THE WHERE (we went)
So on his last pick Jason realized the importance of checking addresses on maps to verify exact locations, lest he try to take us damn near to the furthest state line to enjoy a weeknight meal.
Fast forward to this week, and a lesson in calling ahead to make sure a place in the area that seems too good to be true is actually, well, open.
It’s like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears of WTGW picks. So next time will surely be just right.
Let’s talk first about where we didn’t go … The Harbor Inn, in Portage Lakes, which was Jason’s first pick that he was all super proud of until we pulled up in front to find the parking area overtaken by a giant dumpster, and no sign of life anywhere near the place. Hmmm.
Shane: Maybe they’re all parked in the lake?
Considering it’s March, I’m going to assume that’s a no.
But wait, Jason has a backup plan! The Smokin’ Claw! Located just around the lake near our old friend The Upper Deck that we visited back when sitting outside wouldn’t give you frostbite. And the website said it was open. Let’s go!
Just kidding. That’s closed, too. Or at least that’s all we could assume when we pulled up to where we thought the place was supposed to be and found zero cars and again no signs of human involvement anywhere.
To say we were confused was an understatement.
Short lived attempt #3 was Howie’s, which we’ve always loved but fully admit that we never visited enough. I think our grand total was three visits before we heard it was sold last fall. Gleaming a small bit of knowledge from the past 20 minutes of our evening, we took a few moments in the maybe-Smokin-Claw-parking-lot to try to find the place online before we drove in that direction … at which time we learned that apparently either it hasn’t yet or will never reopen, as a google search brought up the dreaded “permanently closed” banner where the hours should be, and a quick phone call served us an unwelcome “this number does not exist” message.
So that’s the story of how we ended up at Wil’s. Our last visit wasn’t too long ago – last summer, July 2018 – which we fully admit is a little early for a revisit, but I think at this point we were about ready to knock on a door of any house that looked inhabited by somewhat normal people and ask to join them at their dinner table, so going instead to a place that might not call the cops on us for entering was indeed a much better plan.
And hey, look, Jason dressed appropriately!
THE WHAT (we ordered)
Another blast from the not-so-distant past – potato skins. A quick check back on our post from the last visit affirmed that they were what made mouths water when Cassi and Jason ordered them the first time around. OK, well, I guess mine and Shane’s anyway, since I have to believe that in Ted’s mind this is pretty much the picture of what hell would be filled with.
The sheer amount of cheese involved here almost made Ted move to another table once two full orders arrived on the table in front of him during this visit.
Meanwhile the rest of us found them to be little cups of heaven. Enough said.
For drinks, it was tequila and soda for the girls, bottled bud light for the guys and dark draft beer for Ted – which, unlike last week, actually wasn’t the color of a bright sunny day.
Beyond those items, we all were on the struggle bus when it came to choosing our meals for the evening. I think part of it was that no one had a real taste for anything in particular, and the other part was that we remembered all of the food here as being decent, so other than the potato skins there wasn’t a clear standout on something we absolutely had to order.
Two separate times we asked the server about what she recommended, or the whole “if you had to choose between this or this” scenerio. And two separate times we weren’t really given clear answers, so I feel like we just kind of closed our eyes and pointed at something on the menu that seemed like it would be a decent choice.
Russian roulette of dining experiences. We live on the edge.
I think Ted was the first of us to set his menu aside and finally make an unwavering decision on a meal. He chose the crab cake dinner, with sides of jojos and cole slaw.
The jojos were the star of Ted’s meal here. He said the crab cakes were just OK, claiming that they tasted more like a pre-packaged item from the frozen food section of the supermarket than something that should be on a restaurant dinner menu. Not exactly a stellar review … although let’s be clear, he did still finish them, so there’s that.
Jason had inquired about what was better – the steak sandwich special or the fish sandwich. Our friendly but not-too-helpful-in-the-decision-making-department server answered that by way of explaining that the fish sandwich was two large pieces of fish on a giant bun. Which I’m sure she didn’t believe would truly be helpful, but it definitely was. I mean, if you can’t recommend the best tasting item, always go with the option of which delivers the most food for your money.
