The Chefs Reinventing the Midwestern Supper Club

Once a mainstay of midcentury dining, the convivial establishments have reappeared, even as the meaning of “all-American” has become more complicated.

Comments: 30

  1. I for one will miss Ms. Mishan's championing of immigrant-run eateries in less-fabulous corners of the five boroughs. Is her new beat "what are the rich kids doing these days?". I have a lot of respect for her journalism and can only imagine that the paragraph including the phrase "it’s not a simulacrum of the original" was forced upon her by the editors.

  2. At last!! I understand just what my dad and mom were doing for all of those years in Southeast Michigan, and they even allowed me and our family in on. My dad was sucker for a white tablecloth and practically drooled a platter in front of him with a big slab of meat on it, be it prime rib or steak. And yes, the wait people would bring by the a free cocktail or two partly through the meal. This was maybe the only place where he felt completely at home.

  3. For those who want to try one of the originals, the Ced-Rel Supper Club, out on the highway west Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I used to take my girlfriend 50+ years ago, seems to be still going strong.

  4. This is the gastronomic version of a Shinola watch.

  5. Can it be a midwestern supper club if it's in Brooklyn?

  6. I grew up in Wisconsin. Friday night fish fries and a few old fashioneds formed my young adulthood. And the Grasshopper after-dinner drink.

  7. The Midwestern supper club doesn't need "reinventing" by Manhattan chefs, thanks.

  8. If the person who greets you are the door of a supper club doesn't seat you at the bar while you are waiting for a table, that supposed "supper club" has already failed "the test"! I grew up in Wisconsin, with Friday night fish fries, Saturday night prime rib, old fashioneds and after-dinner ice-cream drinks. The whole point of the exercise is having dinner with family, running into your friends and neighbors, and having a drink with your favorite bartender. No need to "reinvent" this classic. Nice try, New York.

  9. Thanks for this article which is almost ethnographic in scope and tantalizes the notion of supper clubs. I never experienced one, but heard an aunt and a friend talk about one in their home town of Canton Ohio. This was years ago, I was young, but they had me at "white tablecloths," and then...a description of how each woman was brought a red rose at the table. (Mind you, no one was exactly a Rockefeller.) There is something about unbridled hospitality; I think that is the reason the grasshoppers showed up. If these restauranteurs can, despite the rent, make people feel like those gals from Canton Ohio, they restarted a great thing.

  10. The Restaurant Review of J. Alfred Prufrock

  11. This article makes me nostalgia for The Gun Club in Beloit, Wisconsin. We students from Beloit College went there in 60s and 70s. It fit the supper clubs described here right down to the brandy old fashions and ice cream drinks for dessert. Regrettably, it burned down several years ago, but the fond memories live on.

  12. Great story and magnificent photos. Transports me to a different time and place, in a good way. Thank you.

  13. @Phyliss Dalmatian I suppered at Turk's with friends circa 1995. The granddaughter served us and told stories about the place and people who dined there, including Al Capone and friends (a photo of him was on the wall). Her son cooked our meal. We were the only ones there on a cold, winter's night. Great time. P.S. Always read/like your postings.

  14. "We dutifully ordered the $7 relish tray... then bypassed the night’s special, a porterhouse for two." Should have stayed home, folks. Everything else besides the gargantuan steaks, ordered rare or black and blue, in a Midwestern Supper Club is basically a garnish.

  15. A sense of nostalgia for the Cold War culture in the USA . Even in the American grocery stores you can feel the return to all American products . Everything that was a bit good or related to the European culture has disappeared at TJ . No more duck from Grimaud Farms since a decade because of a complaint from Americans that eating duck was bad . No more Mache salad, No more Arborio rice because Americans don't know even how to make a risotto so the rice for risotto was not selling. French cheese is replaced by American cheese with a French name as Goat Brie, as Americans are ignorant of the fact that in the region of Brie, north of Burgundy, south of Paris, the grass is high and green for fat cows whose rich milk make the Brie cheese. Brie is not a cheese, it is a region.And no sense to raise goats in Brie. You raise goats in Corsica where there is no grass and they climb on trees to eat the leaves .No goat cheese in Brie, please !

  16. Really? How pretentious and self-serving. The owners aren't creating that feeling of a long ago supper club--just another couple of "entreprenurial" guys looking to make a buck in the Big Apple.

