BY CHRISTINA CARAYANNOPOULOS
Wisconsin is not just the dairy state. Did you know it is also known for its vast supper clubs, weekly fish fries and bountiful cranberries? The state upholds these traditions that are just as important to its history as the dairy industry.
Supper clubs are restaurants that offer a fine dining and social experience. They are often located on the outskirts of towns and only open for dinner. A person who has never been to supper clubs might associate them with older generations because of their history.
“In general they’re not very trendy places, many of them have been around for 60-70 years,” said Therese Oldenburg, founder of Wisconsin Supper Clubs, Inc. “It’s that quintessential dining experience with a white tablecloth and a candle on the table.”
Wisconsin has more than 340 supper clubs, according to Oldenburg. Wisconsin’s first supper clubs date back to the ‘20s, when they served as stopping points for gangsters during the prohibition. When prohibition ended, supper clubs were many of the first establishments to receive their liquor licenses, according to Wisconsin Supper Clubs, Inc.
The cuisine often features chicken, prime rib, steak or fish, and most Wisconsin supper clubs are known to have an all-you-can-eat fish fry on Fridays. Supper clubs are also known for having relish trays brought to the table; they offer salad bars as well.
“It’s a place of tradition,” Oldenburg said. “You have your prime rib on Saturday and your fish fry on Friday.”
Fish Fry Fridays
In the Christian tradition, Friday fish fries are often associated with Lent, but in Wisconsin, a fish fry is a weekly occurrence.
A standard fish fry meal in Wisconsin contains fried white fish, some form of potato, tartar sauce, cole slaw, a lemon wedge and either rye bread or a dinner roll.
“The key to a good fish fry is to find the right balance between tradition and personalization,” said Nick Scheeler, executive chef at The Packing House, located at 900 E. Layton Ave. in Milwaukee.
The Packing House was voted as the best fish fry in the city by locals on WISN.com’s 2014 A-List. Scheeler said it’s “tradition” that sets its fish fry apart from its competitors.
“Our fish fry has utilized the exact same recipe for over 40 years with only very minor changes,” Scheeler said. “A good portion of our individual taste also comes from our dedication to making everything possible from scratch.”
Wisconsin is also the number one cranberry harvesting state, producing more than 60 percent of the country’s crop, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. In fact, in 2004 the cranberry became the official state fruit of Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center.
Cranberries are a naturally tart fruit, which might make them seem difficult to eat. Mary Brazeau Brown, president of Glacial Lake Cranberries, Inc. and owner of Honestly Cranberry LLC, countered this view.
“They’re tart and as a grower, I appreciate that true tart taste,” Brown said.
Honestly Cranberry was created out of that appreciation for the fruit. The company’s website, honestlycranberry.com, allows other cranberry lovers to purchase bags of dried cranberries with no sugar added.
Cranberries are typically associated with cranberry sauce, a timeless holiday tradition in American culture.
Brown said the holidays are the perfect time to incorporate the treasured fruit into seasonal meals. “I celebrate that,” Brown said.
Perhaps Wisconsin should be thankful year-round for its official regional fruit, which brings families together during the holiday season.