Sister Bay Bowl, Sister Bay

Sister Bay Bowl, Sister Bay, Wisconsin

Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: nope
Ice Cream Drinks: yes
Price Range: about $10 to about $25
Ambiance: A Supper Club meets a Bowling Alley, so just about perfect

We visited Sister Bay Bowl back in February, well before businesses started closing due to COVID-19. For some reason, we’ve just been a little slow to write this post. Could it be the world-wide pandemic? I suppose. But we’re back! And so is Sister Bay – they are doing curbside carryout!

For our birthdays, we almost always end up at a supper club to celebrate. While I seem to always end up at The Butterfly Club in Beloit, this year we knew we had to finally make the trip up to Sister Bay Bowl for Owen’s birthday. For one, it had been far too long since we had been to Door County. More importantly, Owen loves bowling. A supper-club-bowling-alley combination is really the only place that it makes sense to celebrate his next trip around the sun.

Sister Bay Bowl is right in the heart of Sister Bay. We spent the day walking around the town and enjoying the views, and dipped into Sister Bay Bowl for a nice early supper. From the first sight of the interior, I knew this would quickly become one of our favorite supper clubs.

We entered through the bowling alley, which was hopping early on a Saturday evening. More on the bowling alley to come

The bar area had everything you could want: a large oblong bar with a “wooden” formica top, a couple of booths and tables, a couple of patrons in matching Piggly Wiggly shirts, and a very friendly bartender who was happy to share about the history of the supper club or bemoan the new real-estate developments in Sister Bay. She told us how the supper club started as a hotel, but once they opened for dinner, they stopped hosting visitors. We also talked about double-edged sword of tourism in Door County. The sky-rocketing price of real estate means it is harder and harder for permanent locals to live in the area. However, Sister Bay also depends on the tourism industry to stay vibrant. She also made a mean old fashioned, with plenty of bitters and a nice meaty pickled mushroom to cut the sweet.

After throughly enjoying the bar for a couple old fashioneds, we made our way to the dining room. We were there early, but some other early birds had gotten the prime tables by the window overlooking the town. Not that we were disappointed at all – we thoroughly enjoyed sitting among the bowling decor.

Our meals started with your standard side salad, and a fun little loaf of bread. Owen is easily charmed by any establishment that offers a generous amount of bleu cheese in his favorite French Bleu dressing. Both rye bread and a typical white bread were baked together in one little loaf – quite inventive – and tasty!

The birthday boy, of course, ordered prime rib. He was so excited that it came with both au jus and horseradish, we could have just ended the night there and he would have been perfectly content. When it arrived at the table, he said “I’ve ordered myself a bit of a project here!”. I guess the cut was a bit more generous than he was expecting! The hash browns were unbelievably crispy, like a single unit of crispy potato goodness. They made a wonderful breakfast the next morning (not that I ate them, or anything).

I tried another Wisconsin supper club classic, the broasted chicken. It was deliciously crispy, and served with a bit of cranberry sauce. I wouldn’t have thought to invite cranberries to this party, but they were a very fun addition. One addition I would love to see at more restaurants – the wet wipe served with the meal. It’s like a little permission slip to eat your dinner with your hands.

After dinner, we came back to the bar area and bowling alley. We had put our names down for a lane before our meal, and they were ready for us by the end of dinner. Earlier, the bowling area had been busy, with a couple groups waiting for lanes. A couple hours later, the bar area was bumping, while the bowling alley had cleared out.

The bowling alley at Sister Bay Bowl is a little bit of everything we love. Owen loves to bowl. We are both drawn to classic, no frills establishments with a sense of history. And in our younger days in Milwaukee, we fell in love with the oldest sanctioned bowling alley in the United State and an all-around wonderful place, the Holler House. Compared to the Holler House, the lanes at Sister Bay are pretty new (automatic ball return! Six whole lanes!) there are still some old fashioned touches that we just loved (keeping your own score, self-serve shoe ‘rental’).

Normally, I bowl with a bowling ball that I found at a thrift store with the name “Marge” engraved on it. Marge has become a bit part of my bowling identity. While she had stayed home for this trip, I was just delighted to find “Rhonda” to fill in for the night.

I know some folks would not be thrilled to keep their own score (some folks named Owen even), but I really enjoy when I get to keep my own score at a bowling alley. It’s not too much math that a bowling beer gets in the way, and the challenge of remembering the scoring rules keeps me engaged in the game in a new way. And I even won one game! By one point. I swear, it’s not just because I was scorekeeper.

Hopefully, we will all be able to go safely back to supper clubs soon. When that happy day arrives, Sister Bay Bowl will be one we will want to visit again soon. A combination of two quintessential Wisconsin gathering places – the supper club and the bowling alley. It’s a Wisconsin treasure.

