For Packer fans: ‘Legends of Lombardi’ tour

We are driving through a modest but tidy neighborhood in Green Bay, on Ridge Road, near Lambeau Field. It costs $20 to park here on game day, which might include access to a hot grill for your brats and burgers.

“But don’t expect beer,” jokes Jason Ring, our tour guide. He explains that Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke and other Packer greats used to live in these small houses in the 1960s – close enough to walk to work.

A few blocks away are stark red brick apartment buildings, where African American players of the era – Herb Adderly, Willie Davis – were housed.

The 75-minute “Legends of Lombardi Avenue” bus tour has begun, and it is a mix of well- and lesser-known Packer highlights. Tree limbs knock against the roof of our double-decker bus on some streets. Jason tests his audience with Packer trivia questions while waiting at stoplights.

We learn that the former Northland Hotel, now an apartment building, is where visiting teams stayed, until a band was hired to perform outside all night, on the eve of a game against Chicago.

We see Curly Lambeau’s birthplace and his childhood home, and hear that his family was too poor to buy a football, so Curly threw around a little sack filled with sand and stones.

The church where Lombardi attended Mass daily, the players’ hangout in the 1920s and the team’s first playing field are other springboards for anecdotes.

The “Legends of Lombardi Avenue” tour leaves from the Packer Country Visitor and Convention Bureau, 1901 S. Oneida St. Cost is $12 ($6 for ages 12 and younger). Remaining tour dates are Sept. 8, Oct. 7, Oct. 13, Dec. 8 and Dec. 29. Reservations are advised; consult www.packercountry.com, 888-867-3342.

The tour is a good way to get a feel for the city and its Packer heritage, but a video exhibit at the Neville Public Museum explains the spirit and pride that the team generates.

When players made Green Bay their year-round home, they deepened their connection to the community, asserts “Hometown Advantage: the Community and the Packers.”

Donny Anderson handed out treats at his home on Halloween. Jim Ringo visited hospitalized kids. Players danced the can-can or played basketball at charity fund-raisers. The good deeds weren’t orchestrated by agents.

“The town seemed to be like a unit,” noted Bob Harlan, the team’s chairman of the board, and team spirit was “the closest thing in the NFL to a college football game.”

Richard Nixon jokes about how he couldn’t find anybody in Wisconsin to bet against the Packers in 1965. Bart Starr notes how team spirit spilled into the off-season. This feel-good exhibit drives home the argument that Packer fans differ from others in the NFL.

The Neville Public Museum is at 210 Museum Place, Green Bay. For more: www.nevillepublicmuseum.org, 920-448-4460.

Although the Packer Hall of Fame and Lambeau Field Atrium businesses are easily accessible, stadium tours are limited and fill fast. Tours can be arranged privately for groups of 20 or larger, but they are not offered on home game days.

For more: www.lambeaufield.com, 920-569-7513.

Order “the works” at Kroll’s West, next to Lambeau, and your burger comes with a pad of butter melting between meat and toasted bun. What began as a neighborhood hangout in 1936 today is a fourth-generation family business that serves thousands on game days.

On a wall are dozens of good wishes from celebrity visitors, Al Gore as well as John Madden.

The hangout is one part outdoor tailgate, one part dimly lit sports bar/grill and one part bright, family-friendly restaurant. As of 2005, the restaurant isn’t just about Green Bay anymore: Kroll’s South Loop opened at 1736 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

The restaurant’s soups and burgers (frozen, but already grilled, topped with butter and in a hard roll) are shipped around the U.S.; minimum order is $45.

Kroll’s West is at 1990 S. Ridge Rd., Green Bay. For more: www.krollswest.com, 920-497-1111.

An 1899 railroad depot, where the Packers used to depart for road games, today houses Titletown Brewing Co., whose handcrafted beer includes “Johnny Blood” Red (after 1930s halfback McNally) and (Tony) Canadeo Gold.

The brewpub serves food and is hard to miss because of the 22-foot concrete football player statue in front of it. Look familiar? The statue long stood in front of the Packers Hall of Fame, until Lambeau Field Atrium completion.

Titletown Brewing Co. is at 200 Dousman St., Green Bay. For more: www.titletownbrewing.com, 920-437-2337.

Last: Refined and high-quality dining in a small town, just north of Green Bay. J.R. Schoenfeld, the Packers’ executive chef for six years, today owns the lovely Chives Restaurant in Suamico,

This is not the place to chug beer and look for a big-screen TV.

Diners are automatically poured a glass of Pellegrino. It is easy to study fine wine and cheese choice: A glass-doored cooler faces the 70-seat dining room in this 1890 building, a former general store.

The menu mixes local and imported ingredients. The cheese sampler, for example, had Irish and Vermont selections, but none from Wisconsin. Schoenfeld says he does not use frozen ingredients; seafood arrives fresh from Hawaii.

Order a cup of vichyssoise and a salad of mixed greens, or fried Brie with berry chutney. The menu is not all fussy – it includes steaks and burgers, but inventive twists and a French flair are evident.

The chef shows his sense of humor on the dessert menu, which includes the Chives Ho-Ho, amaretto cake filled with whipped cream, covered with a layer of fudge and garnished with a raspberry puree.

Chives Restaurant is at 1749 Riverside Dr., Suamico. For more: www.chivesdining.net, 920-434-6441. Chivefest, noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 8, features samplings of food, wines and microbrews, with a backdrop of jazz performances. The pre-purchase of tickets is recommended.

Note: My admission to the “Legends of Lombardi Avenue” tour and Neville Public Museum were complimentary, as was dessert at Chives Restaurant.