When  you live in the upper Midwest, you quickly become steeped in the  culinary tradition that is the Supper Club.  They’re peculiar places,  usually on the outskirts of town or in rural areas, in somewhat  unassuming and rather dated buildings, often near travelers motels  advertising “free color TV.”  A brief revival has sent some of them into  more upscale digs, and the nouveau supper club has become an entity of  its own, usually offering fine-dining equivalents of the standard fare.   Sometimes, you will find one in a strange part of the city, nestled  between warehouses or parked in the middle of an urban stripmall – these  are places that doggedly hang on, that were there when the land was  little more than trees and meadows, before urban sprawl built up around  them.  They hang on either because of their reputations or because of a  tenacious clientele, one that is progressively aging.  A supper club of  that vintage rarely advertises, and if you visit one you’re unlikely to  find anyone under the age of 70 at the bar.  You can count on such a  place to have an inexpensive and at the very least serviceable menu.
And wood paneling.  These will always have wood paneling.
These  menus are vast, and a tribute to culinary Americana.  While you may see  an entry for “spaghetti and meatballs” or possibly some german  specialty, this is not a place to go for ethnic or experimental food  (although generally if you spot a northern European dish on the menu,  it’s a recipe direct from someone’s grandmother and is likely to be  good).  This is hearty, down-home fare, heavy on meat and every now and  again some sort of cream sauce.  Roast (or sometimes broasted) chicken,  steaks, and the less-adventurous fish.  Occasionally surf-n-turf.
However,  one generally doesn’t go to order off the menu.  The nightly specials  are the main reason one visits a supper club.  And these specials are  nearly identical from restaurant to restaurant.
It  is traditional, albeit not mandatory, to start the dining experience  with a drink from the bar.  This is not a place to order a craft beer –  although many places now stock them (especially if it’s local), most are  purely decorative.  You get a can’s worth of an American lager, or if  you’re lucky you have the availability of something from Leinenkugel’s.   Primarily, though, you order something in a martini or highball glass.   And if it’s in a martini glass, it’s a martini.  Not a cosmopolitan,  not an appletini – just whatever you could picture Dean Martin downing  in quantity on a Friday night.  Otherwise, you order an Old Fashioned.   Non-midwesterners will recognize this as a drink made generally with  whiskey or rye and bitters.  This would be correct in about 90% of the  country.  In Wisconsin, it’s similar, but made with the much-sweeter  brandy, and usually garnished with a generous number of fluorescent-red  maraschino cherries.  It’s a different beast, and an acquired taste.    In some areas you may find it called a “brandy old fashioned”, but if  you order an “old fashioned” this is generally the default.
Anything  you order will give you an option of a salad bar.  This is a nod to  those iconoclastic individuals for whom french fries are not a  sufficient serving of vegetables.  One should not approach a salad bar  in a supper club expecting anything healthy.  They are all virtually  identical – some iceberg-based mix of lettuce in a large bowl, shredded  cheddar cheese, sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onions, a  container of the world’s saddest store-bought tomatoes, an inexplicable  container of large-curd cottage cheese, some distressingly  uniformly-shaped croutons, and an enormous container of artificial bacon  bits.  This is accompanied by several vats of creamy dressings, almost  always including French, Ranch (or, for the older set, “house”)  and  Blue Cheese, occasionally “creamy Italian”, and for the dietier an  eye-hurtingly orange “lo-fat French.”  You will eat a salad, and it will  be dressed in something artery-clogging, but this is only a formality.
Some  of the more interesting supper clubs will have a large bowl of spinach,  and near that a crock-pot of something.  This is the real salad bar  gold.  The spinach serves as a carrier for the contents of the crock  pot, a viscous, sweet, vinegary concoction referred to as “hot bacon  dressing.”  It’s nominally a salad dressing but in reality it’s a small  meal in itself.  This is possibly a reference to the traditional  american “spinach salad” that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country,  but the resemblance is only superficial - it’s really just an excuse to  eat loads of bacon wile convincing yourself you are eating greens.  It  is rather brilliant in this fashion.
