I would like to thank Wisconsin Public Television for airing the documentary "Wisconsin Supper Clubs" last night. Yes, I do find a show about small, family-owned restaurants in the backwoods of Wisconsin more interesting than the NBA Finals--Featuring LeBron James and All Those Other Guys.
The film takes you on a tour of some of the neatest little places to eat. Those little places that "only the locals" know about--because they don't have billboards along the major highways--and they aren't located at any interchanges. They don't have all-you-can eat Sunday buffets or lunch specials. These are places that only serve Supper (hence the name)--usually some outrageously huge cut of beef, maybe some ribs and a fish dinner or two. Most of the regulars have standing reservations for weekend nights and the wait can be an hour or 90-minutes--even though it looks like dining room is pretty much empty. But the wait is fine--because they will pour you a very stiff drink in the bar--while you enjoy the cheese and crackers and actual conversation.
I love Supper Clubs. George's Steak House in Appleton and Brick's Club 42 in Black Creek are two of my favorites. At George's the steaks are just as good as you would get at a fancy big-city chop house--and they are about half the price. Brick's is just the ultimate experience. I believe the most recent song on the jukebox in the bar is something Sinatra recorded right after he got home from The War. You get about half a stick of butter on top of your steak--which is always served sizzling hot on one of those metal plates. And you are not allowed to tip the wait staff!!! The ambience in the dining room isn't the greatest (my mother compares it to eating at a bowling alley)--but for the prices of the meals, who needs ambience?
One of the most poignant moments of the film comes at the very end as one of the Supper Club owners talks about his fears that he is part of a dying breed. That the family-owned, independent supper club won't be around for his kids and grandkids. He pointed out that people today want their food on the go as quickly as possible. Committing two or three hours to dinner and drinks is just too much for today's busy lifestyles. He also observed that there are really no new supper clubs being built--it's all fast food, chain restaurants or high-end "fru-fru" places that cater to the new "Top Chef"-watching clientele.
That really made me sad to think that we might lose that little bit of charm and character. So the next time you go out for dinner--or you have friends in town looking for someplace new to go--consider heading out that little Supper Club you'd heard about and give it a try. It's something special from Wisconsin.