Guest blogger Kathy Witt shares her latest road trip adventure with us.
“The famous Hatfield-McCoy feud that has terrorized the law-abiding citizens in Eastern Kentucky has broken out afresh and another wholesale slaughter is looked for at any moment.”
The 1889 story in New York City’s The Sun, under the headline, “East Kentucky in Terror,” chronicled one of the world’s most famous grudges, one that began with a hog and ended with a body count of more than a dozen dead Hatfields and McCoys.
The feud, which had its roots in the American Civil War, lasted for generations, keeping the country in its thrall for decades.
This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the feud between these two warring clans that lived, died, murdered and maimed in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Tug River Valley, which divides Kentucky and West Virginia.
Descendants of the Hatfields, whose patriarch was William “Devil Anse” Hatfield, and the McCoys, led by Randolph “Old Ranel” McCoy, signed a truce, proclaiming in part that the families “do hereby and formally declare an official end to all hostilities, implied, inferred and real, between the families, now and forevermore.”
The self-guided Hatfields and McCoys Historic Feud Driving Tour takes visitors to key sites connected to the 30-year feud. First stop: the Pikeville-Pike County, Kentucky Visitors Center, www.tourpikecounty.com, to pick up the brochure with step-by-step directions through Pike County’s winding mountain roads. An audio CD or USB is available for purchase ($20/each) and sets the stage for full-on feud immersion with narration, music and jaunty ballads.
The driving tour covers three main geographic areas of Hatfield-McCoy feud activity: Pikeville city, the Blackberry area of Pike County and across the Tug River in West Virginia in a town called Sarah Ann. Depending on pace and interest, the full tour can take four to six hours, but it can also be broken up into shorter visits. Tour sites are open during daylight hours.
Pay your respects at the gravesites of Hatfield and McCoy kinfolk caught in the clash’s crossfire, including Devil Anse and Randolph McCoy. Stop by the site of Randolph McCoy’s Homeplace and Well in the Blackberry Creek area and the mournful grounds of the Pawpaw trees, where in 1882 more than 50 bullets were pumped into the bodies of Randolph’s sons—Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph, Jr.—in retaliation for the stabbing death of Ellison Hatfield.
In Pikeville, enter the halls of justice at the Historic Pike County Courthouse, site of the Hatfield trials for the murders of the McCoy brothers and the subsequent murder of Alifair McCoy, their sister, among other crimes. See the Hanging Site of Ellison “Cotton Top” Mounts. The 1890 hanging brought crowds out to the gallows in their Sunday best to watch the Hatfield who confessed to and was convicted of Alifair’s murder swing by the neck.
Nearby, the Big Sandy Heritage Center Museum houses the world’s largest collection of historical Hatfield and McCoy artifacts, including the rope bed that belonged to Asa Harmon McCoy, whose accused murderer was Devil Anse, and an original photo of Roseanna McCoy, who had a secret love affair with Johnse Hatfield. Also see life-size figures of Devil Anse and Old Ranel, plus newspaper clippings, portraits of the families and other memorabilia.
Spend some time in Pikeville’s historic downtown district to stroll lamppost-lined streets and browse independently owned shops like Two Chicks & Company for apparel, gift items and home décor and the mom-and-pop collective, the Shoppes at 225.
Along the way meet the Hatfield and McCoy Bears, Moonshine Bear, Banjo Bear and a whole sleuth of bears—all part of Pikeville’s Bear Affair, a community arts program starring University of Pikeville’s sports mascot. The whimsical four- and five-foot tall bears each have a story to tell and are fun and colorful photo ops.
Stay in walking distance of downtown shops, restaurants and many of the Bear Affair bears at the Hampton Inn Pikeville. It has all the amenities the brand is known for—free parking, Wi-Fi and hot breakfast, indoor pool and fitness center—plus a cozy fireplace in the lobby.
Sup where Old Ranel once slept. Chirico’s Ristorante occupies the former McCoy House—where Randolph, his wife Sarah (also known as Sally) and their family settled when their Pike County Homeplace was burned by the Hatfields during the New Year’s Day Raid of 1888.