Friday night is a fish fry.   Despite Wisconsin being settled primarily by German and Scandinavian  Lutherans, the fish-on-Friday rule still has a powerful grip on the  collective Midwestern psyche.  Battered, deep fried cod or haddock, some  sort of potato, and a trip to the salad bar.  This is what you get.   Often a bowl of coleslaw or something will be delivered to the table,  but this is just to compete with local church suppers that serve  additional foodstuffs.  Some rural places will also sell a fried version  of whatever fish is popular in the area – lake perch, walleye, bass.   This is a trick.  Most times the fish is not caught locally, and simply  imported with the supply of cod.  It’s usually good, but rarely is it as  good as it could be, nor is it usually “all you can eat” as the cod  usually is.  There is also often a “baked fish” option, for the  health-conscious.  This is also a trick.  It may cost the same or even  also be all-you-can-eat, but it is rarely healthy by any definition of  the word, since it is invariably served in a deep pool of drawn butter.   It too is delicious, but ordering it will get you either a pitying look  (since you are clearly not eating the fried fish becasue of some  terrible heart condition) or a mistrustful glance (since you are clearly  from out of town).
Often other seafood specials are available on  fridays.  The very best will give you a dearly-priced crab leg or  lobster tail as a seafood special with or without a steak the size of  your face.  This is usually not the highest-quality seafood, but after a  few brandy old fashioneds, you will not care and will readily spend the  extra $20.
Stick with the cod.  You won’t regret it.  If they  know what they’re doing it will be encased in a crispy batter, usually  something beer-based, deep-fried, and served with a wedge of lemon and a  substantial helping of tartar sauce.  On rare occasions the fish will  be breaded.  These establishments are not to be patronized for their  fish.
Saturday is, inevitably, Prime Rib.  This is the best reason to go to a supper club.
Often  not actually prime, but always a rib roast, slow-roasted, usually  served anywhere from blood-red rare to slightly less than rare, you  order a cut and just pray you can eat all of it without going into  cardiac arrest.  Usually there are two to three cuts – a “petite cut”,  which is roughly 12 ozs, a “Queen cut” which is a barely-manageable  14ozs but named such that no truly masculine individual would ever order  it, and a “King cut” which can be anywhere from 16ozs to roughly the  size of a german luxury car.  Your choice of sides is a potato – baked,  French fries, or hash browns – or a “steamed vegetable.”  The steamed  vegetable is usually a somewhat sad-looking recently-unfrozen broccoli  or green beans, and they are rarely appealing, so the best option is the  potato.  If you order hashbrowns you will have the option of the  addition of cheese and fried onions.  This addition is delicious, and  would be perfect for anyone who has excellent health insurance and/or  nothing left to live for.  The fries are usually large, fluffy steak  fries, which serve to compliment the basket of rolls on your table as a  method of mopping up meat juice.
The meat arrives, a juicy red  slab roughly the thickness of a rural phone directory.  Your first  instinct will be to search for a garnish or perhaps a side of something  green.  This is a typical newbie mistake.  Parsley is superfluous at  best, and an affectation of one of those fancy city places at worst.  A  request for vegetables would be a suspicious sign that you are not a  true, red-blooded American.  Your choice of condiments is usually  horseradish sauce (either creamy, or sometimes just plain grated  horseradish), something like A-1 or Heinz57 (although these are  generally frowned upon), or you may be asked if you want your steak  “with au jus.”  Linguistic purists may be quick to point out that this  is a redundant phrase, since “au jus” already means “with juice” in  French – in this case they would be incorrect, as this is not actually  the raw juice, but some sort of brown clear sauce made from meat  drippings, water, and the contents of a dry envelope clearly labeled “Au  Jus.”
Not that it really needs any of this.  A properly done  prime rib roast is a thing of beauty.  Despite the large quantites of  fat on the cap and the line of gristle through the middle.  Simply  seasoned, the crust is salty and occasionally laced with a few  inoffensive spices, and beyond that the meat is generally simply  meat-flavored.  It may need salt or the horseradish as a slight accent  but not much else.
You will want to eat this slowly.  This is the  sort of quantity of meat that would make even an Argentinian pause, and  rushing said consumption can lead to a vicious protein hangover.  The  potato serves as a nice buffer to the system, and the old fashioned will  help give you the courage to face this epic slab of beef.
If you  survive, the waitstaff will offer you dessert.  Accepting this offer is  usually ill-advised, unless it’s homemade pie.  There’s nothing much  wrong with a supper-club dessert, it’s usually a substantial slab of  cake or an ice cream sundae, it’s merely that if you wish to remain  ambulatory to return to your car, adding a few thousand more calories to  your meal is not the best course of action.

