Metro-East Living

Wigglers Bar & Grill: Fried pizza, tacos and barbecue meatballs lure customers

It just made sense for Marc and Rhonda Vanderweele to go with a fishing and water-skiing theme at their new restaurant in Holiday Shores.

“There’s a 440-acre lake right across the street,” said Marc, 44.

The couple opened Wigglers Bar & Grill in October in a blue-sided rectangular building that formerly housed Leroy’s Tavern.

“It was closed for six or seven months, and we drove by here every day,” said Marc, director of table games at the Casino Queen. “I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

Rhonda was working as a foreman at Olin, but she had spent most of her life in restaurants and bars. That included managing a Chevy’s and serving as the casino’s beverage manager.

Wigglers is a lively place at night, especially on weekends when bands are playing.

“It’s kind of like Cheers,” said customer Ron “Bam Bam” McLain, 49, a union carpenter who lives in Holiday Shores, north of Edwardsville. “Everybody knows your name.”

On a recent Thursday, he was drinking a beer and playing shuffleboard with friends.

“We have people come from all over to play shuffleboard,” said Rhonda, 47. “There aren’t that many places that have shuffleboard tables.”

The restaurant serves sandwiches, salads, soups and appetizers, as well as four kinds of tacos (pork, steak, shrimp and fish).

“The tacos are my favorite,” Rhonda said. “I like Mexican food.”

Another signature item is “fritelle” (fried pizza). Marc’s mom got the recipe when his father was stationed in Italy.

“As we were growing up, my mom would make that for our birthday dinners,” he said.

“The dough is folded over (with sauce and ingredients inside) and sealed, kind of like a calzone. Then it’s deep-fried and brushed with garlic butter and coated with Parmesan. It’s really good.”

Wigglers serves hand-cut onion rings and beer-battered fried mushrooms, but the most popular appetizer is barbecue meatballs.

“They’re hand-wrapped in bacon, deep fried and dipped in Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce,” Marc said.

The restaurant also offers homemade specials and fish on Fridays.

“The chicken and dumplings are better than my mom made,” said Ron, who also likes the roast beef po’ boys.

Across the room, Cindy Dannenbrink, 60, of Holiday Shores, was on her way out the door with jambalaya to go.

“We got fried chicken the other night, and it was excellent,” she said. “Basically, anything we’ve had has been really good, and they’re good-sized portions.”

The Vanderweeles painted the walls of Wigglers bright blue to represent water (and Marc’s beloved Detroit Lions). The corrugated metal bar is lined with blue LED lights. Decor ranges from fishing nets and water skis to life jackets and string bikinis. Rhonda used fishing baskets to make light fixtures that hang over the bar.

“I got the idea from Pinterest,” she said.

Customers can sit at regular tables or high-tops. One of the two dining rooms has dart boards and a 102-inch, high-definition projection screen for watching sports.

The Vanderweeles plan to install video-gambling machines and, when the weather warms up, build a beer garden outside.

“Our drink prices are real reasonable,” Marc said. “We have $2 domestic longnecks every day and drink specials Sunday through Thursday.”