  17. Superbly written -- thank you!

  18. You could converse comfortably at a supper club, unlike all restaurants today that are finished with hard surfaces, and spiked with loud music resulting in jarring cacophony, ringing ears and strained vocal chords. Have they replicated that? They were also family places where you would typically see three generations of a family at a table. A supper club in Brooklyn isn't a supper club. It's fleeting self-conscious faux nostalgia. (I had my wedding reception at a supper club in Oshkosh. No silliness. The real deal. We served steak. It was good.)

  19. Ah yes, Midwestern "nice." So "nice" they apparently can't resist making fun of vegetarians. As a lifelong vegetarian from Illinois, articles like these sting. For some, apparently, Midwest "nice" still equals "traditional." Seems a bit strange that the reinvention can't extend to those that abstain from meat. I say some traditions - especially those that are exclusionary - are meant to be broken.

  20. Turk's survives, in a way, in Brooklyn! A blast from the past, good times with friends many years ago.

  21. I’m so excited by the prospects of more of these supper clubs maybe in Miami or New York.

  22. I am from the midwest and I remember these Supper Clubs so very well. We would gather with some friends at the bar where we would have cocktails while they prepared our table. Often we would order our dinner from the bar and, when called, we would sit down to a relish tray that might include items like liver pate, pickled herring and even watermelon pickles among other things. You didn't have to shout to be heard so there was always lots of conversation. I really miss them!

  23. At the Black Bear in Augusta Wisconsin, the relish tray is always included. In addition to the old fashioned the bar always has brandy manhattan on offer for my dad and it's probably mixed for him by the time he gets to the bar. The stuffed bear in the corner has a fishing hat and the Christmas tree is lit year-round. The surf and turf options, fish fry, and prime rib traditions you describe are spot on yet the broasted chicken is one of my stars. Food that is perfectly unpretentious yet good. Next time I come to New York I'll have to check out Turks and compare.

  24. Not really a true supper club experience then...There should be no harried waiters but a relaxed meal, and convivial atmosphere and zero rushing. My favorite restaurant is called The HOBNOB in Racine, WI.

  25. Very engaging history of these supper clubs and their origins. The author's musings on "defacto exclusion" however "unintended" of the original restaurants seems a wrong-headed exercise in a-historicism. The side-trip into authenticity is something of an obsession of unsettled youth (I recall my own.) No surprise then that the NYC outpost did not measure up. One glaring blind spot in all this meta analysis. Might the NY restaurant be exclusionary? One doubts the price points allow for the easy mixing of professional and blue collar types typical of the old Wisc spots.

  26. "...diners have grown increasingly sophisticated, attuned to the momentum of global culinary trends." Really? One must question just how sophisticated those trends are. Trends, indeed, for they are often ephemeral, and driven by by the egos of chefs and promoters, not particularly by their actual merit and worth. New is novel, but newness should not be conflated with being better. Are establishments like the old supper clubs, or the newer iteration described in this article, for everyone? No, likely not, and that's fine. Our options, like our population, should be diverse as well. Why must we always seek and cater to, or at least so it often seems, the lowest common denominator in modern America?

  27. I am so looking forward to the return of "supper clubs," with soft seats and noise-absorbing carpet. The loud, clangy, industrial wood, steel and brick style which seems so in favor today is nerve rattling and discourages conversation. Welcome back, supper clubs!

  28. We have been midwestern transplants for the last thirty or so years, originally from Pittsburgh PA. Over the years we haven grown fond of Wisconsin and make the occasional trip north from the far Chicago Suburbs for a supper club experience. Hitting the bar beforehand, taking your time and stretching out the evening seem to be a necessary part of the routine. This being the case I’m not sure if it’s possible to transplant this concept to the big city. Interestingly enough we had a restaurant open nearby that claims to offer the supper club experience in a more refined format. We tried it out and while it was an enjoyable enough meal we did not get the supper club connection.

  29. There will never be a "legitimate" supper club in New York City. Places like Ishnala, the Pinewood in Mosinee, and Chissy's in Waldo are so precious because of the patrons, most of whom would never be caught dead in NYC. If you sit down at the bar and the majority of people are NOT drinking a brandy old fashioned...well then you aren't at a real supper club.

  30. Fun fact: Several years ago, chef Michael White opened The Butterfly in Tribeca. The name was an homage to White's first restaurant job, a supper club called The Butterfly Club located on the outskirts of Beloit, WI.