GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Chicago Bears pull into town a week from Monday, which means a lot of Bears fans will be heading here as well. And because it takes more than three hours to drive here from Chicago (possibly much longer; Interstate Highway 94 is an under-construction mess north of the state line), it makes sense to make some dining plans, especially if you're not tailgating:
Curly's Pub: Approach Lambeau Field on the Lombardi Avenue side, and there's a statue of Green Bay Packers founder Curly Lambeau, his right arm extended and seemingly pointing the way to the stadium restaurant that bears his name. In-stadium dining often can be a contradiction in terms, but Curly's is actually pretty darn good — so good that the place is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, not just on game days.
(Between the restaurant, stadium tours, gift shop and hall of fame, Lambeau is a tourist and fan destination in and of itself; nongame days are the best, least-hurried times to visit).
Eating at Curly's is a challenge. I mean, literally: The menu contains not one but two "dare you to finish this" items. The Lambeau Heap is a 1-pound barbecue bacon curd burger served with onion strings, fries and a milkshake. Polish that off and you win a T-shirt (presumably not in size small). For dessert there's the Frozen Heap, a little something that contains 12 scoops of Neapolitan ice cream with brownie bits, cookie crumbles, nuts, whipped cream, fudge and caramel. Downing this confection will entitle you to — wait for it — a completely different T-shirt! Collect the whole set!
Among the normal-portioned items, the burgers are quite good; not only do waiters ask for your preferred burger temperature, the kitchen actually delivers. The signature burger with beer cheese and bacon on a pretzel bun is a good choice, served with fries (curly fries, naturally). And because the restaurant is run by Sports Service, available condiments include Stadium Sauce, a well-seasoned red sauce that's kind of a big deal among Packers and Milwaukee Brewers fans.
The irresistible appetizer is called Bacon Cheeseheads; think savory French toast triangles stuffed with cheese and bacon, served with barbecue sauce. The exterior blisters on the triangles resemble the holes in those cheesehead hats. This is a pretty hefty starter, so plan on sharing.
On game days, you need a ticket to get into Curly's, though nonticketed folks are admitted 45 minutes after the game ends. That's more useful on Sundays than Monday nights, but good to know. Lambeau Field, 1265 Lombardi Ave., 920-965-6970.
Kroll's West: Right across the street from Lambeau, Kroll's could be mistaken for any luncheonette in America, were it not for the trophy case full of Packers memorabilia along one wall and the handful of TV screens scattered about the room. Otherwise, this is a quaint (more than 70 years old) cafe of booths, tables and counter seating, where each table has a "push for service" buzzer, you pay for dinner at the cash register and, Mondays through Wednesdays, meals include a free piece of cake.
The menu includes an assortment of sandwiches and burgers, thin-crust pizzas and full dinners that range from $8.75 to $16.95. The best item might be the one that's not on it: A variation on the menu's prime-rib sandwich served on a crusty hoagie bun, a dish that emerged from the restaurant's 2011 appearance on the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" show. Smothered in bell peppers, onions and cheese, this isn't a bad sandwich.
The place is overrun on game days, because some of the parking spaces here ($30 and up, some of which include tailgating privileges) are closer to the gate than some Lambeau spaces. 1990 S. Ridge Road, 920-497-1111.
Black & Tan Grille: If you're looking to dine in a room virtually oblivious to what may or may not be happening on the gridiron, this amber-hued restaurant in downtown Green Bay is one to consider. Sure, there are two TVs in the downstairs bar, but the sports fanatics are elsewhere, and upstairs all is carpeted white-tablecloth serenity. The menu is classic American, with an emphasis on steaks, but there are flashes of creativity apparent in a seared-tuna appetizer with wasabi crema; a clever, turducken-inspired roulade of chicken filled with turkey confit and wrapped in duck bacon; and monkfish Oscar, a variation on crab Oscar that stacks medallions of beef tenderloin and monkfish and smothers them in a (slightly oversalted) bearnaise sauce. Fresh bread is a nice touch, service is prompt and friendly, and there is a decent wine list. 130 E. Walnut St., 920-430-7700.
Nicolet Restaurant: If you spend the night in Green Bay, fortify yourself for the long drive home with a hearty breakfast at this 30-year-old local favorite in De Pere, just south of Green Bay. Designed to resemble a train station (there actually is a short rail spur in the parking lot), Nicolet is a homey diner with such blue-plate specials as pot roast, turkey and meatloaf (all less than $9), as well as quesadillas, taco salad and panini. At breakfast, the house specials provide two eggs, pancakes and meat (bacon, ham or sausage) for $5.99 ($6.99 for blueberry pancakes) and three-egg omelets for $5.99 or less. Don't overlook the pastry case up front, where fresh-baked goodies (all of them indulgent looking) abound. 525 Reid St., De Pere, 920-336-8726.
Other places that I skipped (hey, I was here for only 20 hours):
Champions Sports Bar & Grille: A huge sports bar festooned with thousands of pieces of Packers memorabilia. Menu highlights include the Gravedigger, a 93-ounce burger (an homage to defensive lineman Gilbert Brown, who used to pantomime digging a grave after good plays). It costs $69, but if you and a friend (teams of two allowed) can polish off this beast in an hour, it's free. C'mon, that's only about 3 pounds each! 1007 Tony Canadeo Run, 920-544-8367.
Brett Favre's Steakhouse: You remember this guy, right? He's got his name on an ambitious fine-dining steak-and-seafooder (with a few Creole dishes tossed in) where the steaks run from $33 to $45. 1004 Brett Favre Pass, 920-499-6874.
Ogan Restaurant: Overlooking the Fox River, this fine-dining, contemporary-American restaurant features filet mignon, rack of lamb and salmon, along with small-plate options and gluten-free pastas. The enclosed patio is a big draw on sunny days, and there's outdoor seating, too, so tuck this one into your "places to visit next summer" file. Closed on Mondays. 1350 Marine St., 920-884-6779.
Syrah Restaurant & Wine Bar: A serious seasonal and regional restaurant whose menu includes such items as duck ravioli, a togarashi-spiced seafood trio and lamb osso buco, and which offers more than two dozen wines by the glass off a budget-friendly list. It is, however, closed Sundays and Mondays, so you'll need to commit to a longer stay. 3597 Bay Settlement Road, 920-406-9463.