Dine on authentic Italian dishes—everything from an Italian sampler starter featuring hand-rolled meatballs and scratch-made Italian sausage to the traditional Frankwich house specialty. Part sandwich, part pizza, this layered and lidded Chirico’s original is stacked with ham, pepperoni, mozzarella and zesty cheeses, baked in a brick oven and finished with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Specialty frankwiches include Philly steak, Italian sub and Buffalo chicken flavors.
Place your order then head up to the second floor, ascending the same staircase Randolph and Sarah walked up each night while living here from 1888 until their respective deaths.
According to Tony Tackett, executive director of the Pikeville-Pike County Tourism Commission, Old Ranel selected the site for its proximity to Dils Cemetery where he had buried Sarah and their daughter, Roseanna. He could step out onto his second-floor balcony and, at that time, see across town to the cemetery.
McCoy’s Italian Meat LoafThis recipe, a McCoy family favorite, is from the cookbook, Cooking with the Real McCoys, with recipes by the family and friends of Margie Annett and the McCoys. The book is available for $15 at the gift shop at the Pikeville-Pike County Visitor Center. Ingredients
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg, slightly, beaten
- 1 diced onion
- 1 diced green pepper
- 1 cup Quaker oats
- 1 24-oz jar Prego spaghetti sauce
- 2 tsp Italian seasonings
- 3/4 lb. sliced mozzarella cheese
Combine ground beef, milk, egg, onion, green pepper, oats, Italian seasoning and half of the spaghetti sauce.
Mix well. Put half of the mixture in baking dish. Add cheese on top of this layer. Add remaining ground beef mixture on top of cheese.
Pour remaining spaghetti sauce over top.
Bake in 350-degree oven for 1 hour.
Kathy Witt Writer/Author SATW Society of American Travel Writers│Authors Guild Author of Cincinnati Scavenger; Secret Cincinnati: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful & Obscure; The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, Georgia: A Photographic Portrait Arriving Spring 2024: Perfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler
Kathy is a syndicated travel/cruise columnist for Tribune News Service and freelance writer for a variety of print magazines, blogs and other online outlets. Copywriter and storyteller who’s created written content for Ricardo Beverly Hills, LiteGear Bags and other travel/lifestyle brands; Bardstown “The Bourbon Capital of the World” KY, Harrodsburg KY and other destinations. Author of five books, including Secret Cincinnati. Graduate of Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College with TMP (tourism marketing professional) designation. Recipient of numerous writing awards, including Mark Twain Travel Writing Awards and Lily Scholarships.KathyWitt.com│www.facebook.com/SecretCincinnatiNKY www.LinkedIn.com/in/KathyWitt│www.Instagram.com/Kathy.Witt
Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt, an award winning author and journalist, takes us on a trip to historic Salem, Massachusetts in the following post:
Enter the rustic kitchen at Daniels House and step through a portal into late 1600s Salem, known then as Salem Town. Ritual protection marks are etched into the wood of the heavy door—the double V for Blessed Virgin Mary and the Blessed B—to protect the house and those who lived within its walls from evil spirits.
The fire in the massive open-hearth fireplace would have burned round the clock, licking at heavy cookpots and kettles. The house, built 350 years ago by a sea captain, sheltered its occupants from sun and rain, but it was sweltering in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. When night fell, the room was plunged into darkness, the only light source the flames of the candles burning down in their candlestands.
“If you want to know what it was like to live in Salem during the Witch Trials of 1692, this room is it,” said Vijay Joyce, whose background is in architectural history and historic preservation.
Joyce developed and conducts the tours and events that take place at Daniels House, www.danielshousesalem.com, including the new interactive “Inside the Daniels House” tour where visitors are treated to a full sensory experience: seeing the conditions in which the home’s former occupants worked, lived, played and prayed; hearing the stories of neighbor turning on neighbor; touching the China, sitting on the furniture, stepping into an abyss of darkness on the root cellar’s stacked granite stairs; smelling peppercorns—a highly prized seasoning proudly displayed on front parlor table; tasting strong and smoky Souchong black tea, a favorite brew among New England seamen.
