As you remember, I visited Wisconsin in November via the Twin Cities, which keep in mind, wasn’t even the coldest month! However, we definitely experienced some bone-chilling temperatures foreshadowing “Winter is coming (or rather here)”. It even snowed overnight on a separate day. One of the activities I saw on Pinterest was the scattered sculpture parks around Wisconsin and Minnesota. Leona informed me that there were several right in Downtown. On one of the coldest days during the week! As Eau Claire was our home base we also tried several of the local restaurants and even partook in a generous Winery & Distillery tour courtesy of Groupon.
Free Self-Guided Sculpture Tour
Conveniently located right in downtown Eau Claire, you can walk around both sides of the main street to view some of the beautiful art works. According to the Sculpture Tour website the various North American artists loan the sculptures to the city. During each April the city removes the current set of sculptures and installs a new group for display in May! So if you’re reading this, you may very well see very different sculptures from what I’m writing about. You can see photos of the current year’s displays along with past years’ sculptures dating back to 2011. They also have a brochure where you can download a Map to all of the exhibits. We did not see all of them as we were also freezing.
There was a large toy Tank called “Think Tank” right outside of a children’s interactive music and puzzle exhibit. You can play some music and play some games on the side of the building! In between crossing the street we ducked in a Record store, which also housed a section for cassette tapes!
One of my favorite sculptures was the statue of a little girl assessing her subject ready to paint it onto a canvas called “World’s Her Canvas”. I loved how it represented Eau Claire supporting the arts. I probably look slightly silly posing next to some of these sculptures. Which ones do you like?
Food Options: Casual, Fancy and Brunch!
When visiting any new place I’m always excited to explore the food scene. Eau Claire, Wisconsin was no different and Leona introduced to me to several restaurants she had tried already earning a seal of approval. Below are mini reviews of the restaurants we tried! The ones listed in this section are exclusively in Eau Claire and the Western Wisconsin and Madison posts will include other options and opinions.
Mike’s Cheese Shack – This was our first option on the night I arrived at around 8 PM. The place was empty, not much happening on a Tuesday night. The staff member (presumably not Mike) was rather chatty even after we placed our order. The hand battered and cheese curds were a greasy treat. We got half spicy and half not spicy to dip in the marinara sauce. Overall it was good, but apparently the Minnesota State Fair features the best ones!
The Lakely – For the “fancy dinner” after our Sculpture Tour, we retreated to the restaurant within the Oxbow Hotel. On Thursday – Saturday nights they have live Jazz music on the stage, which was my favorite part of my experience. I advise against ordering “The Koldtbord” as recommended by our waitress. The size is customization for the number of people in your group but it’s quite a steep price for the base along with the additional items on the checklist, featuring various meats, cheese, carbs and spreads. This experience was pricier than our individual entrees! I remember feeling disappointed as well with the main course and dessert. The sorbet was a bit too tart for my liking. Overall the place was not a great value in my opinion, unless you factor in the complimentary live music.
Mona Lisa Restaurant – One of the local favorites and mine too. This quirky restaurant has artwork of Mona Lisa everywhere! Aside from that they have delicious food. I’m glad we had a reservation, otherwise we probably would have waited for hours as the place was wall to wall packed with couples and families so maybe not in the “upscale” category. It’s strange that the website does not have a menu available, right? I thoroughly enjoyed my dish.
The French Press – Onto brunch! The name might suggest coffee house and front counter ordering and tip system suggests this notion, however they have many scrumptious breakfast and lunch options! I ordered the Bacon Oatmeal Pancakes while we shared some of the signature French Press coffee. They definitely hit the spot. I love the naturally lit bright ambiance of the place.
The Nucleus – The famous brunch spot is also connected oddly to a coffee shop called Racy D’lenes. I suppose the extra space proves useful when the hungry brunchers line up. In the past Leona informed me that there was an obscene wait if you arrived at 10 AM or later and they run out of ingredients. As the Sunday was my day of departure we arrived a bit early around 9 AM and were seated immediately on Racy’s side. I ordered the Chicken and Waffles. I haven’t ventured down south for a more authentic version to me tasted good! It was quite a huge portion so in the end I struggled to finish the remainder.
Infinity Beverages Winery & Distillery Tour
Another one of Wisconsin’s claim to fame are the breweries, wineries, and distilleries to partake in adult beverages. We found this place actually while browsing Groupon so we got a 57% discount on 2 Tour and Tasting Packages with $5 per person credit towards purchasing bottles of wine! What a great bargain and it’s still available! We had a conundrum initially since we had 3 people and the vouchers were sold in only multiples of 2. Thankfully after browsing the website we noticed that they allowed designated drivers to accompany us for free during the tour. After receiving the voucher we easily booked a tour time for Saturday.
As we entered Infinity, the whole Tasting Lounge area looked very modern and welcoming even with a fire place. We checked in with one of the staff members and waited for the tour to start. As the place does not have a vineyard they create their wines by sourcing materials from other American suppliers. On the tour we saw the behind the scenes operations along with their origin story. We even helped them finish by dipping a few bottles their signature wax seal!
After the tour concluded one of the staff members gave us a small double sided sheet to help us keep track and rate the samples of wines and spirits. Surprisingly we tried each one of their drinks including 2 of the experimental ones, which they left blank lines to fill in. All of the regular wines are named after emotions or attributes such as Joy, Pride, Desire, Solace, Panache etc… They range from 10% to 21% (blended with Brandy) Alcohol by Volume. Leona and I felt a bit warm and dizzy after we tried all of the wines, not knowing that we also had spirits to follow! They let us try a few Vodkas. The first was called Audacity, second featured spicier version and last was the favorite Vanilla Espresso. Then onto the Whiskeys. I found the wine much more palatable than the spirits. In the end Leona and John ended up purchasing Panache and Mystique. I even saved the rating sheet!
We hung around the tasting lounge well after the actual tasting finished since they also had several board games we could play to pass the time. Plus sitting by the fire place was so cozy! We had such a fun and memorable time at Infinity and enjoyed the wine afterwards.
Believe it or not, I actually had quite an amazing time in Eau Claire! Perhaps much of it was due to the company, but from the art scene to the food and drink. I will remember this location fondly. I especially loved the affordability of most of the activities!
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★