At least with this group anyway. Maybe she reads this blog.
And he liked it. So bonus, when the item you were just served a giant portion of actually turns out to be something you really want to eat.
Cassi decided on the chicken tender dinner with a baked potato and side salad.
The potato arrived with a giant slab of butter on the top which seemed better suited to creating cake batter than as a condiment for a vegetable. It took a bit of surgery but she was able to extract it without much harm to the taste or the meal.
And she really liked the chicken, claiming it was “just what she was hoping for.” She said it was perfectly breaded and very tasty – even with no sauces or dips of any kind (which she was offered, but refused) to go along with it.
I got the fish and chips with jojos and side salad.
It was very good. The breading on the fish was very light, which made it extra tasty without feeling like you were eating a bag of flour as part of the meal. And the fish itself was light and flaky.
Unlike Ted, I wasn’t as much a fan of the jojos though. I thought they were too dry. Maybe I should’ve taken Cassi’s butter extraction and used it as a dipping sauce? Because that’s good for the arteries.
Shane got the roasted chicken dinner, after seeing delivered to another table and asking the server what it was because it looked delicious.
Our server asked Shane as he was ordering this dish if he was OK with the sides that come with it – which are cole slaw, hot rice and fries. Shane just nodded. Sounds good.
And then when this appeared he just tried to push it over toward Ted like it was supposed to be part of Ted’s meal.
I was like, uh, you know that’s yours right?
Yeah, he didn’t.
But Shane ate it anyway, although he said it tasted like salsa. Kinda looks like it, too, so I guess I can kinda see the point there.
But it was quickly forgotten about when the chicken finally arrived, which he immediately not only recognized but was super happy to devour. He agreed with the table on the already stated verdict on the breading, and really liked the overall flavor. And it was so much food that he even took a piece home. Which happens so rarely that I feel like we need to make a special note of it when it does.
THE WHO (we saw)
Well, it’s not really as much who we saw, but what … and that’s decorations.
Lots and lots of St Patrick’s Day flair going on up in this place. We remembered that last time the ceiling and walls were decked out in July 4th decor, so I guess just arrived prepared with the knowledge that it’s going to look like the party store section of whatever holiday is closest just threw up in there.
It also seems that Wil’s wasn’t nearly as busy this time of year – which seems to be a theme in this area, like I get that most of your business is in the summer when those lakes for which the area is named are more useful than when it’s under 30 degrees out, but still. I know there are still people around, and don’t they need to eat? Or do we all just hibernate for the winter in these parts?
Those that were out dining with us this evening were definitely of the older variety, which meant that by the time we left the place after 9pm there were only a few tables remaining, and one lone guy at the bar who was making an evening of playing obscurely old and melodramatic country songs on the jukebox. Fun.
But we’re happy to report that everyone is still as friendly as they were last summer. Once again we had probably four different servers or staff members stop by our table to say hello and see how our evening was going. To which I’d venture the answer was much better than jukebox guy, so maybe they should go entertain him for a bit. But still, we appreciated the check-ins.
THE HOW (much we paid)
Here’s a fun lesson in bar math: four tequila and soda mixed drinks are only $1 more than the cost of four Bud Lites. Huh. That’s interesting.
Our total was $64 – for an app (that I took home part of), two meals (that Shane also took home part of) and a grand total of 8 drinks.
THE WHY (they may see us again)
Well, if no place else ever opens on Portage Lakes again, then I guess this will always remain in our back pocket as a standby. In all honesty, though, I have to believe Wil’s will always be a crowd favorite. There’s decent food and cold drinks for a reasonable price, as well as friendly people to chat with. Well, other than the jukebox guy, he was kind of questionable – but that’s besides the point. And you always know what holiday is closest on the calendar, just from looking around the place. Bonus.
But I have to believe we can only go back on nights when Jason is wearing this shirt. New rule.
Picked by Jason
Next pick: Ted