The Butterfly Club, Beloit

The Butterfly Club, Beloit, Wisconsin

Rating: 5+ out of 5 Old Fashioneds, in the running for our all-time favorite supper club

Relish Tray: no
Ice Cream Drinks: absolutely
Price Range: about $11 to about $30
Ambiance: perfectly retro, perfectly teal, a perfect lounge, a perfect supper club

The Butterfly Club is a special place for me and Owen. For years we’ve been making the trek down to the Butterfly Club for my birthday, and it’s even where we got engaged. I have a lot of good memories there, and any review of it I ever write will have all that coloring my perspective. But I also think the Butterfly Club is special.

Last year, on our annual visit for my birthday, we were talking about why the Butterfly Club is so, so good. Owen said, “I feel cheated that something like this is so rare nowadays.” It’s not just a ‘Wisconsin Supper Club’ with excellent food (and even better drinks). It’s all of that, and also an amazing, nostalgic lounge, complete with a lounge singer and regulars who come to dance.

The lounge. It’s everything.

The teal everything. The large wrap around bar. The mirrored ceiling. The multiple levels. The little cocktail tables with armchairs.

Every time we come to the Butterfly Club, it seems like someone is celebrating something. Heck, we’re usually there because we’re celebrating something. Perpetually, in my head at least, there’s a group sitting in the large circular booth area in the lounge celebrating a 40th anniversary.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should at least mention the supper part of the supper club.

The teal atmosphere continues to the two large dining rooms. The dining rooms don’t have quite the same charm as the lounge, though the large mirrors and lights of yester-year add a nice touch. Once we had the pleasure of being sat at one of the tables right up against the mirror.

While there’s not a relish tray, all the other supper club standards are there – and they’re all done well. The bread basket is piled high with the best of all bread basket-worlds: homemade rolls, the fancy prepackaged breadsticks, and cinnamon rolls. The side salad comes on the supper club standard glass cabbage-leaf plate. I know it’s not true, but for me, the glass cabbage leaf plate just makes the salad taste better. And don’t worry, there’s often two full dishes of butter packets at the table.

Every time we’ve been to the Butterfly Club, the food has been excellent. We often like to start with the Oysters Rockefeller. It’s one of those dishes that harkens back to a different time period, much like the Butterfly itself.

Owen standard order is the Shrimp De Jonghe, a house speciality. Originally from Chicago, Shrimp De Jonghe is sort of like a shrimp casserole. The shrimp is cooked with onions, mushrooms and cheese in a puff pastry shell. It’s a cheesy dream, brightened with fresh thyme and lemon.

I’m much more likely to sample new dishes on the menu. All of the classic steakhouse items I’ve tried have been great – the prime rib, the filet mignon, you name it. Last time, I tried the ribeye and shrimp skewer. The shrimp were so roasty and delicious that I even ate the tails!

Once we’re plenty full of meat and cheesy potatoes, we waddle back to the bar to catch the show. Every weekend, the Butterfly Club has a live lounge singer, most often Mike Williamson. Imagine, sipping on a martini in a lounge while a true crooner serenades the crowd. And the atmosphere does demand a martini over our usual old fashioneds. Insider tip: you can ask for the special olives stuffed with bleu cheese for an extra 25 cents.

Mike Williamson has the relaxed confidence of a veteran performer. For some songs, he roams through the crowd, checking on each table with a “How you folks doing tonight?” or a “Martinis, huh? Try it with an anchovy next time” between songs (sometimes even between lines of songs). He and his band take requests, and they seem to be able to play anything – Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Bill Withers. Once, someone requested “Puff the Magic Dragon” at the end of the night, and Mike sang it with gusto.

Of course, when there’s singing like this, there’s dancing. When was the last time you visited a restaurant with a permanent dance floor? Owen loves to dance, so we always make it onto the floor for at least a couple songs. Owen has plenty of enthusiasm, but neither of us really know anything aside from a few basic steps. That’s not the case for many other dancers at the Butterfly – there’s usually a lot of experienced dancers on the floor!

Most recently, we celebrated the new year at the Butterfly Club. We had heard on a previous visit that they throw a New Year’s Eve party with Mike Williamson, Rick Burns (keys), Bob DeVita (drums), John Smarzuski (Sax, Clarinet) and special guest Patte Armato Lund (vocals). All that, plus fireworks – we knew we couldn’t miss it.

The Butterfly Club always looks good, but on New Year’s Eve it was something special. There were so many balloons everywhere. Mike Williamson and company were excellent, as always. Right before midnight, someone came around handing out noisemakers and party hats. The whole place rang in the new year with a champagne toast while Mike and Patti sang “Auld Lang Syne” and “Celebrate”. There’s no other way we would want to celebrate a new year, a new decade than in this place at the event so reminiscent of yester-year.

See you soon, Butterfly Club. Thanks for the memories.