When you live in the upper Midwest, you quickly become steeped in the culinary tradition that is the Supper Club.  They’re peculiar places, usually on the outskirts of town or in rural areas, in somewhat unassuming and rather dated buildings, often near travelers motels advertising “free color TV.”  A brief revival has sent some of them into more upscale digs, and the nouveau supper club has become an entity of its own, usually offering fine-dining equivalents of the standard fare.  Sometimes, you will find one in a strange part of the city, nestled between warehouses or parked in the middle of an urban stripmall – these are places that doggedly hang on, that were there when the land was little more than trees and meadows, before urban sprawl built up around them.  They hang on either because of their reputations or because of a tenacious clientele, one that is progressively aging.  A supper club of that vintage rarely advertises, and if you visit one you’re unlikely to find anyone under the age of 70 at the bar.  You can count on such a place to have an inexpensive and at the very least serviceable menu.

And wood paneling.  These will always have wood paneling.

These menus are vast, and a tribute to culinary Americana.  While you may see an entry for “spaghetti and meatballs” or possibly some german specialty, this is not a place to go for ethnic or experimental food (although generally if you spot a northern European dish on the menu, it’s a recipe direct from someone’s grandmother and is likely to be good).  This is hearty, down-home fare, heavy on meat and every now and again some sort of cream sauce.  Roast (or sometimes broasted) chicken, steaks, and the less-adventurous fish.  Occasionally surf-n-turf.

However, one generally doesn’t go to order off the menu.  The nightly specials are the main reason one visits a supper club.  And these specials are nearly identical from restaurant to restaurant.

It is traditional, albeit not mandatory, to start the dining experience with a drink from the bar.  This is not a place to order a craft beer – although many places now stock them (especially if it’s local), most are purely decorative.  You get a can’s worth of an American lager, or if you’re lucky you have the availability of something from Leinenkugel’s.  Primarily, though, you order something in a martini or highball glass.  And if it’s in a martini glass, it’s a martini.  Not a cosmopolitan, not an appletini – just whatever you could picture Dean Martin downing in quantity on a Friday night.  Otherwise, you order an Old Fashioned.  Non-midwesterners will recognize this as a drink made generally with whiskey or rye and bitters.  This would be correct in about 90% of the country.  In Wisconsin, it’s similar, but made with the much-sweeter brandy, and usually garnished with a generous number of fluorescent-red maraschino cherries.  It’s a different beast, and an acquired taste.   In some areas you may find it called a “brandy old fashioned”, but if you order an “old fashioned” this is generally the default.

Anything you order will give you an option of a salad bar.  This is a nod to those iconoclastic individuals for whom french fries are not a sufficient serving of vegetables.  One should not approach a salad bar in a supper club expecting anything healthy.  They are all virtually identical – some iceberg-based mix of lettuce in a large bowl, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onions, a container of the world’s saddest store-bought tomatoes, an inexplicable container of large-curd cottage cheese, some distressingly uniformly-shaped croutons, and an enormous container of artificial bacon bits.  This is accompanied by several vats of creamy dressings, almost always including French, Ranch (or, for the older set, “house”)  and Blue Cheese, occasionally “creamy Italian”, and for the dietier an eye-hurtingly orange “lo-fat French.”  You will eat a salad, and it will be dressed in something artery-clogging, but this is only a formality.

Some of the more interesting supper clubs will have a large bowl of spinach, and near that a crock-pot of something.  This is the real salad bar gold.  The spinach serves as a carrier for the contents of the crock pot, a viscous, sweet, vinegary concoction referred to as “hot bacon dressing.”  It’s nominally a salad dressing but in reality it’s a small meal in itself.  This is possibly a reference to the traditional american “spinach salad” that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but the resemblance is only superficial - it’s really just an excuse to eat loads of bacon wile convincing yourself you are eating greens.  It is rather brilliant in this fashion.