Salem’s story is best enjoyed on tours like “Inside the Daniels House.” From candlelight, kid and trolley tours to movie sites, foodie and ghost tours, there is no shortage of ways to walk into Salem’s past—and no two experiences are alike.
On Witch City Walking Tours, www.witchcitywalkingtours.com, see what is considered Salem’s most haunted building. It sits on the site of the jail, where Sheriff George Corwin once interrogated, tortured and carried out the death sentence for those accused of witchcraft.
Stop by Witch House, former home of Witch Trial Judge Jonathan Corwin (the sheriff’s uncle), one of the few structures in Salem with direct ties to the trials. Hear the story of the tween and teenage girls who set in motion one of America’s darkest chapters, where 19 innocent people were hanged at the gallows and one (Giles Corey) was pressed to death.
“Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam accused 60 people herself,” said tour guide Jeremiah Hakundy.
On Spellbound Tours, www.spellboundtours.com, founder, guide and professional paranormal investigator Dr. Vitka takes visitors through the streets at night to share the supernatural side of Salem—tales of vampirism and paranormal activity, of hauntings and horrors related to one of the cruelest of Witch Trial judges, John Hathorne, and a young girl who may have been buried alive. Pray you don’t see the specter of Giles Corey at the very site he was pressed to death at the age of 81.
“Legend says that when his ghost walks, tragedy follows close behind,” warned Vitka.
Salem’s newest hotel is the Hampton Inn Salem Boston, www.hilton.com, featuring a bright, modern feel and an ideal location within walking distance of all Salem’s restaurants, shops and attractions. Among amenities are an indoor pool, fitness center and attached heated garage with valet parking. The third-floor breakfast area is clean and well maintained and has individual booth seating, each with its own flatscreen television.
Besides presenting a number of outstanding tours—including “Terror Next Door,” which takes place through August and focuses specifically on the Salem Witch Trials—the Daniels House, www.danielshousesalem.com, is also a bed and breakfast inn. In fact, it is America’s oldest bed and breakfast inn, offering four individually decorated guestrooms—each expressing a different facet of the house’s history. A Continental breakfast is served in the atmospheric settings of the antique-laden front parlor and the ancient kitchen, the oldest parts of the home.
Drop by Turner’s Seafood, www.turners-seafood.com, for a crabcake appetizer and a Smoked Old Fashioned. The restaurant, famous for seafood entrées like Wild Atlantic Haddock Piccata, Hake Marsala Dinner, made with local Gloucester hake, a mild white fish, and a seafood medley featuring local haddock and sea scallops, is located in historic Lyceum Hall. This coveted piece of land is presumed to have once belonged to Bridget Bishop—until she was accused of being a witch.
Witch City’s Walking Tours’ Hakundy summed up the plight for those accused: “Half the village accused the other half—that is, the half who had land. A couple days after you were accused, all your property would be sold at auction, while you were sitting in jail awaiting trial.”
Other fun foodie stops: Lulu’s Bakery and Pantry, www.lulusbakeryandpantry.com, for chocolate croissants and lattes; Red Line Café , www.redlinecafesalem.com, for ham and cheese crepes; and American Flatbread, www.americanflatbread.com, spread out in a former Goodyear tire repair shop and offering candle pin bowling alley and monster flatbreads with flavor combos like maple fennel sausage, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and caramelized onions topped with mozzarella and parmesan, garlic oil and herbs.
Treat: Grab a table at artisanal chocolate shop, Kakawa Chocolate House, www.kakawachocolates.com, for a flight of chocolate elixirs and a tasting that is velvety-smooth exquisiteness. Drawing on chocolate’s long history, Kakawa’s chocolatiers recreate original Mesoamerican, European and Colonial chocolate elixir recipes: Tzul, a rich mix of dark chocolate and caramelized milk chocolate; French lavender, highly scented, exotic and semisweet; Zapoteca, complex, unspiced, bittersweet—less and less sweet as the elixirs move toward 100 percent real chocolate.
