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.

Connell’s Supper Club, Chippewa Falls

Connell’s Supper Club, Chippewa Falls

Rating: a solid 4 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: Yes, complete with pickled herring
Salad: “Crisp Green Vegetable Salad”
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Ambiance: traditional, typical supper club

We arrived at Connell’s at just the right time to roll up to a supper club – 4:30pm sharp on a Tuesday “night”. The bar area was dark and friendly, with a few other customers, many of whom seemed to be locals. Behind the orange linoleum bar, the bartender greeted the regulars with a comfortable “look who’s coming in now”, or a “about time you showed up.”

The Old Fashioneds went down easy, and at $4 each – we didn’t mind having more than one. We both had them served brandy sour, with a mushroom. Apparently, in Chippewa Falls, it’s not so common to order your Old Fashioned with a mushroom, but the bartender was very friendly and happy to oblige.

Since we arrived early, there were only a handful of other tables when we sat down to eat, though the bar area had filled up quite a bit. To start, we tried “Connell’s Handmade White Curds. The batter was crispy and about as light as fried cheese can be, and the curds pleasantly cheesy, salty and delicious.

Dinners at Connell’s are served with a relish tray, choice of potato, a “cracker basket”, dinner rolls, and a “crisp green vegetable salad” or soup. Relish trays these days are few and far between, and this one had an extra special treat – pickled herring. When the server left the tray at our table, Owen did a little dance of delight. There are few things in this world Owen loves as much as pickled herring, in fact I buy him a jar each year for Christmas to go in his stocking (which has a picture of pickled herring on it). Along with the herring, the tray was pretty classic – radish, carrots, green onions – and just right.

The dinner rolls arrived to our table warm, and in three varieties, accompanied by more crackers than Owen and I could hope to eat in a week. There’s something nice about being served three types of (presumably) homemade bread, as well as a plethora of generic crackers. This homage to the pre-meal carbohydrate really illustrates one of the cornerstones of supper clubs – it’s all about plenty.

Though it seems like a small detail, one of my favorite things about Connell’s was the salad plate. In my humble opinion, the glass cabbage leaf style plate adds significant satisfaction to the classic side salad.

For our entrees, I ordered the pork chop and Owen ordered the liver and onions, because of course he did. The pork chop was served with applesauce, and perhaps a bit past medium. Owen enjoyed his liver, bacon and onions like only he can. After a quick Google search, we both selected the “lyonnaise” potatoes, which ended up being pretty similar to a hash brown. We are still not sure if we were served hash browns, or if we just had a different expectation of lyonnaise potatoes. Either way, they were huge plates of potatoes, so I was happy. Even happier when the waitress brought some delicious herbed sour cream.

In the end, our bill was less than $40. Sure, I’ve had better food at a supper club, but Connell’s certainly hit a lot of marks for us. At one point, the bartender said to us, “We just love it when young people come to supper clubs”. While we’re not that young, we sure do love supper clubs – and we would love to come back to Connell’s. 

The Duck Inn, Delavan

The Duck Inn, Delavan, Wisconsin

Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds – a perfect Wisconsin Supper Club

Relish Tray: yes, costs $1.25
Ice Cream Drinks: abundant and indulgant
Ambiance: Ducks for days

The Duck Inn, in Delavan, Wisconsin is everything you could ever want out of a Wisconsin Supper Club. The name comes from the prohibition era, when patrons could secretly “duck in” for a drink. A sign over the entrance says “Welcome to The Duck Inn, Waddle Out”, which is just the start of the duck decor. There are ducks everywhere – duck curtains cover duck wallpaper, on walls that have duck artwork and duck figurines, all lit by duck covered lampshades. An embroidered pillow says “Shut the duck up” and behind the bar there’s a magnificent diorama featuring taxidermy ducks above a real fish tank. Together, it’s the perfect balance of quirky, woodsy and all-around charming.

We visited on a Friday night, and it was busy with fish fry seekers. I can’t think of a better place to wait for a table, sitting at the bar in front of the duck diorama, sipping excellent old fashioneds and taking in the duck decor.

When it was time to eat, we were led to the main dining room, right in front of a large fireplace. The dining room is warm and inviting, 100% wood paneled, and shaped a bit like an upside-down canoe. The Duck Inn has a relish tray available for $1.25 – a price we were happy to pay, especially after we tried the tangy, homemade buttermilk ranch dipping sauce. I’m sure it would rub some supper-club-frequenters the wrong way to have to pay for something that is often complimentary, but Owen and I both love a crinkle carrot so much, we don’t mind the extra fee. A little research taught us that the owners decided to charge $1.25 for a relish tray, rather than raise the prices on their menu, which we appreciated.

While the duck entrees were particularly tempting to Owen, we both went with the all-you-can-eat fish fry. Since the fish fry is a special, it does not come with the normal sides (choice of soup, juice, tossed salad or spinach salad, choice of potato or rice, bread, crackers and cheese), but instead fries or potato pancakes, coleslaw, applesauce and rye bread. I caught a glance of a bread basket at another table, and it looked starchy and respectable. We opted to start with a spinach salad, and quite enjoyed the sweet and smoky dressing.

