The rise in popularity of diners, drive-ins and dives can be attributed at least partially to the Food Network’s popular television show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” But in Wisconsin, these earthy, quirky establishments have always enjoyed broad appeal. The state has dozens of eclectic and fun local eateries, some of which have actually been featured on the TV show.
Ranging from places that have been around for 70 years to newbies that capture the dive vibe, here are a few hot spots (in alphabetical order) that are the perfect place to grab a burger and a chocolate malt. Yes, a malt! They still exist.
Comet Café, Milwaukee
We have to give a nod to this diner, which was featured on the Food Network’s show. Located on Milwaukee’s trendy East Side, Comet impressed Guy Fieri with its made-from-scratch entrées and ability to use bacon (including a vegan version) as an ingredient in just about everything. Comet features fresh ingredients, homemade soups and sandwiches, and some pretty mean cupcakes.
Delta Diner, Iron River
It’s 1940. You’re driving along the forested roads of northern Wisconsin in your classic Chevrolet, longing for a bite to eat. And suddenly there appears a shiny, retro diner car beside the road. A decade ago, Delta Diner in Iron River recreated that experience with a completely rebuilt and restored 1940s-style diner. With a recent expansion and brand new outdoor deck, Delta Diner now allows you to enjoy your meal al fresco. The outdoor patio will host a new dinner series this summer on topics from Midwestern wine to eating “oryoki,” a style of Zen Monastery eating.
Kroll’s, Green Bay
You can’t go to a Green Bay Packer game without stopping at Kroll’s before or after. What started as a local burger joint in 1931, when Kroll’s began serving butter-soaked burgers, continues to serve Green Bay families and visitors, as well as Packer legends. Today there are two Kroll’s locations. Kroll’s East, the older location, is a designated historic site. Kroll’s West is located right across the street from Lambeau Field and has become a Green Bay landmark. The secret to success? Charcoal grilled burgers and a big slab of butter. Yum.
Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, Madison
Monty’s Blue Plate Diner stays busy all day. The real deal here is where the food comes from. Chef Matt strives to purchase all ingredients from local producers in order to support the local economy and offer the freshest ingredients possible – fitting for a Madison restaurant. For vegetarians, this is the place for you. They offer a surprising array of meatless options, including meatless meatloaf.
Frank’s Diner, Kenosha
Frank’s Diner is no stranger to prime-time TV. It was featured on the show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and more recently on “The United States of Bacon.” Frank’s is the oldest operating railcar diner in the United States. Its most famous dish is called a “garbage plate.” Five eggs (three for the half portion) are mixed with hashbrowns, peppers, onions, and your choice of up to five – yes, five – meats and five cheeses. Add a side of toast and a cholesterol-lowering drug.
The following are old-school eateries – the kind where you park your car and a roller-skating car-hop takes your order. Cruise on over in your pink Cadillac and check out these ’50s throwbacks.
Ardy & Ed’s Drive-In, Oshkosh
Ardy and Ed’s is a real blast from the past and a truly authentic 1950s drive-in. It opened as a A&W back in 1948. To celebrate its 65th anniversary, enjoy various specials throughout the year, like 65-cent fries. Roller-skating waitresses still take your order, and we recommend, well, everything on the menu. Don’t miss the monthly classic car cruise nights.
Flat Pennies Ice Cream, Bay City
This unique drive-in on Wisconsin’s Great River Road is located right next to a SooLine railroad car. It’s also considered one of the best pet rest stops in the state with “hitching posts” for your pet to sit right near your table. With hot dogs, brats, and famous soft-serve ice-cream made with real Wisconsin milk, it’s the prefect stop after a summer day exploring the Mississippi River and surrounding towns. In fact, train engineers agree. Due to its close proximity to the railroad, they make frequent stops at Flat Pennies.
Gus’s Drive-In, East Troy
With traditional drive-in fare, Gus’s is a great stop in a prime location, close to Alpine Valley Resort and minutes from Lake Geneva. Getting to this drive-in is an easy and scenic drive through the Kettle Moraine State Forest. On Saturdays, just follow the sound of rumbling and thundering engines to Gus’s on cruise nights. Antique car aficionados love the display of classics, hot-rods and rad-rods every weekend.
LaGrander’s, Chippewa Falls
LaGrander’s is an old-fashioned car-hop located right across from Lake Wissota beach in Chippewa Falls. You could say it’s a family business – Bob LaGrander and his wife opened shop in 1978, and LaGrander’s famous house-battered cheese curds come from LaGrander’s Dairy, owned by Bob’s brother. But the real deal at LaGrander’s is the ice cream. Made on site, the most popular flavor is called “Sinful” – real honey with a wave of chocolate and chocolate-covered peanuts folded in. It’s devilishly good.
This drive-in has been serving custard for more than six decades. Just look for the giant neon sign with an ice-cream cone, and you’ll find the real-deal, iconic drive-in experience. Milty-Wilty is open through September.
It’s always fun to feel “in” on a best-kept secret, and you know it’s a best-kept secret if it’s where all the locals go to hang out. The following Wisconsin dives are unique and downright fun.
Anchor Bar, Superior
This bar is the go-to dive in northern Wisconsin. Featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Anchor Bar serves up the most outrageous burgers ever. It also has a crazy nautical theme and even a life preserver from the famed Edmund Fitzgerald. Family-owned and a favorite local haunt, people from all over come to Superior to check out Anchor Bar.
Bayside Tavern, Fish Creek
Bayside Tavern is generally recognized as the social center of the Egg Harbor/Fish Creek area. It’s a must-see when you’re visiting Door County – a place where locals mix with visitors for an all-around fun atmosphere. The tavern offers a variety of beers and spirits and great home-cooked food, served until 1 a.m.
Koz’s Mini Bowl, Milwaukee
Milwaukee is a city with a large brewing history where “dive bars” are standard, and Koz’s Mini Bowl not only fits the bill but takes it one step further. Koz’s is the last duckpin bowling venue in Wisconsin. Think mini bowling alley, with mini lanes (four total), mini pins (with human pin setters) and mini bowling balls the size of grapefruits. This historic landmark hidden in Milwaukee’s South Side is a guaranteed fun time. Koz’s also has a pool table, darts and an old-school jukebox.
Moccasin Bar, Hayward
Where else can you get a drink and stare down the world-record muskie hanging on the wall? Located less than half a mile from the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Moccasin Bar is a true “dive” in the heart of northern Wisconsin. In addition to the numerous award-winning fish mounted on the walls, there’s a “wildlife museum” of other stuffed animal dioramas. The décor alone makes for a unique Saturday night.
Opened in 1908, Wolski’s has been serving beer for over a century. In the 1970s, faithful Wolski’s customers who remained at the bar until closing hour asked to be rewarded for their patronage. It was then that the famous “I Closed Wolski’s” bumper sticker was created. Thirty-five years later, the bumper sticker can be found all over the world. Wolski’s has a new beer garden that will open this summer, so enjoy a drink or two outside.
– From the Wisconsin Department of Tourism