Friday night is a fish fry.  Despite Wisconsin being settled primarily by German and Scandinavian Lutherans, the fish-on-Friday rule still has a powerful grip on the collective Midwestern psyche.  Battered, deep fried cod or haddock, some sort of potato, and a trip to the salad bar.  This is what you get.  Often a bowl of coleslaw or something will be delivered to the table, but this is just to compete with local church suppers that serve additional foodstuffs.  Some rural places will also sell a fried version of whatever fish is popular in the area – lake perch, walleye, bass.  This is a trick.  Most times the fish is not caught locally, and simply imported with the supply of cod.  It’s usually good, but rarely is it as good as it could be, nor is it usually “all you can eat” as the cod usually is.  There is also often a “baked fish” option, for the health-conscious.  This is also a trick.  It may cost the same or even also be all-you-can-eat, but it is rarely healthy by any definition of the word, since it is invariably served in a deep pool of drawn butter.  It too is delicious, but ordering it will get you either a pitying look (since you are clearly not eating the fried fish becasue of some terrible heart condition) or a mistrustful glance (since you are clearly from out of town).

Often other seafood specials are available on fridays.  The very best will give you a dearly-priced crab leg or lobster tail as a seafood special with or without a steak the size of your face.  This is usually not the highest-quality seafood, but after a few brandy old fashioneds, you will not care and will readily spend the extra $20.

Stick with the cod.  You won’t regret it.  If they know what they’re doing it will be encased in a crispy batter, usually something beer-based, deep-fried, and served with a wedge of lemon and a substantial helping of tartar sauce.  On rare occasions the fish will be breaded.  These establishments are not to be patronized for their fish.

Saturday is, inevitably, Prime Rib.  This is the best reason to go to a supper club.

Often not actually prime, but always a rib roast, slow-roasted, usually served anywhere from blood-red rare to slightly less than rare, you order a cut and just pray you can eat all of it without going into cardiac arrest.  Usually there are two to three cuts – a “petite cut”, which is roughly 12 ozs, a “Queen cut” which is a barely-manageable 14ozs but named such that no truly masculine individual would ever order it, and a “King cut” which can be anywhere from 16ozs to roughly the size of a german luxury car.  Your choice of sides is a potato – baked, French fries, or hash browns – or a “steamed vegetable.”  The steamed vegetable is usually a somewhat sad-looking recently-unfrozen broccoli or green beans, and they are rarely appealing, so the best option is the potato.  If you order hashbrowns you will have the option of the addition of cheese and fried onions.  This addition is delicious, and would be perfect for anyone who has excellent health insurance and/or nothing left to live for.  The fries are usually large, fluffy steak fries, which serve to compliment the basket of rolls on your table as a method of mopping up meat juice.

The meat arrives, a juicy red slab roughly the thickness of a rural phone directory.  Your first instinct will be to search for a garnish or perhaps a side of something green.  This is a typical newbie mistake.  Parsley is superfluous at best, and an affectation of one of those fancy city places at worst.  A request for vegetables would be a suspicious sign that you are not a true, red-blooded American.  Your choice of condiments is usually horseradish sauce (either creamy, or sometimes just plain grated horseradish), something like A-1 or Heinz57 (although these are generally frowned upon), or you may be asked if you want your steak “with au jus.”  Linguistic purists may be quick to point out that this is a redundant phrase, since “au jus” already means “with juice” in French – in this case they would be incorrect, as this is not actually the raw juice, but some sort of brown clear sauce made from meat drippings, water, and the contents of a dry envelope clearly labeled “Au Jus.”

Not that it really needs any of this.  A properly done prime rib roast is a thing of beauty.  Despite the large quantites of fat on the cap and the line of gristle through the middle.  Simply seasoned, the crust is salty and occasionally laced with a few inoffensive spices, and beyond that the meat is generally simply meat-flavored.  It may need salt or the horseradish as a slight accent but not much else.

You will want to eat this slowly.  This is the sort of quantity of meat that would make even an Argentinian pause, and rushing said consumption can lead to a vicious protein hangover.  The potato serves as a nice buffer to the system, and the old fashioned will help give you the courage to face this epic slab of beef.

If you survive, the waitstaff will offer you dessert.  Accepting this offer is usually ill-advised, unless it’s homemade pie.  There’s nothing much wrong with a supper-club dessert, it’s usually a substantial slab of cake or an ice cream sundae, it’s merely that if you wish to remain ambulatory to return to your car, adding a few thousand more calories to your meal is not the best course of action.

