Ask any of the state’s 300-plus supper club owners to define a supper club, and you’re bound to get as many answers, if not non-answers. Some maintain it’s got to be family owned and operated. Others say prime rib, a Friday night fish fry and Old Fashioneds are menu staples. And for those with even less of an idea, it comes down to one word: ambience.
Perhaps that obscurity in definition is what defines a Wisconsin supper club. After all, if you’re a born and bred Wisconsinite, you know a supper club when you see one.
That faith in the state’s residents to know a great supper club when they experience one is what Travel Wisconsin is hinging on for its first ever Supper Club Showdown competition.
Launched Sept. 6 on the Travel Wisconsin website, the Supper Club Showdown aims to celebrate the state’s traditional dining experience by asking diners to vote on the best place to enjoy those fish frys and prime rib specials.
With more than 300 supper clubs in the state, the Department of Tourism called on its social media followers to nominate their favorite supper clubs for a chance to be named the best of the best. Now these 20 nominees have until Sept. 30 to rack up votes for the ultimate Wisconsin honor: being brought onto the field during the Wisconsin Badgers’ game against Ohio State.
Among those 20 nominees is Donny’s Glidden Lodge on the shore of Lake Michigan. Tim Zellner started to define a traditional supper club as a “family-run business, a family restaurant” but stopped short from concluding his statement.
“You know, I couldn’t even tell you the definition of a supper club. I think a family owned and run restaurant,” Zellner said. “A lot of them have relish trays, we don’t but we have a salad bar and good cocktails. I tried to look it up and there really isn’t a real good definition of it.”
Regardless, he is aware of what makes the Glidden Lodge a special supper club in this part of the state – the steaks that his dad Don hand-cuts everyday, along with the homemade soups and the ability to “Gliddenize” your steak.
“You can do it to any steak but the signature dish is a 10 oz. filet and that’s on top of toasted bread points with Gorgonzola cheese and that’s in a brown Merlot sauce topped with candied onions,” he explained. “That’s ‘Gliddenizing’ of the steak.”
The contest is just one element of Travel Wisconsin’s 2016 supper club ad campaign, which has also included television commercials, an online supper club directory, and perhaps most exciting, the opening of two Travel Wisconsin Supper Club Concession Stands (one each at Lambeau Field and the Kohl Center in Madison).
Both stands aim to provide the ambience and menu offerings of the traditional and beloved Wisconsin dining experience, and to pay tribute to the families and patrons who have kept that tradition alive.
“We have more than 300 throughout the state and a lot of them have been in business for over a hundred years so I would say the ongoing popularity is definitely a determining factor of what a supper club is but it’s that ambience, it’s the food that you can eat there, and it’s just the atmosphere in general,” said Kristina LeVan, public relations coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
To vote in the Supper Club Showdown, visit TravelWisconsin.com/supper-club-showdown.