Supper Clubs: An American Dining Experience

Neon lights. Big cars with rich men and beautiful dames. Martinis and music. Relish trays and super-sized steaks. Tucked away on country roads—perfect for bootleggers to deliver their goods in the dark of night or on the streets of big cities where midnight deliveries are no problem.

These are the supper clubs of old and while these vestiges of a glamorous past maybe somewhat different now, author Ron Faiola chronicles it all in his series of book, including the most recent, “The Wisconsin Supper Clubs Story: An Illustrated History, with Relish” (Agate Midway 2021; $26.66). His other two books, “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old Fashioned Experience” and “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round” as well as his movie, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old Fashioned Experience makes Faiola a supper club expert. His books, which make for great reading, are also perfect as guidebooks, taking us on a round of supper clubs still in business.

In his latest book, Faiola, a native of Wisconsin a state that seems to have the most of supper clubs of any state, went deep into their history and along the way dispelled at least one major legend—that the first American supper club was established in the 1920s in Beverly Hills, California by Milwaukee native Lawrence Frank.

 “It always bothered me because it named the guy, but not the supper club,” said Faiola.  “And why Beverly Hills and not New York City or even Wisconsin?  Once I delved into the Frank family history, I had my answers which became chapter one in the book.”

There was another legend to question as well. Faiola has visited close to 150 of the places. But there was a guy named Al (last name Capone) who seemed to have visited even more—at least according to claims by owners. Faiola demolished that one as well.

Join us in a conversation with Faiola.

The resurgence of supper clubs has been going on for several years.  It first began when my documentary, Wisconsin Supper Clubs – An Old Fashioned Experience,” was released in 2011. 

Additionally, once the first book–“Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old Fashioned Experience” was released, instead of sitting on a coffee table, people brought their copies along on trips to supper clubs and had the owners and staff sign their pages. They’d put menus and make notes about the drinks and food that they had. That snowballed as more people saw what others were doing.  It was fun for them and the supper club owners loved the attention.  I’ve heard from so many owners about the number of books they’ve signed.  They’re very proud of that.  

More recently, when all restaurants closed as the pandemic started, people thought they were going to lose their favorite supper clubs.  Once clubs started reopening, even just for take-out orders, customers were very supportive.  As clubs fully reopened, diners returned in droves in the summer of 2020 and even more so during 2021.  I’ve seen photos on social media of people standing in line waiting to get into supper clubs.  Last summer the wait for a table at Ishnala was three to four hours and yet people were cheerfully tailgating in the parking lot!  The great return to the Restaurants of Yesteryear has not only drawn more people to the clubs, but there is now a wide range of supper club souvenirs: glasses, apparel, posters, and even more books.  

Can you share a story or two about discoveries that most surprised you?

One of the things that surprised me the most was that the price of food was about the same as today when adjusted for inflation.  I tell people to multiply the menu prices they see in the book by 10, so those $3.95 T-bone steaks and 60¢ old fashioneds in 1950 would be about $39.50 and $6.00 today.

If readers wanted to take a road trip and visit some of your favorites that are still in business, which ones would you suggest?

Start by going to some of the supper clubs that are a little below the radar – Roepke’s Supper Club in Chilton, Pinewood Supper Club in Mosinee, The 615 Club or The Butterfly Club in Beloit or The Duck Inn in Delavan.  Then hit the more well-known clubs: Ishnala or the Del-Bar in the Wisconsin Dells, HobNob in Racine overlooking Lake Michigan, Five O’Clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee and The Buckhorn Supper Club in Milton with a great view of Lake Koshkonong.

Do you have a favorite supper club dish? Besides, the relish tray that is?

I enjoy a nice medium rare cut of prime rib, or a New York Strip, but one of my favorites that is only found in the southern part of Wisconsin is Shrimp de Jonghe.  It’s a Chicago recipe and is basically a garlicky, buttery shrimp casserole.  

How did you get interested in supper clubs?