When  you live in the upper Midwest, you quickly become steeped in the  culinary tradition that is the Supper Club.  They’re peculiar places,  usually on the outskirts of town or in rural areas, in somewhat  unassuming and rather dated buildings, often near travelers motels  advertising “free color TV.”  A brief revival has sent some of them into  more upscale digs, and the nouveau supper club has become an entity of  its own, usually offering fine-dining equivalents of the standard fare.   Sometimes, you will find one in a strange part of the city, nestled  between warehouses or parked in the middle of an urban stripmall – these  are places that doggedly hang on, that were there when the land was  little more than trees and meadows, before urban sprawl built up around  them.  They hang on either because of their reputations or because of a  tenacious clientele, one that is progressively aging.  A supper club of  that vintage rarely advertises, and if you visit one you’re unlikely to  find anyone under the age of 70 at the bar.  You can count on such a  place to have an inexpensive and at the very least serviceable menu.
And wood paneling.  These will always have wood paneling.
These  menus are vast, and a tribute to culinary Americana.  While you may see  an entry for “spaghetti and meatballs” or possibly some german  specialty, this is not a place to go for ethnic or experimental food  (although generally if you spot a northern European dish on the menu,  it’s a recipe direct from someone’s grandmother and is likely to be  good).  This is hearty, down-home fare, heavy on meat and every now and  again some sort of cream sauce.  Roast (or sometimes broasted) chicken,  steaks, and the less-adventurous fish.  Occasionally surf-n-turf.
However,  one generally doesn’t go to order off the menu.  The nightly specials  are the main reason one visits a supper club.  And these specials are  nearly identical from restaurant to restaurant.
It  is traditional, albeit not mandatory, to start the dining experience  with a drink from the bar.  This is not a place to order a craft beer –  although many places now stock them (especially if it’s local), most are  purely decorative.  You get a can’s worth of an American lager, or if  you’re lucky you have the availability of something from Leinenkugel’s.   Primarily, though, you order something in a martini or highball glass.   And if it’s in a martini glass, it’s a martini.  Not a cosmopolitan,  not an appletini – just whatever you could picture Dean Martin downing  in quantity on a Friday night.  Otherwise, you order an Old Fashioned.   Non-midwesterners will recognize this as a drink made generally with  whiskey or rye and bitters.  This would be correct in about 90% of the  country.  In Wisconsin, it’s similar, but made with the much-sweeter  brandy, and usually garnished with a generous number of fluorescent-red  maraschino cherries.  It’s a different beast, and an acquired taste.    In some areas you may find it called a “brandy old fashioned”, but if  you order an “old fashioned” this is generally the default.
Anything  you order will give you an option of a salad bar.  This is a nod to  those iconoclastic individuals for whom french fries are not a  sufficient serving of vegetables.  One should not approach a salad bar  in a supper club expecting anything healthy.  They are all virtually  identical – some iceberg-based mix of lettuce in a large bowl, shredded  cheddar cheese, sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onions, a  container of the world’s saddest store-bought tomatoes, an inexplicable  container of large-curd cottage cheese, some distressingly  uniformly-shaped croutons, and an enormous container of artificial bacon  bits.  This is accompanied by several vats of creamy dressings, almost  always including French, Ranch (or, for the older set, “house”)  and  Blue Cheese, occasionally “creamy Italian”, and for the dietier an  eye-hurtingly orange “lo-fat French.”  You will eat a salad, and it will  be dressed in something artery-clogging, but this is only a formality.
Some  of the more interesting supper clubs will have a large bowl of spinach,  and near that a crock-pot of something.  This is the real salad bar  gold.  The spinach serves as a carrier for the contents of the crock  pot, a viscous, sweet, vinegary concoction referred to as “hot bacon  dressing.”  It’s nominally a salad dressing but in reality it’s a small  meal in itself.  This is possibly a reference to the traditional  american “spinach salad” that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country,  but the resemblance is only superficial - it’s really just an excuse to  eat loads of bacon wile convincing yourself you are eating greens.  It  is rather brilliant in this fashion.
