The Supper Club Book by Dave Hoekstra

Your local tavern isn't the only place where everybody knows your name. The supper club down the interstate is there to welcome you with open arms for some prime rib or walleye, and maybe a nice old-fashioned to wash it down. You say there isn't a supper club nearby? Grab former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dave Hoekstra's The Supper Club Book and get up-to-date on the supper clubs of the midwest, which is by definition the part of the country where these clubs are found.

Not familiar with the concept of a supper club? Hoekstra (and Garrison Keillor, who writes the introduction) helpfully spell it out for us. A supper club will present you with a relish tray, with celery, carrots and other varieties of small edibles. The napkins will certainly be made out of linen. The club (which is not strictly a "club", as membership is not required) will probably be run by a family, perhaps second- or third-generation owners. You'll be presented with a meat and potatoes menu featuring prime rib, though there will also almost certainly be a Friday night fish fry. Finally, though the club may be dimly lit you will be welcomed with open arms for a long, relaxing dinner - the definition of slow food.

Many of these supper clubs are located in the country, with clientele coming from all around to enjoy the food and atmosphere. Madison is the nearest sizable town that has supper clubs inside its boundaries, though Racine and Beloit also provide options that aren't located too far from Chicago. Hoekstra offers up the history of each of the 24 supper clubs that he profiles, talking to current and former owners, chefs and patrons and giving us the trivia that we desire. There were supper clubs patronized by gangsters (Fisher's Club in Avon, Minnesota), aping an Istanbul establishment (The Turk's Inn in Hayward, Wisconsin), set up with a bowling alley in back (Sister Bay Bowl in Sister Bay, Wisconsin) and run by colorful characters (nearly all the supper clubs in the book).

Despite having never eaten at a supper club, this book filled me with nostalgia and made me excited to give one a try. While perhaps I'm not ready to plan a vacation around these clubs, I'll definitely be patronizing one on my next trip to Wisconsin - perhaps one of the two Wisconsin Dells options, conveniently located across the street from each other. I'm also interested in comparing a Wisconsin old fashioned (made with brandy) to one of the old fashioneds offered in other states (made with bourbon). I love quirky travel books like this and I loved this book!

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