Last time we talked food, I talked about my favorite place to eat in my childhood home of South Carolina. This week, I thought it would be fitting to talk about my favorite place to eat in my adult home of Eau Claire, WI. And quite simply put, that place is Houligans Steak and Seafood Pub. Like with Shealy’s BBQ, there are some non-food related reasons for my attachment to the place. My wife used to work here, back before she was my wife, and I would spend many a long night attached to a bar stool awaiting her to complete her shift whilst I tasted the variety of beers they might have on tap that given evening. However, to be entirely honest, I fell in love with this place the first time I stepped in the door.
Now…that could be because the first time I stepped into the door, I was greeted to a new world of beer. Being a rather newly minted 21-year old, my beer drinking at the time was mostly relegated to the Miller products of the world (staying as far away from light beer as possible). So, when I entered this locale and was told of their (now-defunct) drink-around-the-world special (I honestly don’t remember if this was even an official thing, or if the person telling me about it was just noting that they had beers from all around the world), well, I got rather excited, to say the least.
That night I didn’t try too much. I believe I had a porter that was recommended to me and I remember thinking that I would need to come back and try this beers of the world idea that had been presented to me.
And then I didn’t….
In fact, I didn’t actually return to this restaurant until over a year later, when I was first dating the woman who would become my wife, on a fine Valentine’s Day. We both had steak. We both decided to have our steak much more red than we had ever had it before. We both fell in love…with food.
Okay, I can’t really speak for my wife, but I can speak for myself. I had always enjoyed food, but, well, I’d probably be better described as a consumer of food than a connoisseur. I had even previously eaten at the much more expensive Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and did not have nearly the magical experience I had with food on this night out in Eau Claire (quite probably due to the difference in eating a red steak from a gray steak). What followed from that night was years of learning what wonders could be found with food, as well as with beer, as my brew knowledge grew exponentially with each visit.
In other words…Houligans taught me what food should be (no offense, Mom).
Stepping into this Eau Claire institution, one of the few fine dining establishments still left in our idyllic berg, you’re instantly greeted with a smile, whether you enter through the front or back door. Even new guests are treated as though they are old friends by the host staff, wait staff, and even the kitchen staff, as you make your way to your chosen location at either the bar or the dining room. The sound in the air in unmistakable. It sounds like family… like that perfect happy noise that fills the room at a Thanksgiving dinner… like home.
But, of course, none of that really compares to the feasts that are to come. When handed the menus, you are brought to your first difficult decision…to look at the drink menu or the food menu first. I’m personally one to want to figure out the beverage first.
The drink menu is, quite simply, a credit to the state of Wisconsin. From the great variety of beers running the gamut of expensive imports to locally loved standards, you can see why the bar stools at this establishment are rarely empty. The wine menu, as well, boasts a great offering of tastes for every palate. Of course, where the bar staff here really shines is when it comes to the cocktails. Not sure what you want to drink? Just ask the bartender. I’ve yet to find them incapable of giving me just the perfect concoction to complete an evening.
Once you have your drink order in and have heard the specials, flip open that menu and prepare to really struggle with what you want to have fill your hunger. It helps to have a basic concept of what you want for the night, as I know I personally find myself struggling once I start salivating over the different cuts of meat available for my dinner. Of course, there was also that special that sounded amazing…then again, I’ve been really craving seafood and that fish fry could be just what I need. Of course, if you go on Saturday, the answer is simple…Prime Rib, without a doubt.
In the end, what you choose isn’t entirely important, as I’ve tried almost every item on their menu and have yet to leave dissatisfied. Of course, that after-dinner drink (grasshoppers anyone?) may have helped put that extra curve to the smile on my face.
Quite simply put, Houligans is the type of place where you will find yourself wanting to return to again and again…and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they remember a face…and a drink order.
Oh…and I didn’t even mention the special meal events!
But seriously folks, if you’re in the Eau Claire area and like yourself a mean cut of red meat, this is simply the place to go. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Have fun out there!