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Those of us who grew up going to Midwestern supper clubs know it's a special kind of restaurant that doesn't always translate to other geographic locations. Sitting down with the family over broiled walleye, popovers and one of several optional potato preparations is a culturally significant experience.

Ideally, the restaurant requires traveling down a long, winding road that revels in 1950s and early '60s car culture, when supper clubs rose to prominence alongside gleaming chrome and asphalt. There had better be wood paneling dominating the decor; even better if there's a touch of classy red vinyl seating. And service is polished in the same way as the wood on the bar — by years of experience.

Supper clubs impart that special-occasion feeling when you walk in the door. In northern Minnesota, supper club steak dinners were reserved for birthdays, anniversaries, special celebrations or when my grandparents came to town. The grown-ups would get cherry-wood colored drinks garnished with the same bright red cherries I'd pluck out of my Shirley Temple. Saturday night prime rib specials were a twice-a-year treat that we'd be talking about days later.

While the popularity of supper-club dining has waxed and waned, it was a thrill to see it celebrated on Wednesday night's episode of "Top Chef." When the show's production came to Wisconsin last summer, I was giddy to be one of the "supper club enthusiasts" in the episode, shot at Madison's famed Harvey House, owned by Shaina and Joe Papach. Cheftestants learned about the glorious history of the Wisconsin supper club, were inspired by the restaurant's modern steakhouse fare and then took that inspiration to make it their own.

In the "Supper Club" episode of "Top Chef," Harvey House owners Shaina and Joe Papach, left, joined host Kristen Kish and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.
In the "Supper Club" episode of "Top Chef," Harvey House owners Shaina and Joe Papach, left, joined host Kristen Kish and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

David Moir, Bravo

Warning: If you haven't watched the episode yet, skip over the next paragraph.

The results were a supper club version of the game called Telephone: lots of translations, a few hits and several misses, notably a poor approximation of an ice cream drink and overcooked trout. It was no surprise that the winner of the challenge, chef Dan Jacobs, is a Milwaukee resident with fond memories of snacking on relish trays as a kid. His modern revamp of the freebie starter plate included an exceptional chicken liver mousse.

But that wasn't the only supper club fare on the menu for "Top Chef" judges. In an interview after the taping, chef and judge Tom Colicchio confirmed he had dinner at Madison's iconic Tornado Club Steak House and sampled the state cocktail: the brandy Old Fashioned. "I'm really more of a Manhattan guy," the New Yorker confessed with a bemused shrug. We'll give him that, but it's also fine if the "Supper Club" episode left you with a hankering for the real thing.

If you're feeling nostalgic and are looking for restaurants that understand the supper club assignment, check out these eight, all within a day's drive of the Twin Cities.

Tornado Club Steak House in Madison, Wis., in 2011.
Tornado Club Steak House in Madison, Wis., in 2011.

Narayan Mahon, New York Times

Tornado Club Steak House

Starting with the farthest away, this absolute stunner of a restaurant is in Madison, Wis. It's an excellent place to set the bar for both supper club aficionados and newbies alike. The dining room and bar highlight the heyday of midcentury decor. Multicolored lights in wrought iron fixtures dangle over curved black booths that are the best seats if you can get them. Start and end with popovers: light, airy and eggy. Follow up with a perfectly prepared steak and the gold standard brandy Old Fashioned. It is worth the drive.

116 S. Hamilton St., Madison, Wis.,

The Creekside Supper Club

Much closer to home, this spot that opened a little more than two years ago hits all the right nostalgia notes, with a water fountain in the front and a dining room filled with memorabilia. Order a relish tray (it comes with cheese curds), walleye dinner and maybe a blended ice cream drink. If you squint just a bit, it's easy to imagine that this place has been here forever.

4820 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.,

Jax Cafe, shown here in 1980, has been serving supper club fare for 90 years. Charles Bjorgen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Jax Cafe, shown here in 1980, has been serving supper club fare for 90 years. Charles Bjorgen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Charles Bjorgen, Star Tribune

Jax Cafe

This northeast Minneapolis steakhouse has been serving special-occasion-worthy steaks, fish and lobster for 90 years. With all that time and practice, it's a well-oiled machine and worth a revisit if it's been a while. The seasoning on the edge of that prime rib is perfection. While it isn't at the end of a long driveway, it is a taste and feel of the days when dinner was an occasion.

1928 University Av. NE., Mpls.,

Ettlin's Ranchero Supper Club

We've got super-old supper clubs and brand-new supper clubs; Ettlin's splits the difference by dating back to the 1970s. There are a few glorious bits of old decor still hanging around the room. Leaning into its Swiss and German heritage, the menu offers spaetzle and sauerkraut as optional sides along with all the supper-club classics, from frog legs to Friday night fish fries and an impressive steak selection. Pair dinner with an alcoholic or NA ice cream beverage for the full experience.

4452 W. 40th St., Webster, Minn.,

Wiederholt's Supper Club

Now in its fourth generation of family ownership, this Miesville supper club is skilled in all the old ways, from the vintage lettering on the sign out front to the relish trays and slabs of prime rib served on a silver tray. Even the baked potatoes come in a silver jacket — it's country finery, for sure.

14535 E. 240th St., Miesville,

Lehman's Supper Club

A Rice Lake dining destination since 1935, Lehman's serves all the classic dishes we're looking for in a supper club, from chicken Kiev and cheese curds to shrimp scampi and porterhouse steaks. Grab a seat in the high-back, round booths in the lounge and sip a grasshopper while choosing your meal plan of action.

2911 S. Main St., Rice Lake, Wis.,

Dreamland Supper Club

Like many Duluthians, my grandparents knew a fun night out could always be found across the bridge in Wisconsin. They would go on dates to Dreamland, and the supper club with the romantic name keeps those traditions alive (and has been doing so since the early 1900s). Entrees, which range from the signature 16-ounce lobster tail to stuffed shrimp and prime rib, all come with breadsticks, relish tray, soup, salad and choice of side (the best choice would be au gratin hash browns).

4368 S. County Road E, South Range, Wis.,

Norway Ridge Supper Club

Serving Pequot Lakes the goods for more than 76 years, dining at Norway Ridge is always a worthy occasion. The northwoods decor gives formal Paul Bunyan vibes, and unforgettable dishes, like the sourdough battered mushrooms, have a habit of becoming a craving once you've tasted them. The menu isn't only reminiscent of supper club glory days, but the ribs are hard to resist. It's best to bring a couple of friends who like to share, to maximize the ordering experience.

34757 County Road 39, Pequot Lakes, Minn.,

While we're at it, let's pour one out for some of the greats that have passed into history: The Lantern, The El Roy, The Sawmill Inn, Al-Gen Supper Club and more. Tell us about your supper club memories by commenting or emailing