Maiden Lake Supper Club, Mountain

The Maiden Lake Supper Club, Mountain, Wisconsin

Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: yes, with plenty of radishes
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: about $15 to $32 for entrees
Ambiance: lakeside, northwoods

The Maiden Lake Supper Club has been on my supper club bucket list for many years. One of my dearest friends (also named Jean, believe it or not) spent a summer waitressing there when she was a girl, and I’ve always wanted to see it in person. Owen and I don’t get up to the northwoods as often as I would like. When an unexpected funeral for a beloved relative of a close friend brought us to Lakewood, we made the most of it by finally stopping by Maiden Lake Supper Club.

During our visit to the area, we stopped by a lot of little towns – Suring, Pound, Hickory Corners, Embarass (yep, that’s the name), and drove past countless perfect, picturesque lakes. As the name suggests, The Maiden Lake Supper Club is right on Maiden Lake, with a beautiful cocktail deck right on the water. Unfortunately, our visit was in November, so we didn’t have a lot of daylight to enjoy the view. We’ll just have to visit again in the summer!

As we were walking into the restaurant, another patron greeted us with a “What’s up, go pack go!”. For the record, this is exactly how I would like to be greeted whenever I enter any room. We didn’t know this man, he didn’t know us, but his friendly camaraderie, and his focus on what really matters – the Packers – set a very welcoming tone to the whole evening.

Because we were a bit later than our usual early bird arrival, the bar and restaurant were packed when we arrived. We don’t mind a wait at all, and two seats at the bar opened up, and we settled in with a couple old fashioneds. Maiden Lake knows how to make an old fashioned, and we were particularly charmed by the options of fruit, mushroom or brussel sprout as garnishes. We both tried the brussel sprouts, new for us. They were deeply pickled, with that distinct brussel sprout sulfury flavor – according to Owen, “like farts in a good way”.

The Maiden Lake Supper Club feels just like how you would want a northwoods supper club to feel – not too modern, plenty of twinkle lights, and fully wood paneled. The demographic leaned a bit younger than many supper clubs we visit, in fact we saw multiple #supperclubselfies in action during our time at the bar.

While seated at the bar, the bartender gave us a couple of menus. It’s always nice to peruse the options while you’re waiting for a table. It gave us plenty of time to consider our options, though they were a bit limited because they had run out of tenderloin and prime rib by the time we arrived. I was caught completely off guard when a server took our order right at the bar. Owen knows better than anyone that when I’m ordering at a restaurant and I’m flustered, I tend to surprise even myself with my decision, usually opting for whatever my panicked eyes land on first. Once our orders were placed, we were led to our table.

Always a bonus for a supper club – a complimentary relish tray. This one was fairly simple, just carrots and an impressive amount of radishes, but it hit the spot. I’m not always a fan of liver pate, but this was excellent – smoky and salty, almost like whipped summer sausage. In case the basket of crackers and breadsticks wasn’t enough pre-dinner carbs, we also got our own little loaf of bread.

Owen started his meal with a cup of french onion soup. A bit unusually, the soup was served with a bowl of cheese on the side. Owen can be a bit of a stickler about the proper presentation of foods, but this was pretty charming. The soup was rich and sweet, with a good amount of beef flavor.

For me, the highlight of our whole experience at Maiden Lake was the salad. When our salads arrived, they came with a little mini salad bar, right at our table, allowing us to add as much cheese, bacon, and sesame sticks as we wanted. It was all the fun of a salad bar, but from the comfort of our own seats. Plus, the little dishes were left on our table for the rest of the meal, allowing us to add a bit of cheese or bacon to our other dishes (hello baked potato). They even take the extra time to freshly grind pepper onto your salad for you, which is enough to make Owen feel like a pampered prince.

In my surprised panic, I ended up ordering a ML Burger. It wasn’t a bad choice at all, with Waygu beef, onions, bacon, gorganzola cheese, all served on a ciabatta bun.

Owen tried the wild mushroom ravioli, which was served with a lemon basil cream sauce and roasted red peppers. Very delicious. Neither of us were unhappy with our meals in the slightest, but next time we stop by Maiden Lake, we want to try one of their infamous steaks.

Though a sad circumstance, a funeral, brought us to Lakewood and Maiden Lake Supper Club, we thoroughly enjoyed our time. In fact, the funeral had been for a life-long Packers fan, and all attendees were encouraged to show their Packers pride. Our server noticed our Packers garb, asked if we had attended the funeral, and offered her condolences. Even though we are certainly not locals, at that moment, we felt a real sense of belonging. I can’t think of a better example of how supper clubs serve as community institutions with real connections to their patrons and neighbors. Thanks for the hospitality, Maiden Lake – we’ll see you again soon!

