August 26, 2012

A WaPo writer "searching for the 'authentic America'" is delighted to travel to Madison, Wisconsin.

"We’d always heard about that mythically quirky place called Madison, a free-spirited land with far fewer chain stores and BlackBerry addicts than Washington," enthuses Emily Wax. Man, living in Washington, D.C. really lowers your standards of authenticity.

Influenced by the 2011 documentary “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience,” Wax goes to the restaurant called Old Fashioned, which is fairly new, and not one of the funky old places I think of as "supper clubs." She eats some fried cheese curds and says she has no idea how to tell whether cheese curds are especially good. (Answer: They squeak. Except they don't squeak if they're fried.)

She drinks the cocktail called an Old Fashioned, and then on another day she has another Old Fashioned and proclaims "How Madison!" On another day, "my husband and I headed for a romantic dinner at the sexy, dimly lit Tornado Steakhouse," which supposedly "has a wonderful menu."

And so did she achieve it, that sense of authenticity infusing the city, of delight with mythical quirkiness all around her, of free-spirited energy rushing through everything alive? Myself, I'm over-indulging in deep-fried prose tonight and wondering if I need to see a surgeon to get my neural pathways reconnected. I'm losing it somehow, as I gaze out on the treetops of Madison.

65 comments:

Meade said...

Just between the two of us, I prefer it when your prose isn't deep-fried. Nice when it squeaks.

ddh said...

Earth tones ring in my ears.

EMD said...

Emily's a regular Jane Goodall.

EMD said...

Also — all of America is authentic.

EMD said...

"I'm losing it somehow, as I gaze out on the treetops of Madison."

So sex with Meade ain't what it used to be, huh?

Maguro said...

I went to a few "supper clubs" in Tomah back in the 90s, they just seemed like regular restaurants, albeit a little run down. Do they have to call it a supper club to serve booze or something?

EMD said...

The term "supper club" makes me long for the Kahiki.

Pogo said...

Emily said as we boarded a Greyhound in DC
"Madison seems like a dream to me now"
It took her four days to hitchhike from Washington
She's gone to look for America

"Emily, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was drinking
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Could be those cheese curds from authentic supper clubs
WaPo's gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

Kathy said...

Ann - You have just been through a trip across small town America - and I know I loved all your reports from your field - and we too did a Sheboygan- Door County - Oostburg-multi-county Wisconsin tour and we tried to locate the real deal - old time - Wisconsin Supper Clubs still hanging on.

And your reaction here to Emily's completely fake and creepy anthropological (and safe) venture into Wisconsin Supper Club Culture is spot on.

Good gravy - The Tornado Club?

What a complete laugh out loud you gave me with your post. I love knowing that like minds exist in our Madison public voice - and so often - Ann - it's YOU :-)

Thanks a million.

William said...

You're allowed to feed the law profs but only through authorized portals.

Chip Ahoy said...

So are you in a room at tree top height or above? What's the thing with tree tops?

I too see tree tops but they're kind of boring. Some nearby and some half a block away.I could get some binoculars and have a closer look at their tops.

At Tamerisk in Breckenridge we had the bottom condo and outside are pine trees. Cool because we could head out the back door straight to the slopes. Our view was the base of the trees. Our friends owned the condo above us and they had a view of the middle section of those same trees. The old man from Texas who sold us the two places had the third floor, his unit was taller and more of them, two or three, and his view was the top of those same trees, and his was the best view of all. He didn't ski, so the access was no advantage.

Now the trees are grown beyond that. So if you check you'll see they're taller than the building.

Incidentally, that was the place where the caretaker busted us walking through the trees in front carrying our skis but not on one of the clearly marked trails. The caretaker looked like a scary old man, abrupt, and not at all nice, and he asked curtly, "Does this look like a good place for a trail?" The little trails were clearly marked, and we were smart asses so we both said, "Yes" at the same time, and walked on. The next day the path we walked was clearly marked by white stones.

Better to be on the ground and look up through a tree. For all the depth and the speckles.

AJ Lynch said...

How about a poll on which of the MSM outlets has the best clueless reporters?

Brian said...

When I hovered over the link I expected to see The Onion.

Econophile said...

Her husband's disappointment with "the cookie-cutter 'kit that rolls out' in every town" is hilarious. As if he expects people to forego the convenience and choice of a chain just so their town can seem "authentic" and "unique" to a few dim tourists like him.

