Sullivan’s, Trempealeau

Sullivan’s Supper Club, Trempealeau, Wisconsin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: no relish tray, but ample relish tray-type goodies at the salad bar
Salad: very generous salad bar, including soup, bread, and pudding
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Ambiance: Incredible view, unremarkable interior

Sullivan’s Supper Club is located in Trempealeau, Wisconsin. Just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, Sullivan’s location is truly one of the most scenic of all the supper clubs we’ve visited. Trempealeau is part of what is known as the “driftless region,” an area which was spared glacial erosion during the last ice age, thereby preserving the diverse topography of the prehistoric midwestern landscape. We arrived a few minutes before the restaurant opened, and the parking lot was already full of cars, many with Minnesota license plates. This was unsurprising once we learned that Winona, Minnesota is just a short ride away.

Jean and I usually make it a point not to make reservations at supper clubs, as we enjoy sitting at the bar for an hour or so and having a couple old-fashioneds while waiting for a table. In retrospect, Sullivan’s should have warranted an exception from this policy. The main dining room features beautiful views of the river (hence the slogan “a view to ‘dine’ for”) but as the parking lot indicated, all these tables were already taken by folks who knew to make reservations in advance.

We waited for about an hour at the bar and ordered the usual, two brandy old-fashioned sours with pickled mushrooms. They were delicious. The interior is dimly lit, with most of the lighting coming from the neon lights and the large windows opposite the bar in the dining room. The decor is reminiscent of an Irish pub, a nod to the Irish heritage of it’s founder, Ed Sullivan (no, not that Ed Sullivan.) It was a warm early spring day, so we took our second round of old-fashioneds out to the deck and looked out at the river view.

When we came back in we were seated at a small table next to the bar. Jean and I both ordered the “Brad’s Sampler” combination platter, which featured tenderloin tips, fried or broiled shrimp, and ribs. Our dinners came with soup and salad bar as well as choice of potato (we chose baked.) Sullivan’s doesn’t offer a relish tray, but it does boast an impressive salad bar which comes about as close to making up for that shortcoming as possible in my book. In addition to all the usual salad bar fixings, there was soup, which was a rich and savory beef and barley, and several bread options were available. We tried the Irish brown bread, a hearty and flavorful Sullivan’s specialty. There were also several other items on the salad bar, coleslaw, marinated vegetables, three bean salad, and several pasta and potato salads as well.

By the time our sampler platters arrived, we were pretty much full. You have to understand that salad bar was massive, and we couldn’t possibly try all of it in one trip. Fortunately for you, dear reader, our second round of old-fashioneds gave us the courage to go for a second round at the salad bar, allowing us to provide a more thorough review.

Nevertheless, we soldiered on through our meals. The tenderloin tips came with sautéed mushrooms, and since they were just tips rather than a finer cut, I felt no shame in dumping half a bottle of A1 on it. I ordered my shrimp fried, and Jean’s were broiled. Both versions were tasty. I’m not always a huge fan of ribs at supper clubs as compared to their BBQ smokehouse counterparts. Like most supper clubs, Sullivan’s likely boils ribs and then finishes them off in the broiler, which is fine as long as they don’t get too dried out. Sullivan’s ribs were tender and fell right off the bone. The BBQ sauce they were served with was tangy and some of the meat drippings ran into the sauce giving it a rich flavor.

We made it about halfway through our entrees before giving up and asking for a box. Unfortunately, this meant that despite the tempting ice cream drink offerings, we simply had no room for dessert. Sullivan’s is wonderful place, which honestly had some of the best food we’ve had at a supper club. We would highly recommend it, not least of all for its beautiful location.

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.

Pitch’s Ribs, Milwaukee

Pitch’s Ribs, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Rating: a solid 3.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: no
Salad Situation: side salad
Ice Cream Drinks: no, but the tiramisu looked interesting
Ambience: lots of mirrors, large stained glass panels, leaded glass lampshapes, but just too bright!

Self-described as “Milwaukee’s Favorite Supper Club”, Pitch’s is nestled in the busy Brady Street neighborhood of Milwaukee – not exactly the idyllic, woodsy, lakeside setting that might come to mind when you picture a Wisconsin supper club. Just blocks away from Pitch’s is the ever-popular BelAir Cantina, where swarms of millennials flock for taco Tuesdays. Despite their physical proximity, the two neighbors represent two ends of the restaurant spectrum, from young and flashy to classic and nostalgic. Together, they practically serve as a lesson in the history of American dining, or at least Wisconsin dining. Pitch’s is a relic from the era when Brady Street was a predominantly Italian neighborhood, along with Glorioso’s and Sciortino’s Bakery.

When we entered Pitch’s, notably one of the only restaurants in the area with the convenience parking lot, it was pretty quiet, even for a Monday night. As soon as you step inside, you forget that you’re in downtown Milwaukee, and in the year 2019. Just a handful of tables were occupied in the dining room, though laughter could be heard from the much busier bar area. The ambiance felt just about right; mirrored walls, leaded glass lampshades, stained glass panels of art nouveau-esque women, and a fire in the fireplace. If anything, it was just a tad too brightly lit for our taste.

