Wisconsin Traditions: Old Fashioneds, Fish Fry & the Supper Club

February 15, 2018

I've been following How She Sees Milwaukee on Instagram for what feels like forever, but I finally met Elizabeth at a recent hike (her side project Women Hiking Wisconsin) and a few weeks later we met for happy hour. Hours later, I left happy, inspired, and like I'd made a new friend - that I strangely also felt like I'd known forever. Since she's a foodie who appreciates Wisconsin traditions, I knew she was just the gal I needed to introduce you to this important topic. Visit her blog, follow her on Instagram, and enjoy Milwaukee through her eyes....and taste buds. Post edited by Ciara Beckers.

wisconsin supper club brandy old fashioned drink

Image via Bob Stefko and David Nevala

Brandy or Whiskey? Sweet or Sour? These are the follow up questions a good Wisconsin bartender will ask you after you order an Old Fashioned. The rest is pretty classic, well to me at least. A dash or two of bitters, a small spoonful of sugar or a sugar cube muddled with an orange peel, plus a maraschino cherry or two. Served “sweet” with seltzer, soda, or sprite, or “sour” with either Squirt or sour mix. Now, I say it’s pretty classic to me, because this was how I was raised. We’ve all got our go-to versions, and most of us have a story as to why we drink it the way we do. As long as it tastes good and you serve it in a rocks glass we probably won’t complain. So when I heard Lake Effect Co was making an Old Fashioned scented candle... I could immediately imagine the aromatics of the bitters, citrus, and brandy with the sweetness of the cherries floating around my living room. Doesn’t that just make you happy? It makes me happy, that’s for sure. While we’re on the subject of things Wisconsinites have strong opinions on, we’re embarking on Friday Fish Fry season. For those of you who are not familiar, a Fish Fry in Wisconsin normally consists of 3 to 4 to unlimited (if you’re lucky) pieces of fish, with a side of coleslaw, french fries or potato pancakes, rye bread, and tartar sauce. The many different varieties (and Wisconsinite's opinions on which is best or most traditional) could keep you occupied throughout this season! Some say that it started due to the Catholic tradition to not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but we can’t be sure this is true. While the kind of fish, the breading, and side vary from establishment to establishment you can probably count on finding it on the menu this time of year. If you’re looking for a place that serves both Old Fashioneds & a Fish Fry, I’d go to a Supper Club. Did you know, here in Wisconsin, we have over 300 supper clubs? There is a whole website and Facebook group (with over 11,000 likes) dedicated to where they are, and what you’ll find when you get there. The supper club experience is something to be enjoyed with good drinks, good food, and great company. 

wisconsin supper club fish fry

Image via Bob Stefko and David Nevala

When I walk into a good Supper Club, a sense of nostalgia hits me. The soft music drifting through the restaurant instantly puts me in a better mood. When you sit down, you’re greeted with a smile and probably a sense that you’ve just gained a new friend. The drinks are ordered and the relish tray comes to the table. What’s a relish tray, you ask? To me, it's my favorite part of the meal. A relish tray is a snack really, before the bread & salad course. It normally consists of olives, fresh cut veggies, dried meats, and maybe even cheeses or nuts if they’re feeling generous. Just when you thought you were full from your first round of drinks, the relish tray, your bread & salad... your entree arrives. If it’s Friday, and especially if you’re Up North, there’s most likely a fresh fish option on the menu, but most supper clubs have a specialty. I normally order steak or the slow roasted rotisserie chicken, because why not, we’re out for a nice meal. As I mentioned before this is a marathon, there’s still dessert too! So if you have it in you, it’s time for dessert. I like to opt to drink my dessert. I go for a classic like a Grasshopper or a Brandy Alexander. Just enough ice cream and booze to tell me that it’s time for bed. By the time it comes to head out, your stomach will be ready to go, but your heart will be telling you to stay. There’s always next time, and I’m counting on that. The above is based on a collection of my experiences at Supper Clubs throughout the state. Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking to stop in for lovely evening. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into Wisconsin tradition and I hope you’ll leave some of your favorites in the comments below!

The Guide's Inn- Boulder Junction

Smokey’s- Manitowish Waters 

Ishnala- Mirror Lake

Ding-A-Ling- Hanover

Fin'N Feather- Winneconne

Little Bohemia Lodge- Manitowish Waters

The Packing House- Milwaukee  

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Elizabeth Saksefski

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