I’ve always enjoyed going to supper clubs my whole life, whether it was around where I lived in the Milwaukee suburbs, or up north when I’d go fishing with my grandfather.  I got the idea to do the movie when I was working on a fish fry documentary–Fish Fry Night Milwaukee, 2009–and I was looking for a supper club fish fry to put in the movie.  I realized no one had documented supper clubs and there needed to be a light shined on that tradition.  I went on the road to visit 14 clubs in 2010 and the documentary aired on Milwaukee PBS in 2011 and was licensed to PBS stations nationwide for several years.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

I’m going to be busy visiting even more supper clubs this summer (hint hint).   

Photo credits: Hoffman House courtesy of Bob Prosser. The El Dorado photo and the Ray Bussler photo are Photo courtesy Ron Faiola

Traveling Through Time: Down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey

Weltenburg Abbey was more than four centuries old before the monks first began brewing ale—or at least ale worth noting–in 1050. Now vying for the title of the oldest monastic brewery in the world (Weihenstephan Abbey also claims the honor), they set their claim on maintaining the original brewing process. Like the beer, much is as it was remains at the Abbey, the somewhat plain exterior of the cathedral opens onto an elaborately ornate and gilded interior. Services are still held regularly, and monks still live and work on the premises. And just as abbeys were places for gatherings for a millennium and more, Weltenburg also remains a destination. Located 25 miles west of the charming Bavarian city of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage City and just three miles from Kelheim, it is accessible by car. But I totally like immersing myself in history and my goal today is to replicate—as much as I can—the 1050 experience.

default

Long Wall and St. Nepomuk

On the ferry from Kelheim, I watch as the boat’s wake cuts through waters reflecting the dark greens of dense woods and whites of limestone rocks of the Fränkische Alb mountains, some rising 300-feet high. Winds, water and time have carved caves and nooks in the limestone and in one of these crannies on an expansive stretch of stone called the Long Wall someone has tucked a statue of St. Nepomuk, the patron saint of water and bridges who was drowned when he refused to reveal the confessions made to him by the Queen of Bavaria. Her husband must have really wanted to know what she was up to.

The Danube Narrows

Today it will take 40 minutes to travel the Danube Narrows, an ancient waterway to and from Weltenburg Abbey or if you want to be really German about it, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei, a sprawling complex of Baroque stone buildings surrounded by the lush rural beauty of Southern Bavaria.

There are times when the river is a lively place with small boats passing by and bicyclists and hikers making their way along the riverbank. Then suddenly, navigating a bend, it’s all calm waters and quiet.  I imagine this is how it was when pilgrims and tradesmen (and hopefully tradeswomen as well) came to the abbey to retreat from the world, rest or conduct business. It was a time when travel was mainly by water as roads barely existed and their trip would have taken much longer without our gas powered engines. But the sight they saw when making the final curve is much the same as today—Weltenburg’s blue tower roof and the washed pink walls.

Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei

The abbey sits on a bend of the river and in front is a small sandy beach and shallow waters where people play. It’s hot today—a heat wave is moving across Europe—and I envy them as the water looks cool and refreshing. But history calls and instead I move up the walk leading from the dock to the entrance already awed by the size and beauty of the place.

There are always hard choices and today I need to decide whether to tour first (there are self-guided and guided tours available) or take a seat in the sun at the biergarten, It appears that most people have chosen the latter and rather than wait for a table or sit inside the restaurant, I enter the church.

St. Georg Church

We’re talking seriously rococo inside, an overdrive of theatrical flourishes mixed with more Gothic elements. Paintings date back to the 1300s, a statue of the church’s namesake St. George or St. Georg as its spelled here, sculpted in smooth, sleek marble, rides his horse most likely on his way to slay the dragon. The main room, its ceiling 65-feet high, has alcoves off to the sides, each one just as ornate. It’s hard to take in everything at once, the artistry, pageantry and craftsmanship are so amazing.  Standing near a group tour, I hear phrases like “eight ionic columns, Weltenburg marble and gold fresco” and hurriedly write the words down as it helps sort out this wonderment of riches.

