Old-Fashioned or New Trend?

A few weeks back I attended an annual meeting of the Wisconsin State Questers as a guest. The gathering was held at Janesville’s Rotary Botanical Gardens and was the perfect venue for a crisp autumn day. Those in attendance were just a small portion of the international organization committed to the study, preservation and restoration of antiquities, artifacts and historical sites.

There are fourteen Quester chapters here, most of which are in the southeast portion of the state. The Monroe chapter, Swiss Attic Fanciers and others with names such as Blooming Prairie, Explorare, Heritage Trails, and Prairieville Pioneers, meet monthly. Their commitment is to learn and maintain their heritage and they explore the past with the enthusiasm of a treasure hunters.

I was impressed with the pomp and circumstance of the event, which included an accounting from each chapter, awards and recognition ceremony for service, and a silent auction fund-raiser for future restoration projects. Although the entire day was interesting, the highlight was the lunch and guest speaker. The meal was a catered affair themed around the Wisconsin supper club.

Milwaukee producer, director and author, Ron Faiola, gave an impressive presentation based on research for his own book and movie projects. Wisconsin Supper Clubs – an old-fashioned experience, is a tribute to the tradition of these restaurants. He explained what makes the supper club not only unique from other eateries, but why Wisconsin supper clubs are different from those in other states.

Did you know? Supper clubs are only open for the evening meal.

I guess that’s self-explanatory, but to tell you the truth, I’d never given it any thought. A restaurant serving breakfast or lunch cannot officially be called a supper club. Most of these establishments are family run businesses that have been passed down through generations. There’s the tradition of serving a relish tray at the table or a salad bar verses a side salad. Some menus include food unique to the location, like wild game, turtle, frog legs, or a friday night fish-fry.

The popular cocktail? The brandy old-fashioned sweet. Which we determined, based on an impromptu pole at our table that day, is difficult to get outside of the state. A fact backed by Ron when he stated that Wisconsinites drink more brandy than anyone else does in the country and the old-fashioned served elsewhere is made with something other than brandy. Beyond that, if there’s ever any doubt you’re dining in a supper club just look at the décor. If there’s an eclectic mix of dark wood paneling, year round twinkle lights, and taxidermy on the walls, you’re in a supper club.

What began as a fine dining and social experience in the days of Mad Men, has become a cultural phenomenon connecting generations. With an emphasis on quality food and service it’s no surprise the supper club is making a comeback in bigger cities like Seattle, Washington D.C., and New York.

Is this old fashioned dining experience to be the new trend?

For me, exploring the supper club tradition with a group whose mission is the preservation of such things made the Quester event a winner. I was so excited to get a signed copy of Wisconsin Supper Clubs – an old-fashioned experience. I informed my husband as soon as I got home that dining our way through these supper clubs was our new bucket list item.

The book is beautiful! Filled with stunning photos and stories of fifty Wisconsin supper clubs across the state, it is a work worthy of coffee table placement. At least kitchen counter top, which is where I have mine.

Catch up with Ron Faiola: Wisconsin Supper Clubs-an old fashioned experience

To learn more about the Questers: Wisconsin Questers

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Me with author Ron Faiola (and yes, there’s something weird going on with my hair).

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