Tales from the old-timerIssue Date: January 22, 2014
Wisconsin Supper Clubs
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
daughter of the Old-Timer
One of my Christmas gifts was a lovely coffee table book called Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It made me instantly homesick, looking through the pictures of lovely old buildings, appetizing looking relish trays and salad bars; and long, comfortable looking bars. The bartenders are usually mature and always friendly.
There are no places called Supper Clubs here, and there are few places that would qualify for the title. My adopted state is a mix of big chain places (with decent food, but no soul) and unique independent restaurants, most of which feature the most popular local food, BBQ. And there are a few of the trendy wine bars, most suitable for young professionals or hipsters.
My coworkers here sometimes travel to Wisconsin for business, and are puzzled by the supper club terminology, thinking you need to be a member to dine. And it is, in fact, quaint to use the word supper for establishments that are usually only open in the evening, rather than the more sophisticated term of dinner for the evening meal. Perhaps this choice of terminology reflects the immigrant roots of those who established supper clubs.
I have been lucky enough to eat at five of the 30-odd Wisconsin supper clubs featured in the book, but also have very fond memories of some local places.
One was the T & T club, located near the intersection of 41 and Cleveland Avenue. It was known for steaks but what I loved was their standard homemade salad dressing. Then there was the Edgewood, now Browns - where they had the BEST shrimp salad, served in white bowls that looked like shells. The Silver Dome - just the name has such elegance. And the Marinette Inn, which at one time had an all-you-can-eat special every night of the week, including one night of King Crab legs at what would now be a jaw-dropping cheap price.
Right outside Marinette on Highway 180 was Rivergate, at one time quite a swinging place. In later years it was a bit more sedate, and we used to visit it on Friday night via our pontoon boat after a ride downstream from our house. Wed dock in front of the bar and our kids would play outside until their fish fries arrived, a sweet memory of very fun times. (It was always a point of pride with us to do a flawless docking maneuver, knowing we were under observation from the bar patrons.)
This all led me to make a list of the characteristics of a supper club as I would define them:
They tend to be owned and operated as a family business
They have ample bar facilities and invite you to both order and await a table at that bar
The food is not overly fancy but its of good quality and good quantity
People tend to develop loyalty to a supper club, and become well-known regulars
Supper clubs are places to go when you are not in a hurry. They invite you to slow down, relax, and enjoy the evening. They are dining in a way which becomes of itself an entertainment.
A trip home to Wisconsin always involves a plot for us to be able to visit one of our favorite Supper Clubs. And partake, if possible, of another feature of Supper Clubs, the Old Fashioned. An item, I may add, that is totally unknown here in Oklahoma. You just arent a supper club if you dont make a lot of old-fashioneds.
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