Green Acres, Sauk Prairie

Green Acres, Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin

Rating: a solid 4.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: not really, but a “supper club plate” is available as an appetizer, and relish-tray type fixings are available at the salad bar
Ice Cream Drinks: a wide variety of ice cream drinks, after dinner drinks, and ice cream martinis are available
Price Range: entrees range from $12 to roughly $40
Ambiance: classic, classy supper club

I’ve spent a lot of time driving on Highway 12, so I’ve passed Green Acres more times than I can count. It’s a friendly landmark on the highway for me, the old white house standing out from the woods around it. It’s one of the few supper clubs I remember visiting as a child, but I haven’t been back in many, many years. While we were in the bar area sipping on our pre-dinner old fashioneds, we overheard another group say “I’ve driven past this place a million times and I’ve never been in!”, which is pretty much how we felt too.

Green Acres is real classy, complete with a smooth jazz soundtrack in the bar. The bar area features a nice big wrap around bar, plus some individual tables. All of the Packers and Badgers art is framed, each with its own display light above. It’s Wisconsin sports memorabilia, but nothing is hokey and nothing is neon. We ordered our old fashioneds, and enjoyed the tail end of a Badger game. To Owen’s true delight, there were little bowls of pub mix scattered all over the bar area.

At Green Acres, they use “magic syrup” in their old fashioneds, which the bartender told us is a mix of bitters and simple syrup. Combined with a generous pour of brandy, it was pretty magic to us – a real nice old fashioned.

When it was time for our meal, we were led to the upstairs dining room, which looked just like I remembered from however-many years ago. The dining room is pretty large, with tall ceilings, dark green curtains, and a salad bar right in the middle of the room.

They don’t serve a complimentary relish tray at Green Acres, but you can order a “supper club plate”, and I recommend that you do. It’s full of local meats and cheeses, pickled asparagus, “mustard-style” deviled eggs, and a very interesting “brandy sweet butter”. The latter tastes like something between butter and frosting, and I have a feeling Owen and I will have to find some more soon. Like everything on the plate, it was delicious. This platter felt like a celebration of Wisconsin – in fact, a celebration of Sauk Prairie. Everything on the plate came from within 50 miles; Wollersheim brandy butter (just 2.4 miles from Green Acres), Wyttenbach meat sticks (3.4 miles away), The Cheese Maker cheddar (18.5 miles away), and Carr Valley cheese spread (the furthest away, at 39.4 miles). Next time you want to show a non-Wisconsinite what we’re all about, I recommend this plate. It may look like a simple meat and cheese plate, but everything was extremely local, and extremely tasty.

Another thing Owen and I loved about Green Acres is the salad bar. Of course, we love a huge salad bar with tons of options, but there’s something to be said about a more moderately sized salad bar. For those of us who tend to go a little overboard and put too many different things on our plates, resulting in strange flavor combinations (cough*Owen*cough), the smaller salad bar allows for a more curated experience. You could put everything on your salad at Green Acres, and you would come away with a perfectly appetizing salad. I know, because that’s exactly what Owen did. (Don’t miss the block of cheese above the salad bar!)

If a supper club really wanted to charm the pants off me, they would focus on the bread. To my delight, we were served a whole loaf of bread with our meal, wrapped in a nice little napkin, on its own little cutting board. Who can complain when there’s a warm little loaf of wheaty bread, and it’s all yours?

At this point, we were pretty smitten with all Green Acres had to offer, and I still had prime rib coming!

The prime rib was juicy and delicious, and I couldn’t decide if I liked it more with the creamy horseradish sauce, or on its own. It shone either way. I ordered the smallest size available, and I still couldn’t finish it (as much as I wanted to).

Owen tried the Rainbow Trout, which was stuffed with creamy shrimp and cheese and topped with almonds. He had it served with tartar sauce. It’s pretty uncommon for Owen to order a baked fish (he’s really more of a fry guy), but it hit the spot.

Though we were pretty full, it had been a while since we ended a supper club trip with an ice cream drink, so we decided to power through. Green Acres has a really impressive dessert drink menu, with ice cream drinks (like grasshoppers and pink squirrels), after dinner drinks (like Irish coffee and chocolate wine), and ice cream martinis (like something called a rootbeer-floatini). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a supper club distinguish between ice cream drinks and ice cream martinis. I’ll admit I was intrigued, but I just can’t pass up a brandy alexander. I’m glad I stuck to what I know and love, because Green Acres makes a mean brandy alexander. It was not overly blended, with a lot of nutmeg in it, and the perfect size for a sweet treat.

We liked everything about Green Acres. It’s a classy and classic place, but still very much “come as you are”. One touch I particularly enjoyed – here kale is in its rightful place as garnish, instead of in a trendy salad. Next time you’re driving down highway 12, stop in!

Dorf Haus Supper Club, Roxbury

Dorf Haus Supper Club, Roxbury, Wisconsin

Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds, one of our all time favorite supper clubs.

