The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020: Supper clubs that reigns supreme

Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Find more great travel ideas in The Growler’s Tourism Guide 2020

It’s the great, once-unsung Upper Midwestern place to eat: a civilized outpost of prime rib, steak, fried fish, and strong cocktails set against a backdrop of sprawling wilderness—the country supper club.

Recent years have started to change the “unsung” part of the story: “The Supper Club Book” (Dave Hoekstra) and “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience” (Ron Faiola), plus the documentary “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club” have cast a modern gaze on these sometimes century-old establishments. And the 2019 opening of Turk’s Inn (a Hayward, Wisconsin supper club transported and resurrected in Brooklyn, New York) puts an even brighter shine on the genre’s star.

Media and New York dining experiences aside, it helps to have a tip or two to pick out the best of the bunch, as supper club dining experiences can vary from the goofily terrible to the nostalgically sublime.

The list we’ve curated below emphasizes the get-the-heck-out-of-the-city charm of a classic Midwestern supper club, but you can find supper club grub in urban environs, too. In St. Paul, Mancini’s puts a metropolitan Italian spin on the “relish tray, cocktails, and steak” heart of the experience. In Long Lake, Birch’s sports a lower-level brewpub and upper-level classic supper club, both overlooking the water. And in Madison, Wisconsin, you can visit The Old Fashioned for an amazing array of local cheese, beer, fried fish, and artisan meats.

Anton’s

Location: Waite Park, MN

Since: Early 1970s

Hours/Season: 7 days a week / Year-round

Anton’s dining-room-come-Oregon Trail-wagon-train (including covered wagon-themed tables) isn’t a conventional supper club move. But there’s something about it—so dated that it’s shocking, and stirring, and legitimately different—that really resonates within the genre. Supper club favorites aplenty fill up the menu at this scenic waterside spot (crab cakes, walleye, ribs).

And there’s a noteworthy St. Cloud twist—a massive and beautifully wrought popover that is a staple on a surprising number of St. Cloud area menus. Special bonus points for the “Isn’t a Salad But Gets Labeled as One” category—the Anton’s almond chicken-stuffed popover sits under the salads heading on the strength of the chicken technically being a (greens-free) “chicken salad.”

Indianhead Supper Club

Location: Balsam Lake, WI

Since: 1939

Hours/Season: Thu–Sat / Year-round

Located just an hour northeast of St. Paul, the Indianhead Supper Club sports a grand piano, a martini list, and a Friday fish fry, to mention just three of the supper club-y elements at play here. It’s been up and running for 80 years, making it one of Wisconsin’s longest-standing dining rooms.

Menu staples hit all the highlights—almond chicken salad, cedar-planked walleye, ribs, steaks, chicken piccata, and so forth, and the restaurant goes in hard for a woodsy log cabin feel.

Becida Bar and Grill

Location: Becida, MN

Since: 1950s (as a grocery store and post office
that became the restaurant)

Hours/Season: 7 days a week / Year-round

Friday night prime rib is a supper club staple, and this Central Minnesota-based small-town hub attracts guests from (many) miles around for its rendition. While generally skewing toward burgers and wings, Friday nights are really peak supper club time for the restaurant, which also puts together a full, classic salad bar and an array of rib specials for the evening.

Becida is a true gathering place—look for swarms of motorcyclists in warm weather and snowmobilers in winter, while hunters congregate here in the autumn. Outdoor horseshoe pits and volleyball courts keep the place lively during the summer months.

The Palms Supper Club

Location: Schofield, WI

Since: 1936

Hours/Season: 7 days a week / Year-round

A gorgeous vintage round bar anchors this old-school spot in north-central Wisconsin on the way from Minneapolis–St. Paul to Green Bay. Beer-battered perch and cheese curds only add to a menu stuffed with steaks, seafood dishes, and classic ice cream drinks including the once-ubiquitous grasshopper and the brandy Alexander. A local art gallery aspect is both unexpected and charming.

Ishnala

Location: Lake Delton, WI

Since: 1953

Hours/Season: 7 days a week / May–October

Perhaps “the” supper club of the Upper Midwest, the Wisconsin Dells-proximate Ishnala, has it all: dramatic wilderness views, Norway pines growing through the roof, aged steaks, and a sense of “dressed up regular folks” decorum that hearkens back to an older era of dining. Long waits and crowded bars are the norm at this tourist favorite, only exacerbated by its limited season of operation. Plan to turn up early, and don’t be steamed if you have to wait for your table. The view is worth it.