The elixirs are paired with house-made whipped cream, light, fluffy and delicious. All the historic elixirs as well as the artisan chocolates, ice cream, milkshakes and other sweet treats are handmade onsite, and exclusively in small batches.
Part of the fun of being in Salem is immersing yourself in its history through its many tours as well as museums, including the Salem Witch Museum, www.salemwitchmuseum.com, where illuminated dioramas draw visitors into Salem’s dark period, and the Witch Dungeon Museum, www.witchdungeon.com/witchdungeon.html, with its dramatic live performance of a witch trial adapted and created from historical transcripts from 1692.
Equally enthralling are attractions like Court Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, a wax museum of filmdom’s monsters—Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, Halloween villain Michael Myers, Bette Midler’s Winifred Sanderson of Hocus Pocus, parts of which were filmed in Salem—and indie bookstores like Wicked Good Books, www.wickedgoodbookstore.com.
Located on the Pedestrian Mall (Essex Street), this shop is fun to poke around in for books relating to the most notorious chapter in Salem’s history, like Marilynne K. Roach’s book, Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. One of the women profiled is Bridget Bishop—one of the 19 people hanged for witchcraft and who supposedly owned the land on which Turner’s Seafood is located today.
“Especially with history, knowing something about what you hope to see and experience before you go makes the reality more understandable once you get there,” said Roach, currently working on Six Men of Salem. “In reading about these women, I hope readers will see the characters as real people rather than stereotypes or symbols, individual human personalities. I also hope the setting makes more sense to the readers, that the difficult circumstances of their times make better sense of their different reactions both wrong and right.”
No matter how the narrative unfolds, Salem bewitches with its blend of mystery and magic, myth and the macabre.
Stop by the new Visitor Information Center at 245 Derby Street in downtown Salem.
A favorite app on Turner’s menu is the crab cake made with local Jonah crab and blended with seasoned crumbs and a hint of Dijon and served with crunchy Napa slaw and house-made remoulade sauce.
Combine all ingredients except the crabmeat and saltines.
Whisk together to make a loose batter. Fold in the crushed saltines and crabmeat. Mix well.
Let sit refrigerated for 30-45 minutes minimum. (Can hold for 3 days refrigerated.)
Separate into 4-oz portions (recommended) or the size portions desired.
Place the cakes on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a 375-degree oven for approximately 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the top.
Leave the cakes in a rustic scoop.
Serve with tartar sauce or favorite mustard and lemon.
Kakawa Chocolate House’s Historic Chocolate Elixir
Kakawa Chocolate House, a specialty chocolate company located in the beautiful high desert town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, describes their passion is authentic and historic drinking chocolates elixirs. Historic drinking chocolate elixirs include traditional Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Mayan and Aztec drinking chocolate elixirs; 1600’s European drinking chocolate elixirs, Colonial American and Colonial Mexican drinking chocolate elixirs. Kakawa Chocolate House drinking chocolate elixirs are representative of these historic recipes and span the time period 1000 BC to the mid-1900s AD.
“If you were visiting friends in Mexico you might be served a frothy concoction like the recipe below which has been made in one version or another for, literally hundreds of years,” said Kakawa Chocolate House owner Bonnie Bennett. “Feel free to tweak for your tastes; that is part of the fun, and each family will make it slightly different.” Makes four servings.
- 3.5 cups of whole milk – If you prefer dairy-free, substitute unsweetened Almond milk.
- 6 oz of rough chopped dark chocolate, at least 65%, and 70% is ideal or up to 80%. Buy the highest quality cacao you can as this will dramatically change the taste and texture.
- 2.5 TBSP of finely chopped or ground Piloncillo sugar, a traditional Mexican brown sugar often found in cone shapes, or substitute coconut sugar or honey (3 TBSP).