Relish Tray: no, but relish tray type foods at the salad bar
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: entrees vary from about $15 to about $27
Ambiance: a perfect, German-style supper club

Owen grew up in Milwaukee, and that city’s German heritage has colored his identity quite a bit. He loves a good spaetzle, he thinks sauerkraut can cure a cold, and even he claims his first solid food was liverwurst. Despite a stronger German lineage, I’m not one to seek out German foods, aside from a nice bratwurst at the game. When Owen first suggested we try the Dorf Haus, I was ambivalent to say the least. The German ambiance and foods did not call my name at all, but I knew how much he would love it. What I didn’t expect was for it to become one of my all-time favorite supper clubs.

I love the interior of the Dorf Haus. Maybe it’s because our last visit was on a dreary rainy day, but everything about it feels like an invitation for a cozy, comfortable meal, down to the heavy front door. It’s dark inside, dripping with nods to Germany. Sure, there are beer steins and stuffed pheasants galore but it doesn’t end there. One of my many, many favorite things about the Dorf Haus is the murals. Quite a few murals grace the walls of the bar area and the dining rooms and they are perfectly wonky and delightful. They add charm to the Dorf Haus similar to how a blue ceiling with puffy white clouds adds charm to a child’s bedroom. In some, the images aren’t perfect, but that just adds to their charisma.

In the past, when visiting the Dorf Haus, we’ve had to wait quite a while for a table, so we arrived nice and early this time. Of course, we don’t mind waiting for a table at all, and if anything we were a bit disappointed that we got ushered to our table at 5pm on the nose.

Everything at the Dorf Haus feels friendly. As we were getting settled at our table, we overheard a server tell a family how she loved when kids come to the Dorf Haus because she remembered coming with her parents. People greeted each other from other tables. Even the coat rack in the hallway full of rain coats felt friendly. Not enough restaurants have coat racks these days. There’s something so specific to the culture of a supper club that requires an area reserved for your coat – it says “stay a while“.

Because we love the Dorf Haus so much, we really wanted to do it right – appetizers and all. I let Owen pick whatever appetizer he wanted, and of course, his first choice was the pickled gizzard. He just loves an unusual (read: gross) pickled meat. To my delight, the server wouldn’t let us order them, because, wouldn’t you know, they were already included in the salad bar. In a panic, he ordered the “Hollerin’ Jalapeño Pretzel”. I’m not sure that I would use the word hollerin’ to describe it, because we didn’t find it to be particularly spicy, but it was a cheese-filled pretzel, and mighty delicious.

Our entrees both came with a visit to the salad bar. I love a good salad bar (who doesn’t) and the Dorf Haus has a particularly nice one. Before the main section of the salad bar, there’s a little crock pot with warm bacon dressing and some spinach to go with. The salad bar has everything you would want to make your own side salad and relish tray, plus some fun extras, like bean salad and of course, Owen was able to get his fill of pickled gizzards. Owen tried the warm bacon dressing, and compared it to “German potato salad juice”, sweet and warm and bacony. I had cottage cheese and french dressing on my salad. It wouldn’t be hard to make a similar salad at my own house, but I just don’t.

As if that weren’t enough, the meal also comes with soup. We tried the cheesy potato and ham soup, which was lovely with a sprinkle of parsley.

The Dorf Haus has a couple sections on their menu: “American Favorites” (think steak and seafood), “Senior Citizen”, “Evening Sandwiches” (not like those other, daytime sandwiches), and “Speisekarte” (AKA German Specialties). Each time we’ve gone, we’ve both stuck to the German Specialties. Each time we’ve tried a German Speciality, its been so good I can’t imagine ordering anything else. I’m sure all their food is wonderful, but the German specialties are really, well, special.

For his meal, Owen tried the German Sausage Platter, described as “the best of the wurst and a hock”. It came with knackwurst, weisswurst, a smoked pork hock, plus German potato salad and red cabbage. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him happier than when he ate that meal. I could hear audible “mmms” across the table as he tried his various sausages. He didn’t know that the meal would come with different mustards, and his joy rivaled a child on Christmas morning. At one point he said, more to himself than to me, “Everything on my plate is so delicious”. Even the red cabbage shines. It’s nice and tart, like a more mild variation of sauerkraut, a perfect compliment to a heavy meal.

For my part, I revisited an old favorite from the Dorf Haus menu, the rouladen. For the uninitiated, a rouladen is sirloin beef rolled with bacon and onion around a pickle, served with gravy. The gravy at the Dorf Haus is rich and beefy, with big chunks of mushrooms, and to my delight, there is plenty of it. My mouth is watering thinking about it – it’s that delicious. Mixed with the crispy spaetzle, it was a divine pile of little schnibbles.

When we started to slow down, the server said “You guys got dinner tmmorrow!” and brought us doggy bags, even a separate little container for the red cabbage.

