New cookbook, film show off Wisconsin supper club diversity

buckhorn1Supper club fever has persisted ever since Ron Faiola of Milwaukee introduced “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: an Old Fashioned Experience” as a film in 2011 and book in 2013.

Filmmaker Holly De Ruyter, an Oneida native, released her “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club” to raves at this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival. For release this month is my new “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook,” and I’m already being badgered about defining “supper club.”

Out-of-staters ask, with pure innocence, if diners need to live in Wisconsin or buy a membership card. Hah!

Supper club dining as much about a sense of community and personality as menus or mealtimes. You know one when you see it, but I’m not about to lump supper clubs into one tidy description. Consider the diversity of this trio.

There is no reason to expect New York Giants memorabilia in a Wisconsin supper club, unless the destination is the Buck-A-Neer near Marshfield. The son of co-owners Tom and Ann Seubert was an All-Pro left guard for the team. Rich Seubert, now retired, earned a Super Bowl ring in 2007; that meant inching past the Packers in overtime for the division title.

The Seubert family took over ownership of the building (a long-ago blacksmith forge) in 1973. Brothers Tom and Roy live with their wives in two upstairs apartments, making for a short commute to work.

On Sunday and major holidays, the handsome buffet is referred to as a smorgasbord. Liver pate, ham salad, dilled cukes, pickled chicken gizzards and other salad choices are housemade. Kielbasa, a nod to the area’s Polish roots, and barbecued ribs (Tom’s specialty) are likely entrée selections.

The 10 or more choices on the dessert table seem to draw the biggest customer raves. Ann makes them all, grasshopper pie to chocolate-doused chocolate cake, and she is generous about sharing these recipes.

The business at D1891 Hwy. C, Stratford, has a Facebook page; call 715-384-2629 with questions.

Proprietors at White Stag Inn, near Rhinelander, have done business pretty much the same way for nearly 60 years. That is a point of family pride.

Third-generation owners include twins Brad and Brian Widule. They work the bar and charcoal broiler, both in full view of customers. A soft spotlight shines on an oil painting of tigers, created by their great-grandmother in 1902. Order an entree “Dave’s way,” and the chef gets generous with the garlic, just like dad Dave Widule used to like it.

Reservations aren’t taken. Smoked pork chops (from Edelman Meats in Antigo) with a side of spicy cherry sauce are a specialty. Dinner includes one kind of potato (baked) and salad (a wedge of iceberg).

The three from-scratch salad dressings – a clear, sweet/sour French; a sweet/tangy Russian Cream; and a Caesar with lots of garlic – are sold by the quart. Recipes are top-secret, as is the family formula for shrimp cocktail sauce.

Some supper clubs shorten hours and days of operation as weather cools, but the White Stag only closes on four holidays. The business at 7141 Hwy. 17, Rhinelander, has no website; call 715-272-1057 with questions.

Tuesday and Wednesday typically are not days of business for Buckhorn Supper Club, near Milton, but the Pope family makes exceptions during this time of year. Tickets to twice-monthly lobster boils, with crustaceans flown live from Maine, usually sell out weeks ahead.

The event is one part food theater: Before parading 90 lobsters to – as Chico Pope describes it – “their final bath” outdoors, some diners pick up the clawing seafood and take photos. Just like a Door County fish boil, chef Kevin Pope adds a splash of fuel at the end, to produce a fast, fiery flash and overboil.

Add boiled red potatoes, sweet corn, dinner rolls and a dessert tray that looks and tastes homemade. At $63, it’s certainly not a cheap buffet, but the price includes wine with the meal as a keyboardist performs. Stay long enough, and you might be singing along or dancing.

With the Pope family’s purchase of the business in 1997 came longtime recipes, including a secret spice blend for prime rib. What started as a little bar with burgers in the 1930s today seats 110 diners at a time at the shore of Lake Koshkonong.

The season’s last lobster boils at the Buckhorn, accessible by boat, are Sept. 29 and 30 and Oct. 28 (also a costume party). thebuckhorn.net, 608-868-2653

Forty supper clubs provided 60-plus recipes for the new “Wisconsin Supper Cookbook” (Globe Pequot Press, $24.95). The book launch party is 4-6 p.m. Sept. 9 at Smoky’s Club, 3005 University Ave., Madison. That means free nibbles and drink specials from “Martini Bob” Perry, who works the bar. smokysclub.com, 608-233-2120

A cookbook is included in the price of a four-course supper club meal with one wine pour at 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at Joey Gerard’s Supper Club, 5601 Broad St., Greendale. The author chats between courses. Cost is $55 per person or $100 per couple, plus tax and tip; reservations required. joeygerards.com, 414-858-1900

Mary Bergin teams with filmmaker Holly De Ruyter at Dorf Haus, 8931 Hwy. Y, Roxbury (Dane County) for a 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 supper club dinner, book signing and screening of “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.” The $40 ticket includes a German buffet with rouladen, a grasshopper for dessert, film screening, tax and gratuity; 608-643-3980. The cocktail hour starts at 5:30.

Other cookbook signings are Oct. 15 at House of Embers, 935 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells; and Nov. 7 at Red Mill Supper Club, 1222 Hwy. HH, Stevens Point. houseofembers.com, 608-253-6411; redmillsupperclub.com, 715-341-7714

Other “Old Fashioned” film screenings are 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at De Pere Cinema, 417 George St.; 1 p.m. Sept. 12 and 3 p.m. Sept. 13 at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Christie Theatre, 2420 Nicolet Dr.; Milwaukee Film Festival, which starts Sept. 24; Flyway Film Festival, Oct. 21-25, Pepin; Driftless Film Festival, Mineral Point, Oct. 26; and Weywauwega International Film Festival, Nov. 11-14. Dates, times and venues will be posted at oldfashionedthemovie.com.