Bavarian Fare

Back outside, I spot an empty table and grab it. Addicted to German fare (yes, really), I order pigs’ knuckle known as schweinshaxe, schnitzel and even though I’m in Bavarian and not the Black Forest (hey, it’s nearby) the famous cake from that region. Of course, I need a glass of their Kloster Barock Dunkel—an almost black in color ale which is still made on site in a rock cave and then sent by pipeline to the monastery taps. Also available—to drink or take home, there is a gift store of course–are other brews and such medicinal spirits as their Weltenburg monastery bitters and liqueurs. And if you want to go full abbey, there’s their klosterkas and monastery sausage both based on ancient Weltenburg recipes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last schnitzel and definitely not the cake. To assuage my conscience, I climb the mountain path as it winds past the Stations of the Cross. It’s steep but the gaps in the woods offer commanding views of the valley, abbey and gorge below. I briefly contemplate spending the night at the St. Georg Guest House to be able to walk the abbey grounds late at night when all the visitors are gone but I don’t have a reservation. Next time for sure.

The Oldest Wheat Beer Brewery in Bavaria

          Returning to Kelheim isn’t exactly like entering the 21st century. In the old town I wander the narrow streets snapping photos of perfectly maintained Medieval-era buildings just a short walk from the docks and on the way to where I parked my car, I let my friends talk me into stopping at Weisses Bauhaus Kelheim.

It’s a beautiful place, all wood, vaulted ceilings and archways leading from room to room. Outside we sit in, yes another beer garden, this one next to a small stream, and order a round of their wheat beer. Really, I had to since they’ve been brewing beer here since 1607, making the Weisses Brauhaus the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.

 

I’m not typically a beer lover but both the Kloster Barock Dunkel at the abbey and the TAP7 here, made from the original 1872 recipe, are robust and flavorful without bitterness or an overly hoppy taste. I’m driving so instead of more beer, I listen to the live music, enjoy the myriad of colorful blooms cascading from window boxes, baskets and containers and contemplate how I’ve spent the day moving through history and only now have reached the 17th century.

The Last of Howard Johnson’s

The loss of an American iconic restaurant and motel chain.:

HoJo’s no mo’: The last remnant of ‘the oranging of America’ has closed https://flip.it/l2.5Rk

It’s the End of an Era

Courtesy of New York Public Library.

With its signature orange roof, glistening pool with both high and low dives, restaurant with signature clam strips and 28 flavors of ice cream when nationwide chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla were typically all that was offered, Howard Johnson’s had it all.

Learn more about it in the book A History of Howard Johnson’s: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon (American Palate).

Grub Street: 2022 James Beard Award Winners: The Full List

Grub Street: 2022 James Beard Award Winners: The Full List. https://www.grubstreet.com/2022/06/2022-james-beard-chef-and-restaurant-award-winners-full-list.html

Road Trippers Now Have Many Options for Taking Their Four-Legged Friends Along

Bertram, TX in the beautiful Hill Country.

Whether we’re on vacation with family, friends, or by ourselves, it’s great to take our pets along. No matter what type of trip we’re embarking (excuse the pun) on, Fido can be a wonderful companion. After all, until we learn how to translate barks to words, we don’t have to deal with countless “how long until we get there?” Or squabbles in the back seat about such inane things as whose milk shake has the most ice cream in it.

Bonair Winery and Vineyards, Zillah, WA

If the love of traveling with pets describes you, you’re not alone. Pets are family members and it’s not just them missing us when we’re on the road. We miss them particularly after two years of working from home. Many of us, particularly Millennials, don’t want to leave our pets behind.

Harvest Hosts

According to a survey conducted by Harvest Hosts, a membership club for RVers offering unique overnight stays at over 6,000 locations throughout North America, 52% of all travelers say they base their travel plans with their pets in mind. For Millennials, the number rises to 56% who want to plan a trip including their pets.  

