By Mary Bergin
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
The best of Wisconsin’s 250-plus supper clubs draw a crowd almost as soon as doors open for dinner on weekends because of their excellence, uniqueness and customer loyalty. Winners of Travel Wisconsin's Supper Club Showdown voting contest are home to devoted diners who value pretty settings, one-of-a-kind décor, friendly owners and exceptional food.
Which supper clubs do customers declare as their favorites? Look below, and then expect a debate because supper club fans are a passionate bunch.
The top vote-getter sits atop a bluff in Mirror Lake State Park. Big windows showcase the waterfront and Norway pine forest. On a typical Saturday, patrons show up an hour before doors open. Arrive just a few minutes after dining service begins, and a three-hour wait is not unusual.
Savor thick, tender steaks while relishing the rustic elegance (part of the property’s original, century-old log cabin survives). No reservations are taken, and hours are seasonal, May through October.
Look outside for glorious views of Halfmoon Lake. An indoor showstopper is the century-old stone fireplace. Ask about the fainting goats, whose work cuts landfill waste. Most unusual appetizer: gator balls.
The fourth-generation family business began in 1934 as a bar with hot roast beef sandwiches. Chicken dinner, served family style, is a longtime Sunday special. Unexpected bonus: the chef-owner’s excellent sense of humor.
What began as a roadside bar in the 1970s, halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay, has steadily expanded to meet customer cravings for more substantial dinner fare. One example: prime rib, the special three nights per week.
Perch is a draw on Friday at this quiet hamlet, in the heart of Wisconsin’s Holyland. Customers have long raved about hearty portions. Extra blessing: A guesthouse with three rooms eliminates the need to dine and drive.
Nurse a cocktail as the moon rises over Lake Michigan, just steps outside the door. Lush fabrics and furnishings smack of art deco. Turn the clock back with roasted duckling to 10-scoop grasshopper drinks.
Arrive by boat on Lake Koshkonong, or simply lap up the shoreline while indoors. What began as a burger-beer-bait joint in the 1930s draws full-meal and capacity crowds today. Especially popular: occasional live lobster boils.
Northwoods satisfaction involves tender filets, a leisurely setting and attention from the New York Times a few years ago. Watch for wildlife – whitetail deer to hummingbirds – while waiting for a table. Some folks tailgate to pass the time.
Head two miles out of town, to the shores of Granite Lake, for Asian stir-frys to traditional supper club fare. Décor is nautical, a deck faces the water and the occasional musicians add a reason to linger.
Cozy up to the fireplace in winter, sip cocktails on the patio in summer and drink in the view of Lake Michigan all year. German dishes are the specialty on Wednesday. Early-bird specials (as in seatings before 5:30 p.m.) add value to quality.