Feb 9, 2023

A commoner dines at the Ishnala Supper Club, Lake Delton, Wis.

In Wisconsin’s food scene, supper clubs still rule as the ultimate dining experience.  And the king of them all may be the one perched high on the edge of Mirror Lake just outside of Wisconsin Dells – the Ishnala Supper Club. 

But before I get into why Ishnala outdoes all the others, I should explain what a classic Wisconsin supper club is and what it used to be for the uninitiated.  Most no longer require membership to join or dine at discounted prices.  Many, however, are still found in rural or even remote locations, focus on a limited menu and provide a fine dining (and drinking) experience in a casual and comfortable setting.  

So, what makes the Ishnala Supper Club stand out?

Perhaps it was simply meant to be the best.  According to its website, Ishnala means “By Itself Alone” in the Winnebago language, and it truly is one of a kind.  It’s also billed as being voted Wisconsin’s No. 1 Supper Club.  Whoever is voting must be pretty knowledgeable in the category.      

Ishnala Supper Club has been a fixture of Mirror Lake State Park just outside of Wisconsin Dells since 1953.  It may not be remote, but it does feel secluded among the pines, and it truly is a sight to behold at the end of a nice scenic drive into the park just to find it.  

Since they don’t take reservations, Punky and I arrived at what we considered to be a fairly early time, around 4:30 p.m., hoping to beat dinner rush.  We failed miserably.  The wait was an hour and a half.  We had two choices -- wait outside and breathe in the fresh scent of pine while exploring the grounds, or wait inside at one of Ishanala’s three bars. 

Frankly, it was just too beautiful outside to not appreciate. 

At least for a while …

OK, so maybe after an hour outside it was time to get a drink.

We struggled to find the least crowded bar of the bunch but managed to get served quickly, nonetheless. 

After a quick perusal of Ishnala’s lengthy drink menu, which included a tempting mix of specialty cocktails …

… I kept it simple with the classic old-fashioned.  Why stray from what’s popular among the masses?  And, as the menu described, Ishnala’s old-fashioneds are traditionally made with their own house brandy.  It was impeccably yet efficiently made, and I didn’t miss the bourbon a bit. 

We found a couple of window seats in a corridor between bars and enjoyed our drinks with views of the lake.

Look close enough, and you can see the kayakers and canoers.

Even with drinks in hand, the long wait only increased our appetites.  Fortunately, we were able to put in orders for appetizers at the bar.  Punky was delighted to find escargot on the menu, so we took a chance. 

It turned out to be a very wise decision.  My gastronomic experience with escargot is rather limited, but Punky and I agreed these were the best either of us has ever tasted.  The combination of hot bubbly cheese over individual caves of escargot swimming in a briny combination of garlic butter and juices from the escargot, then spread over chewy sourdough bread, was surreal.  We could have just simply kept ordering apps and been content.    

But eventually we were notified that our table was ready, and although it wasn’t a window seat we still had wonderful views of sunset on the lake.  Frankly, it’s hard to not find a scenic view everywhere you look at Ishnala. 

We settled in for what we anticipated to be a memorable meal.

I upgraded to a Caesar salad for my first course, and it was as authentic as they come.  The dressing tasted fresh-made that day, and it was generously drizzled over every piece of Romaine.  The fact that it was topped with actual anchovy filets sent it over the top.  It was easily one of the best Caesar salads I’d had in a long time.

The level of excellence with the main course’s preparation had me even more impressed.  I ordered a classic surf and turf combo, and I honestly couldn’t tell you which was better – the steak or the butterflied prawns.  That dollop of butter melting on top of the steak was all the extra flavor it needed.  The use of the word “prawns” was definitely appropriate, as these shrimp were definitely not on the small side, but they were amazingly tender and juicy.  All in all, it was a perfectly balanced meal …  

… made even more so with the bottle of Ishnala’s own red wine blend which Punky and I shared.   

We left Ishnala Supper Club convinced that we had found one of the best overall dining experiences in Wisconsin.  The food was stellar, the service was excellent, the crowds were … well, tolerable.  Having a beautiful secluded location in the Northwoods pines certainly helps make the wait worthwhile.  I would definitely consider Ishnala destination dining worth the drive.  Its hours are seasonal, though, so you’ll have to wait until spring each year for them to reopen.  Check out the Ishnala Supper Club website for details.

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