And how in the world did this woman get the idea the The Old Fashioned was a traditional supper club?!

Ron said...

Pogo, it's hard to pull off the Saginaw/Madison swap. Can we imagine the VortexMistress in Saginaw? Not I.

I went to a dive in Saginaw that looked like a '70's cafeteria...not realizing that was a local chain that looked like that!

The most expensive item on the menu ($4.50) was the "Meat" sandwich. The quotes were in the original menu!

MadisonMan said...

Oh for God's sake.

Feiler's by Home Depot is about as Supper Club-y as you can get these days. Why didn't she go there?

Ron said...

Does she not know the Old Fashioned was the preferred drink of Don Draper? Feh!

Patrick said...

What a wonderful, if unintended, demonstration of liberal elitism! I'm quite sure that had Miss Emily set foot in a true supper club, the author wouldn't have been able to see the relish plate under her turned-up nose. Both establishments mentioned are quite nice, but one tries too hard to mimic an actual supper club, and one is a steakhouse. Not to be too anti-Madison, but she may have benefitted from wandering more that a block away from Cap Square!
So many better options would have been available. Toby’s in south-east Madison leaps to mind. Syl’s in Barre Mills is a classic, as is Ed Sullivan’s in Trempealeau. But such establishment would have exposed Miss Emily to flyover small business owners who foolishly believe that they built their businesses, and good blue collar workers who are too simple to understand that extended unemployment and no-strings-attached welfare are better than a job. The horror. The horror.

Terry said...

Next stop: Austin, to get a feel for the authentic Texas, and then to Athens, Georgia, for a glimpse into the lifestyle of typical Southerners!

Luke Lea said...

When they write about a place you know they never get it right.

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

What a lazy writer.

Apparently she doesn't know the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet (or as my ex-waitress wife fondly calls them: BOFS).

She gets to the Farmer's Market after a stand runs out of cheese curds? What's that? 1 PM? And she references a reviewer on Yelp?

Wow.

Kathy said...

Ok - why no mention of the mandatory relish tray of the old school supper clubs?

We like have an entire journal of the variant relish tray offerings - we truly ran into a bread basket in Door County this summer in Sister Bay with packaged Twinkies in the bread basket among other amazing (and more bready) offerings.

Did she even read the book?

Meade said...

Anyone searching for authenticity in Madison, Wisconsin needs to begin by reading a blog called "Bring It!" with David Blaska.

Dude keeps it real.

Kevin said...

I guess it would have been just too, too scary to go to someplace like Rhinelander.

wyo sis said...

So, I have a feeling I'll be ridiculed for this, but, what exactly is a supper club? How would I know if I were in one?

ignatzk said...

Madison authenticity? Shoulda gone to the Capitol last February or maybe the Labor Temple on Park Street or a tour of 'Homes of the Tenuriat' and the Heiden Haus in Shorewood Hills.

Wisconsin supper club experience? Try the Ishnala in the Dells.

kentuckyliz said...

Timmerman's in East Dubuque, IL. Great Sunday brunch.

Carnifex said...

Laughed out loud @ Terry's post. I was thinking along the same lines...only someone from DC, Berkley, S.Trisco, or NY would consider Madison Main Street America.

And ya'll's supper clubs sound boring. The Trocadero about 25 years ago in Clewiston Florida. Now that was a supper club. Immigrants from every corner of the world came there to cut sugar cane and drink the cheapest swill you could imagine. Fights were often and bloody, and of mixed sexes. Now that's entertainment! (You didn't actually eat at the Troc. Not if you valued your health.)

Poverty level about what you see in Appelachia. You could buy a woman for $15 for the night. $20 for the prettiest one. And whole families for $50(to work in the cane)

Ps

There must be something in the water down there, the women had as much facial hair as I do, and I am not making that up. Was pretty disturbing. Not as much as a deer or horse mind you.

rhhardin said...

It's authentic women's page.

edutcher said...

The woman's condescension is palpable.

microcorsair said...

A lefty reporter wants to find the "authentic America", and goes to one of the furthest-left cities in America.

How predictable. How authentic.

Rusty said...

Carnifex said...
Laughed out loud @ Terry's post. I was thinking along the same lines...only someone from DC, Berkley, S.Trisco, or NY would consider Madison Main Street America.

And ya'll's supper clubs sound boring.


