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

Chicago Gourmet 2020 Food Festival

For those who love Chicago’s wonderful food scene, this September is the time to enjoy one of the country’s best food festivals, Chicago Gourmet. Going on now until the end of the month, Chicago Gourmet organizers at the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA), the event’s founding sponsor – along with presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits – are offering a safe and spectacularly curated schedule showcasing Chicago’s diverse culinary offerings. Reservations and tickets are now available at chicagogourmet.org.

To help those impacted by the pandemic, this year the IRA is formally introducing the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (IRAEF) Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, a new beneficiary of this year’s events. This recently established fund provides one-time, emergency cash relief to qualifying restaurant workers experiencing unforeseen hardships as a result of COVID-19. Funds raised through Chicago Gourmet will go toward providing necessary relief to  those with critical need.

Chicago area star chefs and leading restaurants are embracing this year’s innovative format and community focus by volunteering their time, enthusiasm and expertise to the festival’s many programs. This September is a win-win for all. Food fans can enjoy a range of experiences and support the those harmed by the pandemic. Chicago Gourmet represents the best of this world class city–its caring and its wonderfully creative food scene. Here’s what going on:

Can’t Stop the Hop Presented by DoorDash

The official kick-off to Chicago Gourmet every year, the popular Hamburger Hop expands beyond Millennium Park in 2020 with Can’t Stop the Hop presented by DoorDash, the nation’s leading last-mile logistics platform. This year, 100 chef competitors offer tasty burgers for dine-in, delivery or carry out from September 1-13. Food lovers are encouraged to hop around town, or visit the DoorDash app or website, and try as many burgers as possible, and based on flavor and overall presentation, they will vote on their favorite at chicagogourmet.org.

The champion will be announced the week of September 14 and will receive a magnum of fine wine from Josh Cellars, a Yeti cooler filled with premium meat and seafood from Buckhead Meat of Chicago and bragging rights for a lifetime.

$1 of every burger sold benefits the IRAEF Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. Click here for a list of participants. Additional sponsors include Buckhead Meat of Chicago, Turano Baking Co., Blue Moon, Josh Cellars, High West Distillery and Choose Chicago.

As part of this partnership, DoorDash will feature an in-app carousel for customers nearby select participating restaurants  to order their burgers for on-demand delivery and pickup.

Go Gourmet Dinner and Virtual Series

Go Gourmet Dinner Series Presented by UnitedHealthcare. Intimate. Delicious. Memorable. Chicago Gourmet’s Go Gourmet Dinner Series Presented by UnitedHealthcare includes special, in-person events curated with love by many of the city’s most beloved chefs. Held on various dates between September 14-30, fans can revel in outstanding, multi-course dinners paired with wine and spirit selections courtesy of Unshackled by the Prisoner Wine Company, Legent Bourbon and more. The lineup includes:

  • Monday, September 14 – Wednesday, September 16 & Monday, September 21 – Wednesday, September 23: Chefs Laura, Kelly + Michael Cheng, Sun Wah BBQ
  • Tuesday, September 15: Chef Jose Sosa, Gibsons Italia
  • Wednesday, September 16: Chef Carlos Gaytán, Tzuco – With special guest chefs Gaby Ruiz from Carmela & Sal (Mexico City) and Gourmet MX (Villahermosa, Tabasco); Rodrigo Estrada from Agua & Sal (Mexico City) and Yemanyá (Mexico City); and Benito Molina from Manzanilla (Ensenada, Baja California) to commemorate Mexican Independence Day
  • Thursday, September 17: Chef Kevin Hickey, The Duck Inn
  • Sunday, September 20: Chef Erick Williams, Virtue
  • Monday, September 21: Chef Norman Bolden, Norman’s Bistro
  • Tuesday, September 22: Chef Tony Priolo, Piccolo Sogno
  • Wednesday, September 23: Chef Sarah Grueneberg, Monteverde
  • Thursday, September 24: A special collaboration between Chef Cedric Harden, River Roast, and Chef Carolina Diaz, Terzo Piano (held at River Roast)
  • Wednesday, September 30: Chef Mari Katsumura, Yūgen

Reservations can be made directly with participating restaurants. To see the full lineup and reservations information, visit chicagogourmet.org. Prices and times vary per restaurant. All will adhere to current occupancy orders and health and safety guidelines.

