October 31, 2017

Does a supper club concept work for your restaurant?

Supper clubs, once a near-exclusive hallmark of the Upper Midwest and Wisconsin especially, as specialist site Wisconsin Supper Clubs pointed out, have seen growth in other major metropolitan areas in recent years. The mid-century feel of many classic examples is often replicated in newer versions, both in terms of decor and menu. Boulder culinary school students should examine this trend to see if the dishes or general presentation of a supper club could be of use in their careers.

Focus on the entrees

While the name supper club has recently been applied to unlicensed restaurants and planned gatherings where professional chefs prepare meals outside of a restaurant kitchen, this guide is focused on the classic establishments. And classic they are, with menus that focus on traditional American cuisine, from steaks and roast beef to chicken and the especially popular Friday fish-fry.

These dishes, many based on concepts many chefs learn while earning a culinary arts degree or in their professional and personal cooking backgrounds, are ripe for authentic reproduction or a wide range of experimentation. Of course, it's all dependent on the preferences of individual chefs and the restaurant's clientele. No matter if your restaurant wants to be a supper club in the classical sense or not, to craft a classic meal as it would have been 60 years ago on the outskirts of a small Wisconsin town or to significantly modernize the dishes, a look at this time of establishment can give you plenty of fresh ideas.

Consider a long-standing meal in supper club culture: a charbroiled steak, baked potato and wedge salad. You may decide to serve such a meal using classic preparations with a focus on execution and presentation. Or, you could modernize the dish with anything from a conservative updates of steak rub, potato toppings and salad dressing to a more extreme deconstruction of the constituent ingredients.

Outdoor dining.Could a supper club concept work for your restaurant?

Desserts, condiments and drinks

This same approach of blending tradition and innovation can apply to many other staples from this type of restaurant, from the enduringly popular fish-fry to chicken a la king. It also extends to items beyond entrees, including drinks, deserts, condiments and physical appearance. The state of Wisconsin highlighted a number of other longstanding supper club traditions through its tourism agency website, including ice cream beverages and classic cocktails.

While chefs often only play a partial role in managing the soft and hard drinks available to customers, a little work with the bartender can help craft a classic environment, whether recreated faithfully or updated with a more modern vibe. Longtime standbys like the old fashioned, Manhattan, negroni and sidecar can all be served before dinner – a common choice in classic clubs – or with the meal. A variety of beers, whether macro- or microbrewed, is another standard accompaniment that draws on the history of some clubs as Prohibition-era roadhouses.

For softer options, old-time flavors like root and birch beer, cream soda and cherry colas can play a role. Having a few sodas on hand also makes it easy to create desserts like black cows and Boston coolers, a blend of ice cream and ginger ale that's unknown in that city but common in many parts of the Upper Midwest. 

Condiments are one more area to consider, as a fully stocked relish tray is a common sight at supper clubs. This is another opportunity to craft more modern or high-quality versions of the classic condiments – relish, mustard, pickles and more – often seen in these restaurants. Whether you decide to feature a few supper club-style dishes or offer a more substantial experience, this is a key element.