Wisconsin supper clubs were/are traditionally a place where you'd put on a jacket and tie and take mamma out on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon for a decent steak, or some prime rib and a Manhattan. The better resorts, up north, had supper clubs.
Morenos(?) in New Munster was our favorite. Outrageously large portions of prime rib.

Tibore said...

""We’d always heard about that mythically quirky place called Madison, a free-spirited land with far fewer chain stores and BlackBerry addicts than Washington," enthuses Emily Wax. Man, living in Washington, D.C. really lowers your standards of authenticity."

And here I thought such a mindset was only a pathology of Manhattanites.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry, but as someone who lived in Madison for 5 years, it is hardly "authentic" America (if it is, then so are Berkeley & Ann Arbor). It is a left-wing university town that is not even typical of the state of Wisconsin. The NYTimes writer would have found more midwestern "authenticity" in Milwaukee.

harrogate said...

"Also — all of America is authentic."

Bingo. You rarely if ever claims to what is "real America" or "real Americans" that aren't bullshit through and through.

Issob Morocco said...

This is also the mindset of the great untalked about power group in DC. The Congressional Staffers.

A murky group who if they do leave the governmental side of politics it is usually to go to work on the lobbyist side of the gig.

Term limits should also extend to staff as well as for elected officials. A lot of great minds have come to DC and been turned to mush by staff. The concern becomes about how the Congressman or Senator 'looks' in polls instead of doing the right things.

To these permanent ruling class, much like the beltway punditry, Madison, or Champaign, or Des Moines or Columbia is as foreign and perhaps more so, than Paris, London, or Rome. In fact there seems to be more derision to the rest of America than there is to thugs in the world, like Syria, North Korea and China.

Tank said...

Had my first ever cheese curd last night at Murray's Cheese Bar in NY.

Tasted great to me, but then, I know nothing about curds.

I know this, those little buggers can not be "good for you." Can they?

LordSomber said...

Dying newspapers are trying to appeal to the hipster demographic. The New York Times is doing it too, with their inane stories every other day on how "quirky" some fad in Brooklyn is.

Marshal said...

How do progressive Madisonians feel about being condescended to? They think they're thought leaders in the progressive movement, but their own mouthpieces publish pieces treating them as aliens from flyover country.

Curious George said...

"..PetSmart, an Old Navy, a Bed Bath & Beyond and maybe a Barnes & Noble"

Madison has two PetSmarts, two BB&B's, and two B&N's.


And true "supper clubs" are really only found "up nort'", and not so much any more.

tiger said...

She should have gone to Waukesha or Merrill or Greenfield or Sheboygan or, well, you get the picture.

Madison/Dane County: 200 square miles surrounded by reality.

And that's a quote from Jim Doyle!

(The special on supper clubs was good.)

MadisonMan said...

I'm not sure if the Petsmarts are actually within Madison. Close enough, maybe.

Why go anywhere by Mounds, anyway? You get candy when you leave!

Big Mike said...

... living in Washington, D.C. really lowers your standards of authenticity.

Tell me about it. I've been living in and around Washington for forty years, and I'm struck by how utterly insular the locals are. If anyone is wondering why such unbelievably absurd regulations come out of Washington, DC, it's because they cannot even begin to imagine life more than 5 miles outside the Beltway.

FWIW my late aunt used to drink Old Fashioneds sixty years ago.

Big Mike said...

... living in Washington, D.C. really lowers your standards of authenticity.

Tell me about it. I've been living in and around Washington for forty years, and I'm struck by how utterly insular the locals are. If anyone is wondering why such unbelievably absurd regulations come out of Washington, DC, it's because they cannot even begin to imagine life more than 5 miles outside the Beltway.

FWIW my late aunt used to drink Old Fashioneds sixty years ago.

Erika said...

Question for you Wisconsin people.

A few years back I had a serving of fried cheese curds at a historic burger joint in my hometown. (Historic as in it has been there since the fifties and everyone's grandparents ate there after home football games. This is what passes for historic on the west coast.) They were delicious, and it was doubly exciting because at the time we were considering a move to Wisconsin so it was sort of a preview of cultural things to come.

My question, though--is it possible that the fried cheese curds, which probably arrived frozen at this little restaurant in Washington state--were as good as the ones we would have in actual honest-to-goodness Wisconsin? They were a fatty, crispy delight, but I want to know, if we ever get to your lovely state, would they be even better?!

ndspinelli said...

I see we can add "shill" to the list of Meade's admirable qualities.

Carnifex said...