Friday night is a fish fry.   Despite Wisconsin being settled primarily by German and Scandinavian  Lutherans, the fish-on-Friday rule still has a powerful grip on the  collective Midwestern psyche.  Battered, deep fried cod or haddock, some  sort of potato, and a trip to the salad bar.  This is what you get.   Often a bowl of coleslaw or something will be delivered to the table,  but this is just to compete with local church suppers that serve  additional foodstuffs.  Some rural places will also sell a fried version  of whatever fish is popular in the area – lake perch, walleye, bass.   This is a trick.  Most times the fish is not caught locally, and simply  imported with the supply of cod.  It’s usually good, but rarely is it as  good as it could be, nor is it usually “all you can eat” as the cod  usually is.  There is also often a “baked fish” option, for the  health-conscious.  This is also a trick.  It may cost the same or even  also be all-you-can-eat, but it is rarely healthy by any definition of  the word, since it is invariably served in a deep pool of drawn butter.   It too is delicious, but ordering it will get you either a pitying look  (since you are clearly not eating the fried fish becasue of some  terrible heart condition) or a mistrustful glance (since you are clearly  from out of town).
Often other seafood specials are available on  fridays.  The very best will give you a dearly-priced crab leg or  lobster tail as a seafood special with or without a steak the size of  your face.  This is usually not the highest-quality seafood, but after a  few brandy old fashioneds, you will not care and will readily spend the  extra $20.
Stick with the cod.  You won’t regret it.  If they  know what they’re doing it will be encased in a crispy batter, usually  something beer-based, deep-fried, and served with a wedge of lemon and a  substantial helping of tartar sauce.  On rare occasions the fish will  be breaded.  These establishments are not to be patronized for their  fish.
Saturday is, inevitably, Prime Rib.  This is the best reason to go to a supper club.
Often  not actually prime, but always a rib roast, slow-roasted, usually  served anywhere from blood-red rare to slightly less than rare, you  order a cut and just pray you can eat all of it without going into  cardiac arrest.  Usually there are two to three cuts – a “petite cut”,  which is roughly 12 ozs, a “Queen cut” which is a barely-manageable  14ozs but named such that no truly masculine individual would ever order  it, and a “King cut” which can be anywhere from 16ozs to roughly the  size of a german luxury car.  Your choice of sides is a potato – baked,  French fries, or hash browns – or a “steamed vegetable.”  The steamed  vegetable is usually a somewhat sad-looking recently-unfrozen broccoli  or green beans, and they are rarely appealing, so the best option is the  potato.  If you order hashbrowns you will have the option of the  addition of cheese and fried onions.  This addition is delicious, and  would be perfect for anyone who has excellent health insurance and/or  nothing left to live for.  The fries are usually large, fluffy steak  fries, which serve to compliment the basket of rolls on your table as a  method of mopping up meat juice.
The meat arrives, a juicy red  slab roughly the thickness of a rural phone directory.  Your first  instinct will be to search for a garnish or perhaps a side of something  green.  This is a typical newbie mistake.  Parsley is superfluous at  best, and an affectation of one of those fancy city places at worst.  A  request for vegetables would be a suspicious sign that you are not a  true, red-blooded American.  Your choice of condiments is usually  horseradish sauce (either creamy, or sometimes just plain grated  horseradish), something like A-1 or Heinz57 (although these are  generally frowned upon), or you may be asked if you want your steak  “with au jus.”  Linguistic purists may be quick to point out that this  is a redundant phrase, since “au jus” already means “with juice” in  French – in this case they would be incorrect, as this is not actually  the raw juice, but some sort of brown clear sauce made from meat  drippings, water, and the contents of a dry envelope clearly labeled “Au  Jus.”
Not that it really needs any of this.  A properly done  prime rib roast is a thing of beauty.  Despite the large quantites of  fat on the cap and the line of gristle through the middle.  Simply  seasoned, the crust is salty and occasionally laced with a few  inoffensive spices, and beyond that the meat is generally simply  meat-flavored.  It may need salt or the horseradish as a slight accent  but not much else.
You will want to eat this slowly.  This is the  sort of quantity of meat that would make even an Argentinian pause, and  rushing said consumption can lead to a vicious protein hangover.  The  potato serves as a nice buffer to the system, and the old fashioned will  help give you the courage to face this epic slab of beef.
If you  survive, the waitstaff will offer you dessert.  Accepting this offer is  usually ill-advised, unless it’s homemade pie.  There’s nothing much  wrong with a supper-club dessert, it’s usually a substantial slab of  cake or an ice cream sundae, it’s merely that if you wish to remain  ambulatory to return to your car, adding a few thousand more calories to  your meal is not the best course of action.