Go Gourmet Virtual Series. Chicago Gourmet’s Go Gourmet Virtual Series invites celebrity chefs right into one’s home kitchen LIVE as they lead engaging cooking classes between September 14-30. Fans can purchase tickets to simply watch, or better yet, they can order meal kits in advance from anywhere in the U.S. to cook along and learn in real time. Meal kits arrive with ingredients to create a feast for four. Each live demonstration will also feature suggested beverage pairings and education from Campari / Aperol Spritz and JUSTIN Wines. The virtual schedule includes:

  • Monday, September 14: Chef Art Smith, Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
  • Wednesday, September 16: Chef Lorena Garcia, Lorena Garcia Cocina/Lorena Garcia Tapas
  • Thursday, September 17: Chef Thai Dang, HaiSous/Cà Phê Đá
  • Friday, September 18: Chef Fabio Viviani, Siena Tavern/Prime & Provisions/Bar Siena
  • Sunday, September 20: Chef Kwame Onwuachi
  • Tuesday, September 22: Chef Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill/ Topolobampo/XOCO/Tortazo/Bar Sótano
  • Saturday, September 26: Chef Jernard Wells, The Family Chef
  • Sunday, September 27: Chef Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat/Little Goat Diner/Duck Duck Goat/Cabra
  • Tuesday, September 29: Chef Jeff Mauro, The Kitchen/Sandwich King
@neiljohnburger

All Go Gourmet events benefit the IRAEF Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. In addition to those named above, the series is made possible thanks to Mariano’s, US Foods, Bank of America, Gordon Foodservice, Performance Foodservice, Choose Chicago, Pepsi, Coker Service Inc. and Coca-Cola.

Online Auction

Let the bidding begin! The Chicago Gourmet annual online auction goes live September 14-30. Featuring an impressive collection of wine, spirits and dinner experiences underwritten by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, one hundred percent of proceeds from the auction benefit the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. The non-profit organization – which has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships since its inception – provides mentoring, job training and financial support for the next generation of aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals.  

Chicago Gourmet 2020’s media partners include NBC 5 Chicago/Telemundo Chicago, JC Deceaux, 93XRT, 101.9 The Mix and Chicago magazine.

@neiljohnburger

Visit chicagogourmet.org for details, reservations and tickets.

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ABOUT CHICAGO GOURMET. Chicago Gourmet, the nation’s premier culinary experience, returns for its 13th year September 2020. Created by the Illinois Restaurant Association to honor Chicago’s culinary achievements and the creative vision of the chefs, Master Sommeliers, and wine-, spirit-, and beer-makers who participate, it spotlights Chicago as an international culinary destination via its unparalleled epicurean talent. The 2020 event supports the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (IRAEF) and the IRAEF’s newly established Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. Chicago Gourmet is possible with the support of presenting sponsor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. For more information, please visit chicagogourmet.org and follow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

ABOUT SOUTHERN GLAZER’S WINE & SPIRITS. Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is the world’s pre-eminent distributor of beverage alcohol, and proud to be a multi-generational, family-owned company. The Company has operations in 44 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Canada, and the Caribbean, and employs more than 20,000 team members. Southern Glazer’s urges all retail customers and adult consumers to market, sell, serve, and enjoy its products responsibly. For more information visit www.southernglazers.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @sgwinespirits and on Facebook at Facebook.com/SouthernGlazers.

ABOUT DOORDASH. DoorDash is a technology company that connects customers with their favorite local and national businesses in more than 4,000 cities and all 50 states across the United States, Canada, and Australia. Founded in 2013, DoorDash empowers merchants to grow their businesses by helping to solve mission-critical challenges, such as customer acquisition, on-demand delivery, insights and analytics, merchandising, payment processing, and customer support. By building the last-mile delivery logistics platform for local cities, DoorDash is bringing communities closer, one doorstep at a time. Read more on the DoorDash blog or at www.doordash.com.

ABOUT THE ILLINOIS RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION. Founded in 1914, the Illinois Restaurant Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, protecting, educating and improving the restaurant industry in Illinois. The IRA owns and produces Chicago Gourmet – the annual food and wine festival uniting hundreds of restaurants, chefs and beverage experts for a weekend filled with food and drink tastings, entertainment, cooking demonstrations, book signings, interactive seminars and more. For more information about the Illinois Restaurant Association, visit https://hes32-ctp.trendmicro.com:443/wis/clicktime/v1/query?url=www.illinoisrestaurants.org&umid=a1449715-9a22-4e2e-b964-7648b7df8c42&auth=30873f9b08d95a50bb5091e438311631aad9e118-2cf4648028941b73933d0ca994fa73c7af8c235c and follow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

ABOUT THE ILLINOIS RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION (IRAEF) RESTAURANT EMPLOYEE RELIEF FUND. Established in 2020, the IRAEF Restaurant Employee Relief Fund is statewide emergency assistance fund that provides one-time direct financial support to restaurant industry workers facing unforeseen hardship as a result of COVID-19. Grants help cover basic living expenses such as rent, food and utilities as someone works through crisis. Donate here now.

ABOUT THE ILLINOIS RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION. The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) dedicated to building the Illinois hospitality workforce through career exploration, workforce development programs and scholarships. It has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships since its inception. For more information, visit www.illinoisrestaurants.org/IRAEFAboutUs.