German food isn’t necessarily posh, with the meats and potatoes and gravies, it’s more like an edible blanket. A supper club is good context for German food, because supper clubs aren’t necessarily posh, and there’s plenty of room on the menu for comfort food. Just make sure to wear your stretchy pants!

The Buckhorn Supper Club, Milton

The Buckhorn Supper Club, Milton, Wisconsin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: nope
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: entrees range from about $22 to $50+
Ambiance: lakeside with lots of history, decor and red twinkle lights

The Buckhorn Supper Club is a special place. It ticks a lot of the boxes on our ideal supper club list: lakeside, woodsy, plenty of Packers memorabilia, a dark interior with a view, strands of red twinkle lights, and 80+ years of history. It even has some things I didn’t know I wanted in a supper club, like stuffed-animal birds and striped wallpaper and even an arcade table. But the best thing about the Buckhorn is the out-of-this world, delicious food.

Per usual, we got to the Buckhorn nice and early. We had a couple quick sips of our very boozy old fashioneds in the bar area, but got seated pretty much right away. From what we saw, the bar area was perfectly charming, with bold striped wallpaper and Wisconsin sports, fishing or lobster-related memorabilia stuffed into every crevice. I particularly enjoyed the Packers Beanie Babies stung above the window.

To be totally honest, we didn’t have great service while we were at the Buckhorn. We came on a Saturday, not realizing the place would soon be full of post-Camp Randall Badgers fans. Owen and I like to really take our time at a supper club, and we could sense that the server was annoyed that we didn’t remember the specials, or know what we wanted to order when she first stopped by our table to check on us. We also were a little surprised by the prices. The Buckhorn is not cheap, like $15-for-onion-rings-not-cheap. By the time we ordered our food, we were both feeling a little crabby from the service and the prices.

However, it’s clear that the Buckhorn is going above and beyond in the kitchen. When we did ask to hear the specials again, all of them sounded incredibly interesting and tasty, and noticeably bold for a traditional supper club. The menu at the Buckhorn is pretty much what you’d expect: prime rib, steaks, seafood. Sure, there’s no relish tray, but the food was some of the best we’ve had at a supper club.

Nestled in the bread basket was a little friendly dollop of beer cheese spread, made in-house. Just saying the words “beer cheese” together can make a person feel heavy, but this was whipped to a light and fluffy perfection.

Owen had a side salad with his meal. It came with a nice mix of iceberg lettuce and spring mix, and his go-to bleu cheese dressing had plenty “funkiness” coming through – a high compliment from Owen.

The true highlight of the meal – the highlight of the whole evening, probably the highlight of that whole week – was my french onion soup. I have thought about this soup at least once a day since we visited. If the rest of the meal had been a disaster, the Buckhorn would still have a spot in my heart for this luscious, beautiful french onion soup. It was so rich, so dark in color, and so pleasantly sweet – it was almost french onion caramel. Eating it, I felt guilty that Owen hadn’t ordered it as well (but not guilty enough to share).

When our entrees were served, there was a billow of steam coming off of them. Owen had the prime rib with mushrooms, and I tried the broasted chicken. A heaping pile of mushrooms and a lake of au jus really sang on Owen’s tender prime rib. His baked potato was served most appealingly, with an orange and kale garnish.

My broasted chicken was some of the best I’ve had. The garlic mash certainly delivered on the “garlic” promise, with lovely potato skins and a perfect chunky texture.

Observing our fellow diners, we noticed that we seemed to be the only non-regulars. I saw a diner hug a server, watched a fellow at the table next to ours recite his order, sides and all, without even opening his menu, and almost every group stopped by the hostess stand to chat on their way out. I’m going to guess that we were the only ones who felt like the service was less-than-ideal, and I bet that it was just an off-moment for our server. Another night, we might have been hugging at the end of our meal too. Next time, maybe when we stop by for one of the Buckhorn’s famous lobster boils. Until then, I’ll just dream about that french onion soup.

The Five O’Clock Club, Pewaukee

The Five O’Clock Club, Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: no, or at least not for fish fry
Ice Cream Drinks: maybe not, but great pie
Price Range: Friday fish fry ranges from about $9 to about $22
Ambiance: updated lakeside supper club with a lot of history

One recent Friday night, Owen and I met our friends Vic and Edna at the Five O’Clock Club in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. We had been talking about meeting up at a supper club, and picked a place that was not too far for either of us. 

I like a supper club that feels like a destination, and you have to drive down a long road to get to the Five O’Clock Club. Luckily, Owen and I had a slow Friday afternoon, so we were able to get there a little early, not long after the time the Five O’Clock name suggests. Even though we thought we were plenty early, the place was jam packed when we arrived. We had to park in the “make a spot” parking along the driveway. Upon entering, there was even a line to put your name in for a table, and the hostess was completely out of pagers. The long wait didn’t bother us at all, Owen and I don’t mind some extra time for an old fashioned or two. The weather that night was beautiful, and we enjoyed our first old fashioneds outside with other diners waiting for tables.