When you live in the upper Midwest, you quickly become steeped in the culinary tradition that is the Supper Club.  They’re peculiar places, usually on the outskirts of town or in rural areas, in somewhat unassuming and rather dated buildings, often near travelers motels advertising “free color TV.”  A brief revival has sent some of them into more upscale digs, and the nouveau supper club has become an entity of its own, usually offering fine-dining equivalents of the standard fare.  Sometimes, you will find one in a strange part of the city, nestled between warehouses or parked in the middle of an urban stripmall – these are places that doggedly hang on, that were there when the land was little more than trees and meadows, before urban sprawl built up around them.  They hang on either because of their reputations or because of a tenacious clientele, one that is progressively aging.  A supper club of that vintage rarely advertises, and if you visit one you’re unlikely to find anyone under the age of 70 at the bar.  You can count on such a place to have an inexpensive and at the very least serviceable menu.

And wood paneling.  These will always have wood paneling.

These menus are vast, and a tribute to culinary Americana.  While you may see an entry for “spaghetti and meatballs” or possibly some german specialty, this is not a place to go for ethnic or experimental food (although generally if you spot a northern European dish on the menu, it’s a recipe direct from someone’s grandmother and is likely to be good).  This is hearty, down-home fare, heavy on meat and every now and again some sort of cream sauce.  Roast (or sometimes broasted) chicken, steaks, and the less-adventurous fish.  Occasionally surf-n-turf.

However, one generally doesn’t go to order off the menu.  The nightly specials are the main reason one visits a supper club.  And these specials are nearly identical from restaurant to restaurant.

It is traditional, albeit not mandatory, to start the dining experience with a drink from the bar.  This is not a place to order a craft beer – although many places now stock them (especially if it’s local), most are purely decorative.  You get a can’s worth of an American lager, or if you’re lucky you have the availability of something from Leinenkugel’s.  Primarily, though, you order something in a martini or highball glass.  And if it’s in a martini glass, it’s a martini.  Not a cosmopolitan, not an appletini – just whatever you could picture Dean Martin downing in quantity on a Friday night.  Otherwise, you order an Old Fashioned.  Non-midwesterners will recognize this as a drink made generally with whiskey or rye and bitters.  This would be correct in about 90% of the country.  In Wisconsin, it’s similar, but made with the much-sweeter brandy, and usually garnished with a generous number of fluorescent-red maraschino cherries.  It’s a different beast, and an acquired taste.   In some areas you may find it called a “brandy old fashioned”, but if you order an “old fashioned” this is generally the default.

Anything you order will give you an option of a salad bar.  This is a nod to those iconoclastic individuals for whom french fries are not a sufficient serving of vegetables.  One should not approach a salad bar in a supper club expecting anything healthy.  They are all virtually identical – some iceberg-based mix of lettuce in a large bowl, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, sliced red onions, a container of the world’s saddest store-bought tomatoes, an inexplicable container of large-curd cottage cheese, some distressingly uniformly-shaped croutons, and an enormous container of artificial bacon bits.  This is accompanied by several vats of creamy dressings, almost always including French, Ranch (or, for the older set, “house”)  and Blue Cheese, occasionally “creamy Italian”, and for the dietier an eye-hurtingly orange “lo-fat French.”  You will eat a salad, and it will be dressed in something artery-clogging, but this is only a formality.

Some of the more interesting supper clubs will have a large bowl of spinach, and near that a crock-pot of something.  This is the real salad bar gold.  The spinach serves as a carrier for the contents of the crock pot, a viscous, sweet, vinegary concoction referred to as “hot bacon dressing.”  It’s nominally a salad dressing but in reality it’s a small meal in itself.  This is possibly a reference to the traditional american “spinach salad” that originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but the resemblance is only superficial - it’s really just an excuse to eat loads of bacon wile convincing yourself you are eating greens.  It is rather brilliant in this fashion.