@ Rusty

I know. Just poking alittle fun. I have actually dined in places where you have to use a fork, AND a spoon. :-)

I've also been to places like the Trocadero...the juxtaposotion tickles me.

prairie wind said...

Does she not know the Old Fashioned was the preferred drink of Don Draper?

We used to have one restaurant where we could get a good Old Fashioned--it was an older steakhouse with a mostly elderly clientele. The trendier places didn't know Old Fashioneds...until recently. Suddenly, waiters and bartenders know all about Old Fashioneds.

If I watched Mad Men, I wouldn't have been surprised?

Kit said...

Feiler's by Home Depot is about as Supper Club-y as you can get these days. Why didn't she go there?

Maybe because it's too creepy looking on the outside. I've been here over 30 years, and I still won't go there.

You've got to head out the rural areas to find any supper clubs, these days. The days of The Top Hat, Cuba Club, Rhode's and such are long gone.

The Old Fashioned was just voted best place to take someone from out of town. She must have got the assignment wrong...

garage mahal said...

I went to a few "supper clubs" in Tomah back in the 90s, they just seemed like regular restaurants, albeit a little run down. Do they have to call it a supper club to serve booze or something?

If we have to explain you wouldn't understand.

Danno said...

The Indianhead Supper Club in Balsam Lake is still authentic, and hasn't changed much since the 60's. The Paradise just down the road is not a supper club at all anymore. The supper clubs in Door County and down to Kewaunee typically have fish boils on Friday nights.

Ann Althouse said...

From Wikipedia on "supper clubs":

"The first supper club in the United States was established in Beverly Hills, CA by Milwaukee, WI, native Lawrence Frank.[1] They became popular during the 1930s and 1940s, although some establishments that later became "supper clubs" had previously gained notoriety as prohibition roadhouses.[4] Supper clubs can still be found in the Upper Midwest but they are now simply restaurants rather than the all-night entertainment destinations of the past."

In my view, they are weird old places that other people have been going to for a long time. I think they telegraph to a newcomer that you don't want to eat there.

Tornado Club and Old Fashioned and restaurants right near/on the Capital Square. They don't give off that aura. But actually Tornado Club, if you go downstairs actually suddenly does.

A question is: Are we dealing with a contemporary but retro place or a place that's been like this for 40+ years?

Ann Althouse said...

I'm saying "Tornado Club" but it's really called Tornado Steakhouse now, based on the website. I'm also seeing it called Tornado Room.

To me, when I see "club" -- except in combination with "night" -- I think it's a place that you have to belong to.

I get an offputting message of needed to affiliate with the other customers.

MadisonMan said...

@Erika, I've never had fried cheese curds. My assumption is frying is done when they're too stale to squeak like they do when you eat them fresh.

Meade said...

Personally, whenever I see "supper club" or "dinner club", I think - where are the fire exits?



Meade said...

This was the first lawsuit to utilize the concept of "enterprise liability" and one of the first disaster cases to sue as a class action.

EMD said...

I can't believe no one has made mention of The Gobbler!

Petunia said...

What about Smoky's?

What a ridiculous article by the condescending, clueless Miss Emily. Too bad most of her readers won't realize just how bad the article is...many of the commenters did, however.

Original Mike said...

I miss Crandalls.

Original Mike said...

re: Smoky's. I have eaten there many, many times over the years. A couple of months ago I had something there I'd never had before; a bad steak. And the place was half empty on a Friday night. Did something happen?

ndspinelli said...

Original Mike, What happened to Smoky's is old man Schmock died and his son[?], or whomever took over doesn't have the work ethic. Mr. and Mrs. Schmock used to come into the Colonial Inn where I bartended back in the early 80's. He was a good guy. The Colonial was pretty much a supper club but not your classic one.

Original Mike said...

ndspinelli - That's too bad. Smoky's was always an old reliable. But even the beer was warm at our last visit.

leslyn said...

"In my view, they are weird old places that other people have been going to for a long time. I think they telegraph to a newcomer that you don't want to eat there."

You have not become a Wisconsin resident after 20 years. Too bad. Your loss.

I miss the real Smoky's! What an experience--like something good was always just about to happen. And usually did.

Friday night fish frys are great too.

leslyn said...

@Erika: Yes. There is NOTHING like fresh, Wisconsin grass-fed cheese. And ice cream.

If you go to the Wisconsin State Fair, you can get fried cheese anything.