Steak, cocktails, wine, coffee and ice cream along with a little history and a stroll through downtown–can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday? Yeah, me neither. This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Eau Claire’s premiere food and history tour presented by Chippewa Valley Tours. And let me tell you, this weekly escapade is not something you want to miss. With tours scheduled every Saturday from 1:30-4:30pm throughout the summer, there’s sure to be one that will jive with your schedule. And if you’re hosting any out of town guests this is definitely the number one way to show them what this great city has to offer. $65 gets you a three hour guided historical walking tour through downtown Eau Claire with leisurely stops at 6 local businesses where you’ll sample their signature dishes and drinks and talk with the head chefs and owners. This tour really showcases all of the amazing cuisine that Eau Claire has to offer and is a great preview of the city for out of town guests but equally as exciting for locals as well.
I should begin by giving a huge thanks to Chippewa Valley Tours for hosting Midwest Foodie on their tour. Obviously as a born and raised Eau Clairian and self-proclaimed foodie, I have been dying to go on this tour since I first heard about it. I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of work and coordination they have put into this comprehensive tour. Even after living here all my life I learned things about the city I had never known. I also enjoyed meeting the chefs and owners of these businesses; getting to see the passion they have for their craft and for this city was very inspiring.
Tour Kick Off – The Local Store
We kicked off the tour by meeting at The Local Store (and Volume One Headquarters). I’d recommend arriving at least a half hour before your departure time so you can peruse the store and take in all of the local art they’ve got hanging in the gallery.
First Stop – The Lakely
After a quick history of the Volume One building and surrounding areas, we were off! The first stop on our tour was The Lakely which is housed inside the iconic Oxbow Hotel. We stopped in for a cold cocktail and a koldtboard presented by Chef Nathan Berg. To say that he is a favorite chef among locals would be understatement. To say that he is an amazingly humble culinary legend in this region would be more accurate. If it weren’t for the recording setting heat, I can only imagine we would have shared the bountiful koltboards on the cedar patio and pergola located just outside the main dining area. For locals and out-of-towners alike, The Lakely is a must see location in Eau Claire.
Second Stop – Northbound Supply Company
The second stop on our tour was Northbound Supply Company. With everything from specialty coffee drinks to hiking gear this spot has become a fast favorite among locals. I could not have been more delighted to see a big lineup of iced beverages waiting for us on the counter as we walked in to seek refuge from the 93 degree heat. We chose the Double Bogey (cold brew, tonic water, mint simple syrup–very inventive and delicious) and the Kombucha. We had enough time to look around, chat with one of the owners, Matt, who is also the mastermind behind all of their extremely unique caffeinated beverages, and then it was off to Phoenix Park with a bit of historical background sprinkled along the way.
A few more tidbits of history as we relaxed in Phoenix Park and lots of interesting info about the current remodel of the riverfront area.
Third Stop – The Informalist
Then we ventured into the heart of downtown, walking on the shady side of the street to avoid overheating to our third stop of the day, The Informalist. Head Chef Joey Sieg gave us the run down of what we’d be sampling–spicy beef with bok choy and a carrot and red pepper salad with citrus dressing–while Alex, the Food and Beverage Manager answered questions and chatted with us as well. As with all the stops on our tour, the cocktails were on point and the food was outrageously delicious.
Fourth Stop – The Rev
The fourth, and easily my favorite stop on the tour, was the wine tasting at The Rev. With much anticipation from local wine drinkers, The Rev (short for The Revolutionary) is set to open this summer and is a relaxed wine bar serving beer and liquor as well. They will also have house-made charcuterie boards and alcohol available off sale until midnight. Owned by Ben and Kate Haas, The Rev is aiming to take the snootiness out of wine drinking and allow it’s guests to sample wines in a comfortable, non-judgemental environment. I am already planning to stop by every Thursday night for a bottle of wine and a cheeseboard before Music in the Park!
Fifth Stop – Houligan’s
Another hometown favorite, the fifth stop on our tour was Houligan’s. Their classic steak and seafood menu has gained quite a following over the years which has made them a popular place among locals. Owner, John presented us with one of their signature dishes–steak bites with Gorgonzola and balsamic drizzle. Just the right amount of food before we were back hitting the pavement on the way to our last destination.
Sixth Stop – Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor
The sixth and final stop on our tour was a local favorite, Ramone’s. If you’ve driven downtown on a warm summer day, you’ve no doubt seen the line of people out the door and around the corner waiting to get a homemade waffle cone, with a malted milk ball in the bottom, piled high with The Chocolate Shoppe ice cream from Madison, Wisconsin. As soon as we arrived we were each greeted by not one, not two, but three dishes of ice cream. Exhausted Parent (chocolate chunks in coffee ice cream) was easily my favorite, and not just because I am one. As we finished our ice cream each guest received an envelope filled with coupons to tons of local downtown businesses as well.
Be sure to check out Chippewa Valley Tours Facebook and Instagram pages for more tours being added. Future tours include a Chippewa Falls food tour (coming in August), as well as a tour of local farms in the area, ending at Autumn Harvest Winery with food provided by Amy of Locavore Mobile Kitchen, made with ingredients from all the local farms. They’ve also got an overnight family tour in the works that includes 3 different children’s museums and water parks in the area. Chippewa Valley Tours is going to do great things for the Eau Claire area and local businesses; this is definitely one business you want to keep an eye on.