Reader mail: supper clubs, Itasca, custard

It’s been months since we dipped into the reader mailbag. Time to sift and winnow.

The Goldmoor Inn, near Galena, Ill., has gained loyal fans because of a reader incentive offered three years ago. I asked for your short essays on behalf of someone who deserves a peaceful getaway and got 50-some replies.

The subject of the winning essay got a getaway to the Goldmoor, bed and breakfast lodging on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The winning writer, Jane Harrington-Heide of Kenosha, stood to gain nothing by nominating Tom and Jackie Zernia of Kenosha, whose challenges at that time included the death of an infant daughter.

The Goldmoor has since “become their go-to destination for some respite from their busy lives,” writes Harrington-Heide, and the Zernias also have recommended that friends make it “their go-to resort for some R&R.”

Jackie Zernia confirms this. “My husband and I truly enjoyed our getaway so much that we’ve gone multiple times since, seeing every season there. It’s our happy place. We’ve even told others about it, and they’ve booked the Goldmoor as well.

“Thank you again for the generous and wonderful surprise. It really helped us at the perfect time. It really meant so much to us and is something we’ll never forget.”

Win, win. For more about the Goldmoor (which I’ve heard raves about but personally have yet to visit), check out Rates start at $305 for one of 13 suites.

Heather Biro of Black Forest Inn, Three Lakes, wrote a note of thanks about my recent article about the restaurant’s transition and its German-born master chef, Marcel Biro, her husband. “Quick question: I was asked what defines a ‘supper club’ as some guests were debating their interpretations. I said I’d ask the expert directly!”

Thanks for inquiring, but it is not so easy to answer succinctly. There is plenty to debate, from relish trays to hours of business. I tackle the topic in the introduction of my Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook.

All said, I believe supper club dining is about mindset as much as menu. 

What started as the working guy’s answer to the country club is a destination for leisurely dining, a place where the owner makes you feel welcome and greets the regulars by name (the best supper clubs have many loyal, repeat diners).

The topic came up during recent taping for a “Discover Wisconsin” TV show installment about supper clubs. It airs in May 2019 – talk about working ahead!

I had the great honor of spending an afternoon with Stephanie Klett, state tourism secretary, and the owners of Lehman’s Supper Club in Rice Lake, Butch and Trudy Lehman. We all nibbled while cameras rolled and chitchat ensued.

Why Lehman’s? It ranks among the state’s top 10 supper clubs, for good reason. From-scratch cooking rules: hand-breaded cheese curds from Ellsworth Creamery, 10 house-made dressings for salad, a rotation of about 30 soups, bacon-wrapped scallops, peanut butter pie with a fudgy topping under a ribbon of whipped cream.

That beautiful feast came after a morning at Amery Memory Care, for a supper club talk and reminiscing. In the audience: Bill and JoAnne Hennessey, 21-year operators of Hennessey’s Supper Club, Forest. Now their son operates the business as Papa’s Bar and Grill (check ‘em out on Facebook.)

Hennessey’s was known for serving a $1 ribeye with two pieces of toast in the 1960s, a free smelt feed in spring and free Tom and Jerry cocktails during the day on Christmas Eve. “We never advertised,” JoAnne recalled. “And when we started, we were open until 1 a.m. every day, even if nobody but us was there.”

Birney Dibble of Eau Claire offers this: “Do you know the origin of the name Veritas Caput? Truth Head.”

That was the feedback after writing about Itasca State Park in Minnesota, home to the Mississippi River headwaters. The name “Itasca” combines parts of the two Latin words that Dibble mentions.

In the article, I mentioned meeting Keanu and Sarah Krech of Minneapolis, who intended to canoe the river’s entire length (2,552 miles). Despite storm delays, they reached Hannibal, Mo., on their first wedding anniversary, as planned. On Aug. 1, they reached the French Quarter of New Orleans, 68 days after the adventure began.

Mission accomplished.

Marilyn Magnuski of Lilly Lake makes a pitch for her local custard shop, Adrian’s Frozen Custard in Burlington.

She is especially smitten with the Gold Medal (specialty) sundaes there. “Lord knows I’ve put away enough of those babies,” she writes. Dogs get their own little cone at Adrian’s.  In addition to the standard vanilla and chocolate, there is an often-creative flavor of the day (think strawberry shortcake, pistachio almond).

Before Adrian’s closes for the season in November, “customers fill their freezers with enough pints and quarts to carry them through to the March opening date.” Look for more details on Adrian’s Facebook page.

Jane Balch of Hollandale recommends Casetta Kitchen and Counter in Madison. “I work downtown, so I love to have such a nice place to go,” she writes. “The spicy chickpea salad is so delicious.”

She also offers that “you have helped me in the past with vacation ideas. We have similar tastes. Great, of course. Ha.”

We’re all learning from each other in this world. Keep those emails and letters coming.