By Mary Bergin
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
Supper club dining is a Wisconsin thang, but no two supper clubs are quite alike and some seem more like distant cousins than sisters. Consider these splits in personality.
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Just about every bartender makes Old Fashioneds in Wisconsin, but rare is the supper club that sells its secret-recipe mix for the cocktail. Bottles of Hafner’s Old Fashioned Mix, named after the longtime Sky Club bartender who created it, are shipped all over the country.
What else puts this third-generation family business on the map? Owners say the salad bar was invented here in 1950, when it was all you could eat for one price. That’s still the deal, or you can visit once with a dinner of fish to steak.
Stop by the Dorf Haus to try something different – turtle meat, marinated with carrots and onions overnight. It kind of tastes like roast beef.
That’s a one-of-a-kind offering for this supper club with German roots so deep that polka bands perform and the most popular buffet offers a full load of Bavarian fare in this tiny Dane County community.
Tainter Lake is known for its walleye, northern pike – and the prime rib served daily at Jake’s. The record is 16 logs of slow-roasted beef served in one day, each weighing at least 14 pounds.
In summer, the tiki bar draws University of Wisconsin-Stout students (the campus is a 10-minute drive) and boaters from the neighborhood, especially on Sundays, when live music begins after brunch.
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Every supper club serves fish, at least on Fridays, but the baked cod here is topped with a house-made blue cheese dressing, so popular that it is available by the pint. Also in high demand are cheese curds made with a from-scratch batter recipe.
If there’s a wait for seating, look for a few beanbags to pitch outside. Some folks arrive by boat via the Mississippi River. Others drive the scenic Great River Road to this part of Vernon County.
Wisconsin’s Holy Land got its nickname from the many hamlets that sprouted after German immigrants settled as farmers in the 19th century.
Each had a Catholic church, and it wasn’t unusual for a tavern to begin business nearby. That’s how Roepke’s began in rural Calumet County.
Some customers make a meal out of the salad bar, whose recipes are generations old.
A fourth-generation family business in an unincorporated community with Dutch roots long ago learned how to serve their neighbors: This remains the place to go for special-occasion meals, weddings to funerals.
What Martin Van Abel began in 1848 as a rest spot during Brown County cattle drives today is known for country-style dinners that include Bernice’s green beans, Duff’s bean salad, dessert bars and more.