If Green Bay had beaten Seattle in the NFC championship game a few weeks ago, I’d be writing about beer cheese soup today.
Instead, it’s clam chowder. New England clam chowder. As in, I hope the New England Patriots make chowder out of the Seahawks on Sunday.
Actually, I don’t need an excuse to enjoy clam chowder — when done right, it has the freshness and briny flavor of the sea, and it’s white as snow, which makes it just right for January in Minnesota.
At Bub’s Brewing Co., the 23-year-old restaurant and bar in downtown Winona, the magic words “clam chowder” are inscribed on the chalkboard just about every Friday, and it’s a good, hearty chowder, more brothy than creamy, with plenty of clam meat, diced potatoes and celery.
Bub’s is named for Winona’s landmark Peter Bub Brewery, which closed in 1969 after more than a century of suds. The brewery building, which is just off U.S. Highway 61 at the foot of Sugar Loaf Bluff, changed hands last month and is home to an antiques shop, selling among other things, collectible bottles of Bub’s Pilsen beer.
The restaurant isn’t connected with the brewery, but it celebrates everything Bub, and it occupies a 19th century building just down the street from the magnificent Egyptian-themed Winona National Bank. Though it isn’t a brewpub, Bub’s has three house brews that are made by Schell’s, Summit and Leinenkugel, plus a terrific craft lineup.
They also have a big menu that includes fresh fish, fresh-shucked oysters and a Cajun burger that I’ll stop back to sample for next month’s Four Stars awards. At night, Bub’s is a lively place, with pool tables and plenty of sports TVs.
For the record, Bub’s isn’t pronounced like you’d expect. I’ll let you figure it out from there.
The soup at the Loop Bar & Restaurant on First Avenue Southwest, Rochester’s “Eat Street,” is a true stew of clam and corn, with carrots and some spicy kick to it. It’s an appealing golden color, which makes it more appetizing than some New England chowders. They also add grilled corn to the chowder at Chester’s Kitchen & Bar, along with a dash of butter and thyme. At Chester’s, it’s $5 for a cup, $7 for a bowl, and it’s on the menu as a Friday attraction. Call ahead to check on availability at the Loop, but it’s $3 per cup, $5 per bowl.
At nearby City Cafe, the first aroma isn’t clams, it’s smoked ham, which is a time-honored chowder recipe. Again, it’s a delicious clammy broth, light on the cream, and City Cafe has garlic toast that’s as close to what they had at Michaels as you’ll get. The chowder is $3.95 for a cup and $6.95 for a bowl that works as a main course.
This month’s Four Stars winners will get a certificate very suitable for framing and a firm handshake from me the next time I’m in the restaurant. And I haven’t given up on finding a Manhattan clam chowder, the tomato-based version that’s at least as good as the white variety. If you know of Manhattan chowder in the area, tell me and I’ll write about it next week.
Next month, I’ll round up the Four Stars of Fat Tuesday food, from jambalaya and etouffee to king cake and gumbo, all in advance of Mardi Gras on Feb. 17. We’ll let the good times roll in that column on Feb. 12.
Agree or disagree with my picks for clam chowder? That’s what Four Stars is all about. Come out of your shell and I’ll add your comments to the mix next week.
FOUR STARS OF CLAM CHOWDER
65 E. Fourth St., Winona
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
216 First Ave. S.W., Rochester
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Shops at University Square
111 Broadway Ave. S, Rochester
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
318 First Ave. S.W., Rochester
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday