Feeding the Soul – The Wisconsin Supper Club Experience

The clouds glowed in the early evening sun, over fields of corn interrupted by occasional groves of old oak trees. We rolled along a winding country road past the barns, faded red. We passed one or two cars as we drive the twenty minutes. The one critical turn from the lake to the town of St. Anna’s is marked by a simple road level sign with an arrow – “Schwarz – 4 Miles”. As we approached, the church steeple rose above the trees.

We pulled into the unincorporated town and quite suddenly, there are cars parked on the side of road and two parking lots nearly filled, and groups of four and six walking the sidewalks. All headed to one destination – Schwarz Supper Club. Since 1957, people have flowed into the bar, grabbed a Old Fashioned and a menu. They took our dinner order as I sipped a cocktail and life slowed down to the speed of a conversation between good friends.

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I’m not sure how long we waited for a table. Could have been 30 minutes, might have been 45. We didn’t really care. The Old Fashioned went down really smooth. Likely because this is a Wisconsin Old Fashioned, not some retro-rye-whiskey-house-made-bitters thing. Truth be told, I kind of like the rye whiskey thing, but when in St. Anna’s, just order an Old Fashioned Sweet with cherries, shut up, and drink. We’re not doing a throwback thing here, we’re actually stepping back to the 1950s. So we need some good fried food with our cocktails. Fried cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, and fried onions fit the bill.

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Prime rib is the specialty, and apparently they go through quite a bit of over a weekend, but we went with a selection of excellent steaks and some beautiful fried walleye. A standard baked Idaho potato is the only side, which was baked to buttery perfection.

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There is a couple of books out there celebrating the unique culture of Wisconsin supper clubs. Of the 24 supper clubs featured in “The Supper Club Book” by Garrison Keillor and David Hoekstra, 14 are from Wisconsin. But the true definitive guide is “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience” by Ron Faiola, with over 50 locations detailed. Reading these books is a great place to start, but the supper club experience is all about actually experiencing these restaurants in all their Friday night glory. Go at 6 PM, wait as long as it takes to get a table, drink Old Fashioneds in the bar, eat fried food. Above all, go with a group of good friends. Talk about family, and politics, and dreams of the future that glow like a Norman Rockwell painting. These are the good old times. The sign leaving Schwarz’s captures it best: Good food and drink hold body and soul together.

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