- 2 TBSP Canela (Mexican cinnamon)
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1/3 tsp ancho chili powder – You can also use traditional Guajillo, which is milder, or reduce amount. If you prefer more heat, use cayenne chili powder.
Warm the milk slowly on the stovetop. Do not boil. Once very warm, add sugar, Canela and chili. With a whisk, mix and blend these into the milk mixture, continue blending until sugar is incorporated. Allow mixture to continue to warm further, until steam begins to come off the surface but just before a boil.
Turn the stove off and add chocolate and vanilla, blend until chocolate has melted and all ingredients are mixed.
Create a froth with vigorous whisking, either with a traditional Molinillo or a conventional whisk. The froth is a delicious part of a traditional Mexican hot chocolate.
Divide into cups and serve. Fresh whipped cream or even 1 oz of Kahlua coffee liqueur (for an adult-only version) can be added at this stage if you like.
SATW Society of American Travel Writers│Authors Guild
The Secret of the Belles; Atlanta, Georgia: A Photographic Portrait
Arriving Spring 2024: Perfect Day Kentucky: Daily Itineraries for the Discerning Traveler
The 25 Essential Dishes to Eat in Paris https://nyti.ms/3E4VH0d
Little did we know that when we dined at the corner restaurant near our hotel in Paris we were eating at a place where for decades a family divided had fought over the secret sauce served with their steaks.
Maybe it’s a French thing.
For some background. My husband and I were on our honeymoon and had booked a Viking River Cruise on the Seine and then added some before and after stays in Amsterdam where it is more easy to get run over by a bicyclist then a car and Paris where we stayed at a little hotel near the metro in the 17th arrondissement, known as Batignolles-Monceau, so we could visit other parts of the city without spending a fortune on cabs. Though we didn’t plan it this way, Hotel 10 Le Bis, our hotel was near numerous little cafes and a little grocery store where we could easily—and cheaply–buy food for quick meals and snacks.
One intriguing café was Le Relais de Venise (the name translates to Venetian Inn) where every night we would see long lines of people waiting to eat either in their dining room or on their outdoor patio. The interior of the restaurant looked so French bistro with its polished dark wood, tiny tables with crisp white table cloths, and servers dressed in black uniforms, the outdoor section was right on a busy corner filled with traffic and pedestrians, noise, and the rumbled of trucks and sounds of horns honking. So depending upon your mood you could choose where to dine.
What could be so great that people would wait for hours for a table when there were so many great cafes and restaurants around? And so we didn’t go until one evening, after ascending from the metro station and seeing there was no line, we decided to give it a try. The only tables available were outdoors and so we sat at a very small table next to another small table where a single woman sat, smoking a cigarette. That turned out to be a very lucky thing.
When our server arrived I asked to see a menu and she (we would find out later her name was Gertrude) abruptly told us she was the menu. Well, what’s on the menu? Steak frites, she replied. “bloody or well done.”
We told her “bloody”, and she gave us an approving look. But we were a little baffled. Was there really only one dish on the menu? As it turns out, there is no menu and only one entree, one salad with one dressing, steak frites (French fries), and bread. Do not expect butter, ketcup, mayonaaise, or any other condiment. They do only one thing but they do it very well. That’s how it was when Le Relais de Venise opened in 1959 and that’s the way it is now at all the restaurants throughout the world–New York City, London Marylebone, London City, Mexico City
When Gertrude returned with a salad topped with walnuts (no one inquired whether we had a nut allergy—which fortunately we don’t) and a crusty French baguette, I saw there wasn’t butter on our table and asked for some. Oops, one would think I had tried to order a Big Mac.
“No butter,” Gertrude told us.
“There’s no butter?” I asked.
“No butter,” she replied.
“How about olive oil?”
“No olive oil,” she told us.
Now, I knew that in a French restaurant there had to be both in the kitchen, but I guess neither butter nor olive oil was allowed to be carried into the dining area, so we ate the bread—which was very good—without either.
