Answers from Our Experts (1)
The penultimate Northwoods Wisconsin food experience is the fish fry, followed by a close second, the supper club — and the best supper clubs truly are experiences. A holdover from the post-prohibition era of the 1950s, Wisconsinites once flocked to supper clubs to drink, dine and dance. These days the emphasis is more on drinking and dining, though you might still catch the occasional live band. Sip a Brandy Old Fashioned and nibble on relish trays and cracker baskets until you’re good and hungry, then venture into the dining room for an iceberg lettuce wedge salad, bread baskets, a steak, chicken or fish dinner, and a dessert drink. Ask a local for the nearest supper club, although they might squint back at you in polite wonder; the supper club experience is so integral to Wisconsin culture that many locals don’t even realize how unique it is.
As for the Friday night fish fry, you can find it most everywhere, from church basements to roadside gas station cafes, hotels, supper clubs and fine dining establishments. Cod is the most common, but walleye, perch and bluegill are equally delicious in their own unique ways. It generally comes in a basket or as a full dinner alongside coleslaw, rye bread and french fries. If you’re the rare bird that doesn’t like fried food, don’t fret — most places let you order it baked or broiled, too.
Need a recommendation for where to start? Here are a few can’t miss dining spots for a classic Northwoods food experience:
1. Al-Gen Dinner Club, Rhinelander. There is nothing more Northwoods Wisconsin than a supper club, a 1950s tradition still preserved and cherished in almost every northern town. Marked by cocktails and relish trays, juicy prime rib and crispy pan-fried walleye, the supper club experience is so integral to Wisconsin culture that most locals don’t even realize how unique it is until they travel out of state. As soon as you roll into town, seek out a supper club —any supper club. The Al-Gen Dinner Club in Rhinelander is a superb start.
2. Blink Bonnie’s, St. Germain. Open only in the summertime and a consummate favorite for sizzling steak, Blink Bonnie’s fills up the minute it opens. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations and it’s not unusual to wait hours for a table, so locals simply tailgate outside while they wait.
3. Wolf Pack Cafe, St. Germain. Locals pour into Wolf Pack Cafe for the burst of berry pancakes — get there early or get on the waiting list. Customer service is terrific and the food is fast and delicious. Try the hash brown sandwich (opt for a half order, unless you’re a wolf) or the walleye breakfast, and don’t forget to pick up a commemorative mug or t-shirt on your way out.
4. Maggie’s, Bayfield. The bright pink exterior and kitschy, flamingo-strewn interior make Maggie’s a popular destination, but it’s the food that makes it a legend. Sautéed whitefish livers are a local delicacy, and the garlic polenta fries are delicious. Maggie’s offers 10 different USDA and angus burgers along with pizzas, steaks, stir fry and seafood.