When Owen’s plate of smelt arrived, he delightedly said “I’m going to eat so many of these little fish! How many times have you eaten 20 animals in one sitting?” His “fish fries” (his term) had a thick batter and went well with the ample tartar sauce. My cod was flaky and moist, but I only had eyes for the potato pancakes. One thing to know about me – I love a good potato. Mashed, fried, stick em in a pancake – I can’t get enough. These potato pancakes were divine, the interior had shredded potato mixed with a chive-y mashed potato, all lightly fried. Per tradition, it was served with applesauce, but not just Mott’s. The chunky applesauce and sour cream complimented the dreamy potato pancakes perfectly. If everything else about the evening had been a disaster, this potato pancake might have made up for it (for me at least).

In the time we were there, it was hard to miss the ice cream drinks. Most tables seemed to finish their meal with a towering mountain of an ice cream drink. We overheard our server tell another table they could order a half-sized grasshopper, and decided to do the same. Even “half” size, the two of us struggled to finish it. From afar, it appeared to be served in a green glass, but on closer inspection, it was just covered in green syrup.

All in all, Owen and I spent about three hours at the Duck Inn, not to mention the hour or so drive each way. The slow, relaxed pace of the evening really added to our experience. This is one reason why Owen and I like supper clubs so much – it’s not just about going out to dinner, but a destination. And we certainly did waddle out.

The Tornado Club Steak House, Madison

The Tornado Room, Madison, Wisconsin

Rating: 4 out of 5 Old Fasioneds

Relish Tray: arrived at the table before we had our coats off
Salad Situation:
all dinners served with salad
Ice Cream Drinks:
not sure
retro, dark, wood paneled, but also Madison

Owen and I went to the Tornado Room to celebrate a special occasion – Owen’s birthday. It was a snowy Wednesday night in Madison, but the Tornado room was packed. The Tornado Room is just off the capital square and very “Madison” – the capital building is glowing just few steps away, with trendy glass buildings springing up on every corner. Owen and I had a couple disagreements that night, about what exactly it was about the Tornado Room that made it feel not quite right, not quite supper club-y enough for us. I think our problem with the Tornado Room gets to the very heart of “what is a supper club”. On the surface, the Tornado Room has everything – a beautifully retro lounge, excellent food, huge portions, dark wood panelling. But can it overcome being just steps from the capital square? Is part of the charm of a supper club that it’s rural – and that it’s a destination? Not just another meal out, but an entire evening?

Because it was a special night, we had made reservations. In retrospect, I wonder if that was the right choice for us. The Tornado Room has a really lovely, retro lounge, but we didn’t get to enjoy it while we sipped our usual pre-dinner cocktail. We were sat at our table right away, and a relish tray – or in this case relish cup – was at our table before we had our coats off. The Old Fashioneds were excellent, very tart and not at all sweet.

The dining room we were in had wood panelling and wooden booths. It was appropriately dark – dark enough that a woman at another table was using her cell phone light to read her menu. The walls had some vaguely western themed artwork and artifacts.

The bread basket was a borderline absurd amount of bread. This is not a place for the gluten-intolerant. We got both a gargantuan homemade breadstick and our own loaf of a herby bread, both obviously homemade.

Owen gets a real kick out of trying unusual foods, especially unusual meats, so we had to try the frogs legs. It was my first experience with frogs legs, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – but I did not expect them to be sweet. The frogs legs were crispy in a very salty breading, and the honey brandy sauce was surprisingly sweet and so very sticky. We could have used a moist towelette after eating them.

Entrees come with a choice of salad or soup, and we both went with the salad. You can choose between four options: Caesar, field greens with a vinaigrette, iceberg lettuce with French Roquefort, or spinach with a warm bacon dressing. The server offered fresh ground pepper on the salad, Olive-Garden style (“say when”), a very nice touch. I had the spinach salad, and Owen the wedge, both were incredible. The bacon dressing was smokey and tart but not oily at all. The wedge salad was well dressed with lots of bonus veggies and a healthy amount of onion. At this point, we were both full and content, and we hadn’t even been served our entrees yet.

For our entrees, I had the shrimp with a side of hash browns. The shrimp may have been the best shrimp I’ve ever had, super moist and delicious. Half of the shrimp were broiled and half were fried. The batter on the fried shrimp was somehow thick and airy and crisp, all at the same time. The cocktail sauce was also wonderful, thick and chunky, perhaps with onions but I couldn’t say for sure. The shrimp was served with approximately six potatoes worth of hash browns – I was in heaven.

Owen, always a fan of the uncommon meats, tried the rabbit. The rabbit came with a mustard au jus with kale and bacon. Owen loves mustard, so slather a mustard sauce on anything and he will love it – this did not disappoint. For his side, Owen went with the yorkshire pudding – which was enormous. Neither of us have had many yorkshire puddings, but in our inexpert opinion, it would benefit from some sort of sauce. The yorkshire pudding was especially daunting considering we had already had an absurd amount of bread.

Our leftovers were packed in a professional doggie bag – each labeled with what we ordered and the date. We even each got our own shopping bag to carry out – very classy.

Our rating of the Tornado Room is complicated. The food was truly excellent – some of the best food I’ve ever had at a supper club. But we just couldn’t give it a 5 out of 5. The Tornado Room is missing some of the “x-factor” that makes a supper club unique. It might be too trendy, too posh. I wonder if we would have felt the same with a couple of pre-dinner drinks.