The Five O’Clock Club has been in business for an impressive 90 years, opening in 1929.

When Vic and Edna arrived, we found some seats at the bar – a precious commodity in the packed bar area. The bar area is stuffed with trinkets and decor, including a particularly impressive collection of Brewer’s bobbleheads. Our bar seats allowed a clear view of the bartender using enough bitters to tint the ice rose-colored. The old fashioneds were classic, though Edna’s brandy-sweet was very sweet. 

In all, we waited over an hour for a table, but with a couple old fashioneds and a couple old friends, we didn’t mind the wait. There are a couple different dining rooms at the Five O’Clock Club, and from what I could tell, all were cozy and woodsy and heavily decorated. We were sat right by a fireplace with a nice view outside.

The Five O’Clock Club has a limited menu on Fridays, just fish fry and a couple sandwich options. When we were led to our table, it was preset with cole slaw at every place, rye bread, and two bowls of tartar sauce. I do like that math, two bowls of tartar sauce for four people. 

Some less favorable math, the butter dish only had three pats of butter left when we sat down. Vic asked if we could get some more, and a heaping bowl of butter pats soon arrived. Vic is not a huge fan of rye bread, to the great offense of the great rye bread advocates, Owen and Edna. This rye bread was just what Vic likes, nicely spongy and subtly caraway flavored. Owen could do with some more caraway punch.

The coleslaw was nice and vinegary, and though I wanted to save it to eat with my fish, I couldn’t stop from eating it up right away. There’s something nice and distinctly supper-cluby about getting to eat part of your meal while deciding what you want to eat for your meal.

One of my favorite things about the menu at the Five O’Clock Club is that the cheese plate is listed as “market price”. Only in Wisconsin.

We started with some onion rings. The batter was incredibly crunchy, and the onion just slipped right out, but left its’ essence in a very pleasant way.

Vic and Edna also tried the seafood chowder, which came with a bowl of croutons. Sometimes, a creamy soup at a supper club can feel like a salt bomb, but not this time. The soup was good and rich, but not too salty. 

 For our entrees, we all took advantage of the fish fry combos, I tried the shrimp and scallops while everyone else tried the perch and cod, all of which came with fries. Fried scallops can be a risky move, but here the scallops were juicy and succulent, not rubbery at all. The lake perch was the real star of the night. It had just the right ratio of batter to fish, and nice fish flavor.

Afterwards, we all split a slice of apple pie. Owen and I should really meet up with friends like Vic and Edna at supper clubs more often. We always want dessert, but when it’s just the two of us, it seems like a lot to take on, and we usually talk ourselves out of it. The pie was wonderful, our only complaint was that it was served cold. Based on the comfortable service, and the number of pats on the back Owen received from our server, I’m sure the staff would have happily warmed it up for us, if we had thought to ask. With a cup of “well brewed” coffee (Owen’s opinion), it was the perfect end to a pretty nice night. 

The Al-Gen Dinner Club, Rhinelander

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.

Blanck’s Lake Aire Supper Club, Fond du Lac

Blanck’s Lake Aire Supper Club, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Rating: 4 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: No, but a generous salad bar
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: most entrees range from about $12 to about $30
Ambiance: casual, lakeside

One of my very best friends grew up in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, though he’s lived in New York City for many years now. He’s a city person – there aren’t a lot of things he misses about the city of Fond du Lac – but when he found out about this blog, he told Owen and me to try out Blanck’s Lake Aire Supper Club.

After a day enjoying some of Fond du Lac’s delights – the lighthouse, the Kristmas Kringle Shoppe, a nearly-empty Forest Mall, and a miraculous sighting of Elvis himself – we strolled on down to Blanck’s Lake Aire Supper Club. Owen and I like to get to supper clubs nice and early, because a leisurely drink at the bar is part of the experience, after all. When we pulled in, promptly at 4:30pm, a large party was also arriving. We took this as a good indicator of a local, established spot.

Blanck’s interior is simple. Some things have been updated, and some things have not, and that works for me. You really can’t go wrong when you have a view of Lake Winnebago. If I had my druthers, all supper clubs would feel like stepping back in time a couple decades, but Blanck’s nostalgic-meets-pinterest decor compliments the lake view.

One thing we both enjoyed about our pre-dinner drinks: Blanck’s is pickled mushroom country. Many of the other patrons at the bar ordered their old fashioneds with pickled mushrooms, and one even went so far as to get pickled mushrooms with extra onions on the side.

While we sat at the bar, we were handed a menu to peruse. Blanck’s uses the order-at-the-bar system. You let a server know you’re ready to order by “giving the ‘High’ sign” – menus upright. We placed our order with a server, and she led us to our table.

