6 supper clubs worth tackling on the way to Green Bay
Kami Ohlson makes a brandy Old-Fashioned at HobNob supper club near Racine, Wis. Sept. 27, 2016. (Video by Mary Bergin)
The supper club is a cherished tradition that we in Wisconsin claim as our own.
This regional way of eating — hearty dining in a leisurely, get-to-know-each-other, sit-down setting — can take place in diverse settings, from modern to old school. But supper clubs typically share certain characteristics when it comes to hours of operation (dinnertime, usually) and ownership (multiple generations of one family, ideally).
Get a taste of this Cheesehead culinary ritual the next time you head north, maybe for that Bears-Packers game at Lambeau Field on Oct. 20. Spend the night in America’s Dairyland, and catch a Friday fish fry — another proud Badgerland tradition, although not limited to supper clubs — on your way home.
Wisconsin is stocked with at least 250 supper clubs, many of which fly under the radar because of their countryside locales or solely word-of-mouth advertising. All serve steaks and seafood, typically for a price that also includes salad, soup, a potato and bread basket. A few meals still begin with a complimentary relish tray of nibbles: from raw veggies and dip to pickled beets and herring.
Here are a half-dozen distinctly different, worth-a-visit supper clubs conveniently located for that Lambeau road trip, as they’re all within 10 miles of interstates 94 or 43.
Neon signage and a huge martini painted on the outside wall have marked the spot — halfway between Racine and Kenosha — since the 1950s. Decor is retro-lush: Naugahyde booths, deep burgundy walls, heavy drapes with fringes, intimate dining nooks and many extras from long-ago world travels.
Arrive before dark for a seat at the bar and wide view of Lake Michigan just beyond the terrace door. Eagles, deer and other wildlife occasionally can be spotted outside. Some regulars time their visits to coincide with a rising moon.
Customers used to dance on the roof. Now it’s soft jazz on Friday and a piano player on Saturday, both at ground level. Roasted duckling, served a la orange, remains a fan favorite. Save room for a grasshopper cocktail, made with a whopping 10 scoops of ice cream.
277 S. Sheridan Road, Somers, 262-552-8008, www.thehobnob.com
Most supper clubs are mom-and-pop operations that began business generations ago, but not this one. The James Beard Award-winning Bartolotta Restaurants opened its version of supper club dining in 2012. “Joey Gerard” is what the mom of restaurant group co-founder Joe Bartolotta called him.
Expect flashes of vintage Hollywood at both suburban Milwaukee locations in Greendale and Mequon. Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman are among the long-ago celebrities whose black-and-white photos hang above the leather booths and other places in the stylish eatery.
Classically prepared fare includes French onion soup, steak Diane and schaum torte, a meringue shell topped with vanilla ice cream and fruit sauce. Even the green goddess dressing in the complimentary relish tray is made in-house. End the night with a soothing Pal Joey cocktail, a mix of ice cream, mascarpone, Kahlua, Bailey’s, Amaretto and creme de cocoa.
5601 Broad St., Greendale, 414-858-1900, and 11120 N. Cedarburg Road, Mequon, 262-518-5500, www.joeygerards.com.
Inside this 1924 Art Deco Milwaukee building, the former Shorecrest Hotel, is one of Wisconsin’s newest supper clubs. It opened last year.
Architecture sets a nostalgic tone, but food and drink menus are a wild mix of traditional fare and modern interpretations. This means appetizers of pork belly-wrapped shrimp as well as oysters Rockefeller, entrees of chili-braised cauliflower steaks and pork chops with potato salad, salsa macha and steak sauce.
You’ll pay extra for the Lazy Susan relish tray that may include housemade braunschweiger, smoked trout mousse and black truffle deviled eggs. These starters are about half-price 3-6 p.m. weekdays, when gimlets and Old-Fashioned cocktails are two-for-one
Watch mixologists as they tamper with classic supper-club cocktails. For example: Space Travel, a dessert drink that includes blue moon, an ice cream flavor found mostly in the Upper Midwest.
1962 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, 414-509-6074, www.supper.restaurant
Golfers (including the late pro Arnold Palmer) have long found their way to the sleepy village of Newburg (pop. 1,250), near the northern unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest. Behind the bar is a set of clubs from the 1940s, photos of pro golfers, artwork about the sport and other paraphernalia. “On the Range,” “In the Rough” and “On the Greens” are menu categories.
Five miles away is The Bog, which Palmer designed in the 1990s. Within 50 miles are Kohler’s championship courses, Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. The supper club’s longtime owner, whose nickname is No No, is a golf fanatic. So is her 35-year-old successor, who began working here as a teen washing dishes.
German food — “schnitzels, shanks and schnapps” — is the Thursday dining theme, thanks to a semi-retired chef with high-end Milwaukee restaurant work on his resume. Fans of Old-Fashioned cocktails usually get fruit as a garnish elsewhere, but these customers know to ask for pickled mushrooms that contain a kick of Tabasco.
3498 Highway 33 East, Newburg, 262-675-6960, www.nonosrestaurant.com
Klemme’s Wagon Wheel
Torte is a much-loved dessert throughout Sheboygan County, but forget visions of delicately complex European fare at this Howards Grove spot. Simpler versions of these creamy squares
are popular at Klemme’s, operated by a brother and sister whose parents began the supper club in 1972. They cater to hardworking farmers and other local residents, scheduling family-style meals for funerals, sports banquets, graduation parties and other life passages.
A specialty at Klemme’s is broasted chicken, a method that’s a cross between using a deep-fat fryer and a pressure cooker. Broasting equipment takes less than 10 minutes to produce a dozen servings, and Klemme’s has nine of these appliances. Do the math: Especially for a village of 3,190, that’s a lot of chicken. The production record is 3.5 tons in one week.
120 S. Wisconsin Drive, Howards Grove, 920-565-2325, www.klemmeswagonwheel.com
Wally’s Spot Supper Club
Older than the first Lambeau Field and 6 miles east of today’s NFL stadium in Green Bay is a family-run, second-generation supper club whose first impression comes courtesy of its large, neon-topped, slow-twirling sign.
The business began nearly 70 years ago. Look for an autographed Reggie White jersey and other Packers collectibles near the roomy, semicircular bar. Allegiances are clear, but supporters of visiting teams (I’m looking at you, Bears fans) are welcome.
Start with mushroom caps filled with crabmeat and cream cheese. Fried perch is a locals’ favorite on Fridays. Pan-fried walleye makes the menu every day. Sometimes Cajun dishes sneak onto the menu as specials.
Wally’s Spot Special is an open-faced broiled sandwich of ham, turkey, cheese and a secret sauce that resembles Thousand Island dressing.
During warm weather, Thursday is “patio night,” which means free appetizer samples.
1979 Main St., Green Bay, 920-468-7924, www.wallysspot.com
Mary Bergin is a freelance writer.
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