For some, it’s not just a consideration. It’s an imperative. More than one-third of travelers (37%) deemed pet-friendly accommodations a “must-have.” Millennials are most likely to bring their pets on vacation, with 39% saying pet-friendly accommodations are a “must-have.” Gen Zers are slightly less tied to their furry friends, with about one-third saying pet-friendly accommodations are “nice to have, but not necessary.” While Boomers are not traveling with pets as much, and 34% say pet-friendly accommodations are “not necessary.”

Taking Our Pets Along

Fortunately, you don’t have to leave Fido behind. About 75 percent of hotels now allow pets, according to a survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.


For Harvest Hosts that number is even higher. Over 90% of our Hosts are pet friendly and they’ve now have a filter for “Pets” in their search function allowing trip planners to show only the Hosts that welcome our four legged friends. Harvest House offers eclectic overnight accommodations including more than 3,200 farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, golf courses, churches, museums, and other scenic small businesses in addition to 2,900 Boondockers Welcome community host locations.

The company’s mission is to help millions of people live happier lives through road travel, while supporting wonderful small businesses and communities along the way. Their redesigned mobile app letts members view hosts’ information, photos, reviews and availability – quickly requesting stays and communicating with hosts through in-app messaging. To learn more, visit: www.harvesthosts.com or download the Harvest Hosts app on iOS here and Android here

DOOR COUNTY WELCOMES SUMMER AND SAFETY WITH RE-OPENING LODGING PACKAGES

Wisconsin Cherry Pie. Photo by Jon Jarosh.

Summer in Door County means cool breezes, mild temperatures, quaint harbor towns, farm-to-table
restaurants, cheeseries, wineries, mead makers and distillers and sun-soaked waterfront vistas as well as
300 miles of shoreline paralleling Lake Michigan and Green Bay.

This delightful coastal Wisconsin getaway is now open for travel and committed to providing visitors with a safe vacation experience. To achieve this, Door County communities and lodgers have developed health and safety procedures and are committed to following operating guidelines from state and local authorities. Many have signed on to the Commitment to Cleanliness and Safety Initiative, a joint endeavor from Door County Medical Center and Door County Public Health to ensure the safety of both visitors and residents.

Hillside Waterfront Hotel. Photo by Trail Genius.

Visitors to Door County can choose family owned, vintage hotels and inns, historic B&Bs, luxury
waterfront suites and cottages for their stay. Starting in June through July many accommodations in
Door County are offering Re-Open and Re-Discover promotion packages for those who want to explore
the peninsula’s 11 lighthouses, five state parks, cherry orchards, maritime history, wildlife preserves and
myriad of outdoor recreation activities knowing that safety precautions are of utmost importance to
the community.
Take advantage of packages that include accommodations for one to three nights; a meal for two
(offerings may include a gift certificate to a local restaurant, complimentary on-property breakfast, a
picnic basket filled with Door County specialties); an activity or attraction offering (state park pass,
maps, tours, tastings); and a $25 Door County gift certificate available to use at a variety of shops,
restaurants and attractions.

Kayaking by Cana Lighthouse. Photo by Jon Jarosh.

Explore the Lake Michigan side, a little more quiet, in Baileys Harbor with Maxwelton Braes Lodge’s
Stay, Play & Dine Package featuring a two night stay, two rounds of golf, $50 gift certificate to Thyme
Cuisine, two complimentary old fashioned cocktails, and breakfast or express lunch for two at Thyme
Cuisine. Ephraim’s ideal spot for a romantic getaway is Eagle Harbor Inn, offering “Suite Escape: Contact
Free Stay.” Enjoy a one-bedroom Whirlpool Suite welcomed with chilled prosecco and chocolate truffles
and grab a picnic lunch from Door County Creamery using a Door County gift certificate.
To view complete package details and a list of participating accommodations, visit
doorcounty.com/content/vacation-packages and link directly to accommodations for booking

Sunset Over Eagle Harbor. Photo by Jon Jarosh.