I’m not sure that the things that Owen and I like about supper clubs are universal draws, because we were both delighted by the paper placemats full of local ads. Sure, the lake view is great, but when’s the last time you ate your meal off of an advertisement for a local HVAC company?

Blanck’s is doing a lot of things right, but they are particularly succeeding in the salad bar department. Salad bar is not really even the right term. Soup and Salad bar is closer, but there’s also a section full of prepared salads, a bread section, and a nice end cap with crackers and spreads. Owen was in heaven.

There are so many goodies at the soup and salad bar that I can’t imagine anyone being able to get all their treats in one trip.

We both tried the cheesy beer, potato and bacon soup (you can’t go wrong with that combo). It tasted like butter with a side of beer, in the best way possible. When we were working on our selections, the server stopped by our table to ask “how is the salad bar going?”. I appreciate being checked in on, even during the self-service portion of the meal, where any problems would have only been self-inflicted.

Blanck’s has a big menu, and lots of items that intrigued us. We started with some onion petals. Owen loves onion rings, but we both might be converted to the onion petal format, if only for ease of dipping.

For our entrees, I ordered the chicken cordon bleu and Owen the prime rib, princess cut. Honestly, my previous experience with chicken cordon bleu was frozen and delivered by the Schwan’s man. I sort of forgot that chicken cordon bleu has Swiss cheese, and I don’t really love Swiss cheese, – I could have ordered better. I’m sure it was an excellent version of chicken cordon bleu because the chicken was moist and delicious, and the wild rice was a pleasant surprise. I just might have been happier with a different meal.

Owen had the prime rib with “cheesys”, the real showstopper of the evening. Cheesys are hash browns with cheese throughout, something adjacent to the tray of cheesy potatoes you might see in a church basement social. The prime rib was “princess cut” but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. We couldn’t imagine a piece any bigger, especially considering the ample spread we had already consumed.

We intended to try one of Blanck’s ice cream drinks, but we were both too stuffed after dinner to follow through with it.

On our way out, we noticed a supper club first for us – Blanck’s Lake Aire also sells CBD products. Whatever it takes to bring in more customers!

Norton’s of Green Lake, Green Lake

Norton’s of Green Lake, Green Lake, Wisconsin

Rating: 4 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: no
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Ambiance: an old school, lakeside supper club that’s been updated by Crate & Barrel

Owen and I found our way to Norton’s of Green Lake after a spontaneous trip to Ripon, Wisconsin. After touring the birthplace of the Republican Party, we moseyed on over to Norton’s. We like to get to supper clubs nice and early, so we have plenty of time for a leisurely cocktail before dinner.

The large bar area is inviting and warm, with a bit of a cape cod vibe – a very friendly and amiable place. From across the oblong bar, people were cheers-ing each other, almost how you might acknowledge another boat as you pass on the lake. We overheard a young man tell the bartender about how coming to Norton’s was a favorite memory of his childhood on Green Lake. Our old fashioneds were great, with plenty of bitters, but the true star was the pickled mushroom. I’m not sure where Norton’s gets their pickled mushrooms from, or if they make their own, but I can’t recommend them highly enough. The bartender heard us gushing about the mushrooms, and put extras mushrooms in our second round. Very classy.

Norton’s certainly feels like an old supper club, but it’s been recently redecorated. If it was up to Owen and I, all old supper clubs would be preserved and restored, but if you have to redecorate a supper club, this is how to do it. There are lots of touches of the old school supper club -he walls in the bar area had a plethora of Norton’s memorabilia, the oblong bar, the wood panelling, the retro neon sign out front. But something about Norton’s also feels like your rich friend’s lake house. The bones are there, but we missed the nostalgia.

Norton’s is very nice, like a-$360-bottle-of-wine nice. The dining room is right on lake level, and the pier was busy with groups boating up to enjoy the outdoor tiki bar and fire pit. From our table, we could look across the lake and see a red barn across the lake – a picture perfect Wisconsin view.

Even from the bread basket, we could tell the food at Norton’s would be excellent. Our bread basket came out steaming hot, with both a dinner roll and a cloverleaf roll. We both ordered side salads with our meals, with dressing that tasted homemade.

For our entrees, I ordered the prime rib special, and Owen tried the goat cheese gnocchi. I would expect any supper club that’s been around for 50+ years to know a thing or two about prime rib, but Norton’s really did a nice job. The prime rib had a perfect crust. Owen’s gnocchi had goat cheese, roasted red pepper, chicken and scallions, and the bites I stole from his plate made me wish I had ordered it too. Even the sides were stellar – my mashed potatoes and gravy were just divine.

When we finally waddled out of Norton’s, we noticed at least half of the cars in the parking lot had Illinois plates. Somehow, that just made sense. We had a lovely time at Norton’s, but it also felt a bit fancier and flashier than the retro atmosphere we crave at supper clubs.