When going out to eat, some meals become memorable for the decor and service, others for the taste of the food and strength of the drinks, and still others for the company at your– or a nearby – table.
Few meals deliver all three.
The story of one such meal began with something between a stay-cation and a beach house on Maui. The day after Christmas our family drove to an Airbnb in Williams Bay, Wis., near Lake Geneva. The house, with its ’50’s faux wallboard, canoe paddles over the living room couch and armchairs deep and relaxing as a hot tub, held us warm and snug while surrounded by below-zero wind chill.
Our first day there, daughter Molly found a supper club recommended on a list left by the house’s owners. Calling to make reservations, she was told, “First come, first served,” which was to be taken literally.
The Mars Supper Club, overlooking Lake Como, a boxy, brown building the size of a large bait shop, invited us in under its canopied entrance strung with white Christmas lights. Inside, the low ceiling, wooden chairs, tables and rectangular bar, and large picture windows painting sunset colors over the snow-swept frozen lake looked enchanting as a fairy tale.
“Welcome, folks!” said a smiling, cherubic waitress, her warmth genuine as mink. After delivering drinks (they had the New Glarus brewery’s Spotted Cow on tap), she told us for their first date her mother and father dined at Mars.
Looking over the many menu choices, we asked for recommendations.
“People come for our ribs,” she said. “Our rib eye is one of our signature items. Mahi-mahi is the catch of the day, and our Tuesday special is fried chicken, which people love. For appetizers, the duck or walleye fingers are fantastic. I’ll also bring crackers and cheese.”
Cheese? Free cheese!? Oh, yeah, this was Wisconsin.
We quickly cleaned out the first small cup of scooped spreadable orange cheese, and received two more for the asking. The lightly-breaded, spiced duck fingers we dipped in either orange sauce or honey mustard dressing. Finger-lickin’ good.
Before our entrees, cups of stuffed green pepper soup appeared. While indulging in the warm, thick comfort food, a couple of septuagenarians walked by our table. Hugging the man’s head was what looked like a large, black wolverine.
“Bought the hat in Russia,” he proudly explained. “Rabbit.”
Our plates arrived, each accompanied with a side of coleslaw or potatoes (baked, french-fried, waffle-fried, sweet potato fries or potato pancakes). We talked ice fishing (son Jay is obsessed); a possible trip to the nearby observatory; and the college football game on TV, Northern Illinois University trying to catch up to Duke.
As hungry as we were, we ended up taking home doggie bags, Mars the antidote to hoity-toity high-end restaurants offering giant plates with miniscule art objects they call food, one serving the price of our entire bill that night.
Well, I’m off to the fridge; that leftover rib eye is beckoning.
Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches English at Marmion Academy and moderates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at email@example.com.