What’s A Supper Club?

The questions came up on Facebook. A couple of friends who now live in the Pacific Northwest asked me “What’s a supper club?” To answer this question, it would take longer than a Facebook post, so it’s a good thing I have a blog.

A Supper Club is a uniquely Wisconsin Wisconsin type of place. It’s a restaurant, family friendly but also with a bar. It’s more than a family restaurant, different from a steak house, and almost certainly has state-brewed beers on tap. Names are simple. The supper club around the corner has “East Side” in its name, but I don’t know of any corresponding place on the West Side. It doesn’t really matter. A supper club is a destination restaurant, not a quick stop on the way home.

Supper clubs are usually family owned, not a chain of any kind. It’s possible to walk in and be seated or even served by the owner, who is probably also the head chef. You’re likely to hear that the place has “been around forever” and parents have brought their children who then bring the grandchildren to eat there. If the original owners have sold the restaurant or passed it on through a will, it will have small changes, but still be the same place.

Customers can be dressed to the nines and headed for a show or clad in basic Wisconsin street clothes: jeans and a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt. There’s a certain feeling and atmosphere that makes just about everyone feel comfortable, no matter how they’re dressed. Reservations are okay, but not required. If there’s a large crowd, customers can have an appetizer and a refreshing beverage in the bar while waiting for a table. In fact, it’s often possible to order from the bar. The server will deliver the family to their table at the same time the food arrives.

Have I described a comfortable atmosphere? I hope so. The more woodsy the locale, the more likely you’ll see animal heads mounted on the wall or a large fish, sturgeon or musky, above the bar. Or not – the decor might be plain, but nice,with seasonal touches like a pumpkin on the windowsill.

The food will be high quality, and not daintily plated like a big city meal. Quantities are generous. The menu is likely to emphasize German cuisine or good Wisconsin comfort food. Your table will have bread before the meal, soup or salad. The bread recipe is probably whole grain and carefully guarded. It will be baked on site, not brought in from a local or (heaven forbid) frozen dough. The same will be true of the soup du jour and the house dressing. If you’re lucky, like we are, you’ll be able to buy a jar of the house dressing to take home. It’s not tomato season at my house without the East Side bacon dressing to go on my salads. And you know, readers, how long tomato season lasts at the O.K. Chorale!

Seasonal specials and Friday fish fry are a must in a Wisconsin supper club. Right now, the sign out front of the nearby supper club advertises pumpkin bread pudding. We got our dessert to go last time, and it came with instructions for heating, adding the maple syrup, and topping with whipped cream. I mentioned quantities: we waited a few hours and then split one portion of pumpkin bread pudding. Delicious.

So, my friends, that’s a supper club. I’m not sure if I did justice to the concept. You’ll really have to try one out yourselves. I’ll point you to the one near us, or others in town. Get ready to relax, don’t rush, and have a good meal and good conversation. I recommend the Scotch egg appetizer, deep fried with a Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest beer batter. And of course, a salad with bacon dressing.

Wisconsin bloggers and readers, please chime in. What have I forgotten? Add your supper club moments to share with my Pacific Northwest friends.

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