The Al-Gen Dinner Club, Rhinelander, Wisconsin
Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds, a perfect northwoods supper club
Relish Tray: not exactly, but crackers and cheese spread
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: entrees range from about $13 to about $30
Ambiance: old school, north woods, log cabin
Sometimes, when Owen and I pick an area of Wisconsin to explore, we have an idea of the supper club that we would like to try that night. This time, we were drawn to the Rhinelander area because of an album by one of our favorite bands, The Blue Mooners. While there is a song on the album specifically about Rhinelander, the song Hodag Country is my favorite (maybe tied with Minocqua Mama). Owen and I popped the CD in our car and started to drive north, hoping to see a hodag of our own.
After a day with no sightings of the fabled beast, we stumbled upon a pretty good consolation prize – Swearingen’s Al-Gen Dinner Club. The Al-Gen was first opened in 1932, and it feels like it. It’s been updated, sure, but it still retains the perfect, northwoods, log cabin feel. On the menu, the tagline is “Yesterday’s atmosphere serving today’s favorites”, and while “today’s favorites” are not the most modern dishes I’ve seen on a menu, they are certainly delicious.
When we sat down at the bar, it was still pretty early. The bar area has a full wrap around bar, and our old fashioneds were tart and very bitters-forward. Surprisingly, the pickled mushrooms had a spicy kick – Owen was over the moon. While we were at the bar, another patron ordered a martini and it came in a classic martini glass adorned with a Green Bay Packers “G”, very classy and very Wisconsin.
The dining room is cozy, and holds maybe twenty -five tables. The northwoods, log cabin feel continues in the dining room, with plenty of deer heads and vintage Rhinelander brewery decor. There’s not one window in the place, so it feels like it could be any time of day (or night), and maybe any year.
I was truly delighted when the server brought us a tray crackers and a regal scoop of cheese spread in a sundae dish. Only in Wisconsin does cheese spread get the royal treatment it deserves.
With our entrees, we had a side salad and a choice of soup. The salad had some kale mixed in with the greens, very modern for a classic supper club salad. The choice of soup was chicken-something or tomato-something. I thought I misheard the server when she said tomato juice, and ordered it, expecting a tomato bisque perhaps. Of course, Owen heard perfectly, but happily ordered the tomato juice as well. I’ve seen it as an option on supper club menus before, but it was my first time having a juice course, and I didn’t mind it at all.
As if the cheese, salad and juice were not enough to start our meal, we also got a bread basket with two homemade breads, a warm herby french bread and a raisin walnut bread, both incredible.
For our main courses, Owen tried the “beef and reef”, a filet with a side of shrimp. We had heard they were already out of prime rib, but the filet was a pretty good substitute. Despite amount of color on the shrimp, they were not overcooked at all.
I tried another combination plate, this one ribs and chicken. I had been craving BBQ ribs for a while, and these really hit the spot. The sauce was tangy and sweet, and I only wished there was more of it. By the time I turned to the chicken I was too full to go on, but the leftovers made a tasty breakfast.
The Al-Gen does serve ice cream drinks, but Owen and I had already stopped for a cone while strolling around Rhinelander – we will have to try them next time.
The Al-Gen is everything we want in a supper club. I want to travel to a destination, family-owned restaurant in the northwoods. I want my bartender to be hard of hearing and wearing a novelty tie. I want to be surprised when I accidentally order tomato juice. I want a cocktail served in a Packers martini glass. I want to need a doggy-bag because of the enormous amount of food I’ve been served. I want to be in a beautiful, well-preserved log cabin from the 1930s. And I want to visit the Al-Gen again and again.