Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Old-Fashioned Food and Fun
As our waitress approaches, we set down our brandy old-fashioneds and push aside our relish tray. The plates she brings celebrate old-school big eating: a porterhouse that hangs over the rim, a casserole-size dish of potatoes topped with bubbling cheddar, a tower of crispy fried fish and enough iceberg lettuce salad to feed a small wedding party.Our first thought, of course, is whoa. Who eats like this anymore? Um--we do, every time we go to a supper club, and Beloit, Wisconsin (50 miles southeast of Madison), has a bevy of them. The hearty portions, paper menus and friendly owners make these throwback, dinner-only restaurants legendary.Pictured: The Key lime 615-tini is a big seller at The 615 Club in Beloit.
The small-town (and North Woods) clubs became popular in the Midwest after Prohibition, when roadhouses could get a liquor license if more than half their business consisted of food sales. In Beloit, these family-owned spots continue to thrive, with individual spins on the concept.The dark wood paneling and old-school menus at Benedetti's Supper Club convey a homey, 1960s restaurant feel. The 615 Club operates out of an early-20th-century house, with just 11 tables and leather club chairs on wheels. At The Butterfly Club, lounge singer Mike Williamson belts out Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody" and stops to kiss ladies' hands between verses.Even if you are so full you can't eat another bite, don't leave without indulging in a Grasshopper (creme de menthe and vanilla ice cream) or Pink Squirrel (creme de almond and creme de cacao with ice cream). Booze mixed with ice cream--after a steak dinner. We love ya, Wisconsin.Pictured: Onion rings and sauteed mushrooms top a ribeye steak (served with a maraschino-topped old-fashioned) at Benedetti's Supper Club.
Primer to supper clubs
You know you're in one of these Wisconsin faves if:1 The owner greets you warmly when you come in and immediately asks how your family is.2 A relish tray is the first thing the waitress sets down on the table, and it sports celery.3 Everyone's drinking whiskey or brandy old-fashioneds.4 The server brings warm cinnamon rolls or sticky buns to eat with your salad.5 Your nonsteak dinner options include liver and onions. (Or, on Friday nights, a fish fry.)6 The waitress tells you the most popular dessert is a liquor-spiked ice cream drink.7 You can't order lunch or breakfast, but the bar may very well open during Green Bay Packers play-off games.8 They let you order dinner at the bar and then go to your table when your meal is ready.9 Most likely, the building, and the business, have been there for more than 50 years.10 The bar has TVs, but they are rarely turned on--unless the Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers or Packers are on.Pictured: The 615 Club relish tray.
Beloit's supper club selection: Benedetti's Supper Club
The 2-foot-high mint-flavor Grasshoppers, Wednesday night salad bar and Friday night fish fry draw crowds to this large club. Some diners arrive by boat from the Rock River. (608) 362-9917; benedettisclub51.wordpress.comClick ahead for details on more Beloit supper clubs.
The 615 Club
Homey yet upscale, this 40-seat downtown restaurant located in an old house serves great martinis and au gratin potatoes. (608) 364-4615; the615club.com
The Butterfly Club
Located on the outskirts of town, this club has a banquet hall feel, with a giant, curving bar in the lounge and a large outdoor deck with views of the rolling Wisconsin landscape. Couples of all ages dance to lounge singer Mike Williamson and his campy band. (608) 362-8577; butterflyclub.us