As soon as we sat down, our server brought a little bowl of butter packets to the table. She was a bright, cheery woman, quick to call us, “my dears”. Owen had to order an olive in his old fashioned, as they did not have pickled mushrooms, but that barely seemed to matter as we sipped them with “That’s Amore” playing in the background. We started the meal with rumaki, water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and served with a honey mustard sauce. Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are a Christmas tradition in my family and have a special place in my heart. Pitch’s rumaki were not the same bar-b-que laden ones of my childhood, but they offered their own delicious take. They were well cooked, and came in a meaty, vinegary, sweet sauce that we both slathered on our bread later. The bread basket had both slices of bread and pre-packaged breadsticks, including “mutli-flavor”, something Owen and I had not seen before

For our entrees, I went with the Monday night steak special, and Owen chose the Trio Combination, one junior order of Pitch’s ribs, two deep fried shrimp and one 5oz spiedini. Spiedini, as it turns out, is a steer filet, rolled, stuffed with cheese, bread crumbs, currants and red onion, and served with mariana, though Owen thought it was Pitch’s Bar-B-Que sauce, and missed the opportunity eat it with his spiedini. The entrees came with either a soup or a salad, and a side. We both chose side salads, mine with French and Owen’s with herbed sour cream and bleu cheese chunks.

Owen and I always try a bite of each other’s meals, and we had a bit of a disagreement about the famous Pitch’s ribs. I was raised on ribs from chain restaurants, and I don’t mind an oven roasted rack of ribs. Owen, however, greatly prefers his ribs smoked, but we both agreed we would have liked a little side of bar-b-que sauce. My steak was served with a heaping pile of onion strings, and a delicious au jous. Pasta salad was a tempting side option, a nod to the establishment’s Italian roots, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to supper club hashbrowns. Pitch’s hashbrowns did not disappoint at all – only in that I was too full to finish them.

Our eager server stopped at our table often, clearing up plates and butter wrappers almost as soon as we were done with them. When I couldn’t finish my hashbrowns, she packed them up in a true ‘doggy bag’, returned to me wrapped in a white paper bag that was even stapled shut. She was so efficient at clearing our table that all that was left when we stood up to put on our coats were a couple of sauce stains on the white paper tablecloth. All in all, Pitch’s Ribs is a unique supper club, especially because of its urban location. As our server said, “We’ll see you again”. Indeed.

Arthur’s Supper Club, Spring Green

Arthur’s Supper Club, Spring Green, Wisconsin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds

Relish Tray: no relish tray, but the salad bar provided some relish-tray type fixings
Salad Situation: “all you can eat” salad bar with plenty of extras like cole slaw and two types of soup
Ice Cream Drinks: yes
Ambience: loosely “King Arthur” themed complete with digital photo frames and an indoor waterfall

The exterior of Arthur’s Supper Club features a prominent roadside sign claiming to be “the place for seafood and steaks” and and that “if your glass is empty, let us fill it.” Our glasses would not be the only thing to be filled that evening. The front facade of the entrance displays the restaurant’s name in backlit, medieval script, and a full suit of knight’s armor at the crest of the facade.

We entered the restaurant and found ourselves in front of the host stand. I informed the host that we had a reservation and she anticipated that we were the “Owen” party of two. On the way to our table we passed an impressive salad and soup bar. Arthur’s boasts a number of dining rooms, the first of which features a stunning waterfall faux rock formation with an artificial glowing flame and a recreation of the fabled sword in the stone from the legend of King Arthur. The back wall of this dining room features a floor-to-ceiling mural of the rolling green hills of an english countryside with a castle nestled near the horizon.

At first glance the room in which we were seated is treated with more subtle decor, though more unique than the first. The knights of the round table theme continues with wood panels and yellow ochre walls, ornamented with tapestries and knight’s shields. Our table was nested between two wooden partitions, creating a sense of intimacy while still allowing for a view of the rest of the dining room. Each “booth” featured its own digital picture frame featuring a slideshow of nature and vaguely medieval scenes. These screens were echoed by a larger digital picture frame set against the back wall displaying images of flora and fauna from across the globe. Our server greeted us with a basket of warm bread nestled in a brown paper towel that was suspiciously similar to the ones available in the gentleman’s washroom. The bread was served with a whipped cinnamon butter described by our server as “a little sweet for ya.”

A warm bread basket greeted us soon after we took our seats. We each tried a piece of bread with the cinnamon butter, which was tasty but perhaps a tad too sweet for a palate that leans toward a preference for savory flavors. Traditional butter continentals were available at the table. Our server inquired if we would like to start our meal off with something to drink. I ordered a brandy old fashioned sour with pickled mushrooms, and Jean ordered a pressed brandy old fashioned with fruit. The drinks did not disappoint. Jean and I both selected the two piece Friday night fish fry with a cheese and spring onion hash brown. Our meal also came with an all-you-can-eat salad and soup bar. Our server took our menus and invited us to help ourselves to the salad bar. The salad bar featured a full selection of vegetables and pickles. Also available were six dressings, two soups of the day (a hearty Atlantic seafood chowder and a “creamy” chicken soup, which could have been a little creamier) croutons and garlic toast.

As we were eating, we overheard our server relaying a story about the photo display on the large digital picture frame. When she first began working at Arthur’s, some senior staff told her that the slideshow consisted of photos of Wisconsin wildlife. Without paying much attention to the photos herself, she proceeded to pass this information onto guests. She continued until one day, someone responded “I didn’t know there were baboons in Wisconsin!” We finished our meal with a Brandy Alexander. I award Arthur’s four and a half out of five stars for unique ambiance, quality food, and excellent service. One half star is deducted for lack of a relish tray. This would normally be a full star deduction but a bonus half star is awarded for unlimited soup and salad bar.