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Served With A Side Of Nostalgia
Wisconsin Supper Clubs; Plus, A Substack Get-Together In Chicago
When I moved to Chicago I found out that if I went up to Wisconsin there were over two-hundred-fifty Supper Clubs waiting to welcome me with some of my favorite things: prime rib, baked potatoes, cocktails and relish trays, all served in cool, dark, wood paneled dining rooms, with clubby chairs and tufted booths. I finally made it to one a couple of weeks ago and loved it.
Ron Faiola is an expert on these iconic dining establishments and has written about them extensively.
Wisconsin’s Supper Clubs started as taverns, resorts and dancehalls where fried chicken and perch were served along with beer. Eventually these places transformed their food and decor and as a result, the classic menu we know and love came into being: Friday Fish Fry, Saturday Prime Rib, Sunday Broasted Chicken and Ribs.
Plus relish trays, cheese and crackers at the bar and the undisputed cocktail: a hand-muddled Brandy Old-Fashioned.
Ray Faiola, The Wisconsin Supper Clubs Story, 2021
The Wine Enthusiast has this to say about the cocktail:
If you order an Old Fashioned in 49 out of 50 states, you can expect a whiskey cocktail made with sugar, water and bitters, typically Angostura. In Wisconsin, however, the Old Fashioned ditches convention.
If you’d like to put together a Wisconsin supper-club-style relish tray at home, here’s a piece from Midwest Living. Link: HERE
The first ‘Supper Clubs’ in Wisconsin were actually the roadhouses during Prohibition in the 1920’s and early ‘30’s. In 1933 when Prohibition ended, the roadhouses gave way to the beginning of the Supper Club era in Wisconsin. I’m linking to Ron Faiola’s very informative and interactive site, Wisconsin Supper Clubs here: https://wisconsinsupperclubs.com
When the Story Changes
Last night I’d just finished writing this newsletter about Anthony’s, the supper club we dined at in mid-July (and was about to link to in this post) only to find out that it closed permanently just a week after we were there.
Online, long-time patrons wistfully thanked the owners and staff for the many years of friendship and memories made there for close to fifty years.
So this is now an appreciation post for Anthony’s and the lovely staff we met there.
We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the classic fare and the warm atmosphere and hospitality Wisconsin supper clubs are known for.
Classic Supper Club Fare
Nostalgia sneaks up on you in delicious ways. I had to have the chopped steak, complete with sautéed onions and mushrooms with pan gravy because it reminded me of something my mother made.
My sister-in-law had plump pork chops, my brother ordered the crispy duck while my nephew enjoyed a perfect open-faced sirloin steak sandwich.
There were knives and forks and plates flying around the booth as we all dug in to share.
We were too full to each get a dessert, so we ordered one hot fudge sundae and four spoons. It was perfect.
Thank you, Anthony’s. ✨
A Substack Get-Together and Some Favorite Wisconsin Supper Clubs
Last week Substack writers from Chicago and environs got together at the local bookbar, Kibbitznest, andof Substack was our gracious host.
It was terrific to meet in-person and it was so great to finally meet writerof the wonderful —we’ve been “online Substack friends” since we both started writing here close to three years ago.
Sarah is from Wisconsin, so I wanted her thoughts about the supper clubs
My childhood supper club — which remains my favorite of all time probably for that reason—is the Hilltop in Cross Plains. It’s simple — no lush, old school decorations— but the food is excellent.
I also recommend Red’s Supper Club in Cuba City. It’s in the middle of nowhere, at a crossroads, but it has a relish plate the size of your head and a true supper club vibe—which is kind of the whole point.
I think Wisconsinites find supper clubs so appealing not only because the food is so good, but the atmosphere, the culture of them, is deeply comforting. You always know what you’re going to get, in a variety of ways.
I also asked Katie O’Connell, who grew up in Chicago and spent (and still spends) time every summer in Wisconsin about her memories of the supper clubs:
Mars Resort in Lake Geneva was my first memory of a Wisconsin supper club. I didn’t understand what I would do when I could no longer order off the kid’s menu. My grandma would always get a cheeseburger, so I thought if I was forced off the kid’s menu I’d survive on cheeseburgers, too.
A Wisconsin Supper Club isn’t really the place you think you’d want to be in the summer. The dark wood sucks up the sun. But as you wait for a table, adults get a Spotted Cow (a local, Wisconsin beer) and kids get a kiddie cocktail. You sit on Adirondack chairs as the sun sinks into the lake and paints the sky.
I went back to Mars Resort a few weeks ago. We got cheese curds that melt in your mouth. My friends got rib eyes and fish. I got a cheeseburger.
It’s timeless and somehow exactly where you want to be on a summer night, even if they don’t give the “big kids” the kid’s menu.
Thank you so much, Sarah and Katie!
Have a great week, Everyone.
Faiola, Ron. The Wisconsin Supper Clubs Story. Chicago, Agate, 2021.