. Frank Jurgella and Chris Groholski were fantastic chefs.
Just for the heck of it, I asked two guys who certainly are no strangers to forks if they recalled some places they enjoyed eating at but no longer exist.
According to Tom “Boda” Laboda, a bartender at Top Hat: “The first place that comes to mind was Togo’s Subs. Then there was DJ’s Pizza. They were over by the UWSP dorms. When I was on the Pointer football team, DJ’s had a deep dish pizza that you could eat for two or three days. It was huge! However, my favorite had to be Joe Mama’s on the Square. They named a burger after me. The Boda Burger. Double cheeseburger and fries.”
The same question was given to “Ma” Pesch, a local legend. Ma said: “Well, my first choice would be Mickey’s. Great pizza! And I don’t know why, but Burger King is a place I miss. I guess it was their salad buffet with the pickles and tomatoes and things like that. Also, Burger King was the first place I ever saw grated ice. Like crushed ice. That ice made your drinks so cold!”
There were just so many great places to eat in our fair town. There still are plenty now, but wouldn’t it be great to go back in time for one more char-burger, one more Unique barbecue, or one more fish fry at the Legion? Or how about Pete Redfield’s egg rolls?
Don’t know about you, but I’m getting damn hungry. Might have to stop in at Water Street Grille for some ribs. Later.
Columnist Tim “Shoe” Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]