Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Supper (1962 N. Prospect Ave., 414-509-6074), the new venture from Gina Gruenewald, of Wolf Peach ownership and wood-fired deliciousness, offers a contemporary take on a classic concept. “The standard Midwestern supper club with modern culinary and mixology panache,” says Supper’s website. In other words there will be classic cocktails with top-shelf-ish liquors, one thing simply broiled by another that is “aerated,” a wedge salad alongside a “tincture,” a veal chop, and a menu item that nobody else at your table will have heard of. (Espellete? Well, okay.)
Same old, same new/old. But here’s why we can instantly get on board: It has always been baffling, frustrating, and sad how nothing can maintain business flow in this truly classic location on Prospect. There was Savoy. There was the jazzy joint after Savoy. Maybe it’s the confusion bred by the building’s name? (The Shorecrest Hotel is not a hotel. Or is it? Actually, we still don’t know.) Either way, we went for an early check-in on some of that eponymous end-of-day meal.
The space: If you’re not from Wisconsin—like, say, you only came to town for college and stayed because it’s awesome—you might not know what a “supper club” is. You might think it’s a dangerously drinkable beer from Capital Brewery, and what sounds like the best-ever idea for a grown-up fraternity. Maybe both are true. After a visit, we’re still not sure what the term really means, or how to become a card-carrying member. What we can say is that it definitely involves a Rat Pack aesthetic, and according to the Internet, some sort of “relish tray.”
On both, Supper has gone all in: there’s ornate chandeliers, a high ceiling that echoes fancy restaurant clamor about, an over-the-top deco-ish inlay behind the bar, tints of wood and old tin, and a dark, classic, first hour-of-Goodfellas vibe. Yes, it all feels like going to the Copa to see Henny Youngman on a Friday night. There’s benign jazz overhead, barely decipherable, then “One For The Road” and Nina Simone piping low when things settle. And there’s a ridiculous, quite awesome booth against one wall whose cushions peacock out and up in grandiose fashion, like it’s asking for Tony Montana to sit back, light up, and hold court.
Overall, it’s a cloth napkin spot more than good enough for a sit-down. Or for a haunting and possession of some sort, as The Shining vibe resonates strong, too. Maybe it’s just the old hotel-ness upon walking in, but there’s something classic, nostalgic, and familiarly spooky in an “if-these-walls-could-talk”, or “if-the-elevator-could-bleed” spirit.
The service: They’re not quite at Lloyd-behind-the-bar level of efficacy or suggestive-ness, but everything was tight, with sure-handed, button-down professionalism. Our waitress had the look and shtick of a big city between-table hustler, even with a readymade quip for a broken glass. She was assertive and knowing, swift, opinionated and chatty—but not too. She knew to leave the menu, and even point out its new tableside location for easier drink-pondering access. Certainly the right service for the type of place you’re going to drop a few dimes.
Milwaukee Record’s food: And what of that relish tray? With hopes of being asked to join the dinner cult, we plunged into the “Lazy Susan” ($22, or pick 3 for $11) and were graced with a spinning wooden board platter and a bounty of old-school Wisco flavor. There were buttons of braunschwieger—soft, garlicky, reminding us very much of grandpa’s liverwurst, in the best way. There were deviled eggs—mushy and satisfying, with whiffs both reminiscent of and foreshadowing holiday party spreads. And there were assorted fancy cheeses—a tart Bad Axe and Hooks Blue, reeking, of course, of small batch artisinality. So, maybe it wasn’t such an old-school foray after all.
This glowing pre-meal buzz isn’t even to make note of the bread basket. Here, the butter was a horseradish and thyme combo, creamy, good enough to overlook just-okay rye and any hope at Atkins. This also isn’t to mention the cocktails. By now, we all know what a Manhattan or Old Fashioned ($10) should taste like. So we moved on, with a Karben4 Block Party Amber ($5.50).
Our waitress’ exuberance over the beef tartare ($12)—“I was spoiled by New York,” and “You can’t get it like this anywhere in town”—was well warranted. In fact we noted how nice it was to be on the same page as a server’s suggestion, and wondered if she wouldn’t just like to go ahead and write this review for us. It was even nicer to find the extra, hidden roasted garlic aioli under the parsley. It’s a perfect, if almost unnecessary topping to the big hulk of loose, raw meat patty—crumbly and salty, with a perfect pod of yolk cascading down in goopy rivulets of savoriness, just right for scooping with buttery baguettes. If only this dish, and its rich, yolky unstoppableness, didn’t wreak such havoc on stomach and appetite. Then there might be more enjoyment at the entrée.
And there was plenty to savor in Supper’s take on surf and turf ($32), which yields an expertly broiled hangar steak, along with some bivalves, grilled romaine, aioli, and a pungent black truffle reduction. A first bite hinted at over-saltiness, but we quickly got in step with the dish and the sauce’s hearty decadence, which seemed something like a metaphoric continuation of the space around us. The meat and juice were countered by neatly seared scallops and a couple smartly fried oysters that made us wish we could go back and try the Rockefeller appetizer ($14). Certainly this is a steep sticker price for a half-filled plate of land-meets-sea, especially when so much caloric satisfaction can be garnered from the menu’s earlier chapters, but there was still little by way of buyer’s remorse.
A most depressing story about a most unspeakable pastry kitchen accident started the dessert recitation, underlining a limited selection. But we had forgotten it by the time we were spoon wrestling over a dish of bananas foster ($10). With sweet bites of bread pudding, brown butter rum sauce, and vanilla bean ice cream, we noted how it was this mix of everything—warm, cold, hot, sugary, fruity, carmelization-y—that was much like the amalgamation of the place itself. Maybe what you do is pick and choose what you like from the old and sprinkle in some new-ish ideas, until nobody can tell what today is supposed to feel like. And as hybrids and beautiful people rolled on through the big front windows down Prospect, the old apartments mixing with young people hipness, we thought maybe that’s how it’s always been. Whatever—if it tastes like Supper, we’ll have no beefs, aside from the tartare.
The verdict: A special occasion joint suitable for Nanna, worthy of Uncle Vito, or a hot date from a nearby condo.