Friday night is a fish fry.  Despite Wisconsin being settled primarily by German and Scandinavian Lutherans, the fish-on-Friday rule still has a powerful grip on the collective Midwestern psyche.  Battered, deep fried cod or haddock, some sort of potato, and a trip to the salad bar.  This is what you get.  Often a bowl of coleslaw or something will be delivered to the table, but this is just to compete with local church suppers that serve additional foodstuffs.  Some rural places will also sell a fried version of whatever fish is popular in the area – lake perch, walleye, bass.  This is a trick.  Most times the fish is not caught locally, and simply imported with the supply of cod.  It’s usually good, but rarely is it as good as it could be, nor is it usually “all you can eat” as the cod usually is.  There is also often a “baked fish” option, for the health-conscious.  This is also a trick.  It may cost the same or even also be all-you-can-eat, but it is rarely healthy by any definition of the word, since it is invariably served in a deep pool of drawn butter.  It too is delicious, but ordering it will get you either a pitying look (since you are clearly not eating the fried fish becasue of some terrible heart condition) or a mistrustful glance (since you are clearly from out of town).

Often other seafood specials are available on fridays.  The very best will give you a dearly-priced crab leg or lobster tail as a seafood special with or without a steak the size of your face.  This is usually not the highest-quality seafood, but after a few brandy old fashioneds, you will not care and will readily spend the extra $20.

Stick with the cod.  You won’t regret it.  If they know what they’re doing it will be encased in a crispy batter, usually something beer-based, deep-fried, and served with a wedge of lemon and a substantial helping of tartar sauce.  On rare occasions the fish will be breaded.  These establishments are not to be patronized for their fish.

Saturday is, inevitably, Prime Rib.  This is the best reason to go to a supper club.

Often not actually prime, but always a rib roast, slow-roasted, usually served anywhere from blood-red rare to slightly less than rare, you order a cut and just pray you can eat all of it without going into cardiac arrest.  Usually there are two to three cuts – a “petite cut”, which is roughly 12 ozs, a “Queen cut” which is a barely-manageable 14ozs but named such that no truly masculine individual would ever order it, and a “King cut” which can be anywhere from 16ozs to roughly the size of a german luxury car.  Your choice of sides is a potato – baked, French fries, or hash browns – or a “steamed vegetable.”  The steamed vegetable is usually a somewhat sad-looking recently-unfrozen broccoli or green beans, and they are rarely appealing, so the best option is the potato.  If you order hashbrowns you will have the option of the addition of cheese and fried onions.  This addition is delicious, and would be perfect for anyone who has excellent health insurance and/or nothing left to live for.  The fries are usually large, fluffy steak fries, which serve to compliment the basket of rolls on your table as a method of mopping up meat juice.

The meat arrives, a juicy red slab roughly the thickness of a rural phone directory.  Your first instinct will be to search for a garnish or perhaps a side of something green.  This is a typical newbie mistake.  Parsley is superfluous at best, and an affectation of one of those fancy city places at worst.  A request for vegetables would be a suspicious sign that you are not a true, red-blooded American.  Your choice of condiments is usually horseradish sauce (either creamy, or sometimes just plain grated horseradish), something like A-1 or Heinz57 (although these are generally frowned upon), or you may be asked if you want your steak “with au jus.”  Linguistic purists may be quick to point out that this is a redundant phrase, since “au jus” already means “with juice” in French – in this case they would be incorrect, as this is not actually the raw juice, but some sort of brown clear sauce made from meat drippings, water, and the contents of a dry envelope clearly labeled “Au Jus.”

Not that it really needs any of this.  A properly done prime rib roast is a thing of beauty.  Despite the large quantites of fat on the cap and the line of gristle through the middle.  Simply seasoned, the crust is salty and occasionally laced with a few inoffensive spices, and beyond that the meat is generally simply meat-flavored.  It may need salt or the horseradish as a slight accent but not much else.

You will want to eat this slowly.  This is the sort of quantity of meat that would make even an Argentinian pause, and rushing said consumption can lead to a vicious protein hangover.  The potato serves as a nice buffer to the system, and the old fashioned will help give you the courage to face this epic slab of beef.

If you survive, the waitstaff will offer you dessert.  Accepting this offer is usually ill-advised, unless it’s homemade pie.  There’s nothing much wrong with a supper-club dessert, it’s usually a substantial slab of cake or an ice cream sundae, it’s merely that if you wish to remain ambulatory to return to your car, adding a few thousand more calories to your meal is not the best course of action.

Posted 2 years ago & Filed under food, meat, prime rib, supper clubs, wisconsin, 16 notes

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  1. nulldevicemusic posted this

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