This is when the woman at the table next to us decided to intervene. She lived in Paris she told us but had spent years in the United States working as a publicist for musicians in New York. Le Relais de Venise de Entrecote was unique, she continued, because they only served one dish—steak with French fries and their famed green sauce called Le Venise’s Sauce de Entrecote. I guess that makes decided what to order for dinner super easy. If you’re wondering what entrecote is, as I was, it’s a cut of meat like a New York strip or strip steak. Or at least in it is in Paris.
Since the creation of the sauce, its exact ingredients have long been a secret and that probably worked until invention of the internet. After a family squabble resulted in a going of separate ways, the sauce itself became a battleground so complex and full of intrigue that the Wall Street Journal did a lengthy article about it all eight years ago. I guess when you serve only one dish and the sauce is a necessary part of it, feelings about who owns the recipe loom large. So large in fact that’s there was a million dollar lawsuit as to who had rights to use the name and sauce.
Anyway, after we ate our salad (no choice of dressing as it already was dressed with a vinaigrette which was very good), our steak with fries arrived—with the sauce spooned over the meat. It was delicious.
What’s in it? I asked the woman next to us.
“It’s a secret,” she said. “But I’ve been eating here for decades so I know it. But it’s really better to come here.”
She promised to give me the recipe, but she must have changed her mind because she never returned my phone calls or emailed it like she said she would. She may have been afraid Gertrude would get mad at her or maybe the restaurant owners wouldn’t allow her back in. Neither would be surprising. And believe me, you don’t want to cross Gertrude.
I noticed, as we were eating, that the servers were moving through the crowded café with platters of meat and piles of crisp, hand-cut pomme frites. Almost as soon as I had cleared my plate, Gertrude showed up again, heaping—without asking but that was okay—more frites and slices of bloody steak and then pouring the secret sauce on top. At no charge. but no ketchup or mayonnaise either for dipping the fries Gertrude informed us.
“They’ll do that until you say you don’t want anymore,” the woman told us about the second and third helpings.
“Is there a charge?”
“No, it’s all part of the meal.”
Which was a deal as the tab wasn’t very high even with the addition of a glass of the house wine produced at the family owned vineyard Chateau de Saurs in Lisle-sur-Tarn, 30 miles northeast of Toulouse. Indeed, the restaurant was opened by Paul Gineste de Saurs as a way to help market the wines but now there are at least three more restaurants—in New York City, Mexico City, and London. As for the sauce there are several stories. A rival restaurant said to serve a similar sauce says that it is not new but instead wis one of the classic sauces that are considered the backbone of French cuisine.
Another has it that the restaurant where we ate was modeled after Cafe de Paris bistro in Geneva which has served this dish since the 1940s. The sauce, according “The History and the Development of the L’Entrecote Secret Sauce,” a Facebook page devoted to the subject, was developed by the owner’s father-in-law.
I told you it was complicated.
Of course, as soon as we got back to our room, I Googled the restaurant and the sauce. It took some digging, but I found recipes for both the secret sauce and the salad. Or so I think. I’m planning on trying them soon along with a French baguette or two from Bit of Swiss Bakery which I will be serving with butter.
Le Relais de Venise-Style Salad Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste (nutritional info based on 1/4 tsp)
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil)
Whisk or shake in a mason jar until mixture is homogenous.
Serve on a bed of mixed salad leaves topped with some chopped walnuts and shaved Parmesan.
Serving Size: 4
Le Relais de Venise’s Steak Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large shallots
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1 bunch tarragon
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Peel and slice the shallots.
Peel and roughly chop the garlic.
Add the olive oil to a small pot over medium heat.
Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and slightly colored.
Add the chicken stock. Simmer for three minutes.
Pull the tarragon leaves off of the stems and put them in a blender.
Add the remaining ingredients to the blender.
Carefully pour the chicken stock mixture into the blender.
Puree until completely smooth.
Pour back into the pan and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute. If the sauce is too thin simmer for a few more minutes.
Pour over slices of rare or as Gertrude calls it “bloody” or however you like your steak. Serve with potatoes or French fries.
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.
Supper clubs are trending now, why do you think they’re resurging?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.