Twin Anchors: Old-School Supper Club Feel

August 07 2012 - 12:00 PM

Being from a small town in Wisconsin, I still feel like it’s a real treat going out to a supper club.  Back home, supper clubs were pretty much the only choice for going out for my family, aside from a couple chain places that were steadfastly avoided.  Many outside Wisconsin have asked me what a supper club is, believing it is something posh like an exclusive country club.  A supper club is anything but.  Supper clubs typically are rural roadhouse-type establishments, some of which are nothing more than taverns with a few extra tables, whereas others are fancier but lovingly dated with red pleather, red lights, and fake plants.  Popular supper club foods include fish frys (more on that below), Saturday night prime rib specials (hard to top as many supper clubs have special prime rib cookers and lots of experience doing it right), steaks, fried chicken, and then sometimes things like frog legs and duck.

One of my favorite discoveries was a supper club called Toby’s just south of Madison.  Toby’s was nearly impossible to find, on a desolate rural road, and when we arrived at 9 on a Friday night the place was jam packed and we had to wait a long time for a table. In case you’re wondering who Toby was, he was a World War I pilot.

Many supper clubs date back between the 1930s and 1950s and are often are a cross section of anything from factory workers to doctors. Supper clubs don’t discriminate on social class, don’t require fancy clubs, and they typically are meeting places where people often know each other very well because they’ve been coming forever.

Twin Anchors is the closest to a supper club I’ve found in Chicago. The place has been around since 1932 and the interior looks like something from the ’50s with its checkerboard linoleum tile and red vinyl chairs.  Being a ‘Scani the first thing I like to do in a supper club is order a Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet.  If you’re wondering what a Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweet is, you’re probably not from Wisconsin. Typically it is two shots of Brandy, a few splashes of some Angostura bitters (some secret spice liqueur formula), simple syrup (sugar water), Seven-Up, garnish with a cherry and orange, and sometimes  with “cherry juice” (which is really more like the “brine” that comes with maraschino cherries).  In the list I mentioned simple syrup. I believe this is key in that I find the Old-Fashioned more consistent than watching people muddle the sugar with a pestle and wind up making a very small and bitter tasting drink.  Rule of thumb: Don’t expect really good Brandy Old-Fashioned Sweets outside Wisconsin. Also the preferred Wisconsin way is to order an Old-Fashioned with brandy and not whiskey (or any mixed drink for that matter) Not good brandy, but $10 bottles of Christian Brothers or even Mr. Boston’s Five Star Brandy.  When I was a bartender at a supper club, I think brandy outsold whiskey by five to one.  Not much whiskey was served to the locals, period, maybe a few out-of-staters and some people who liked Jack Daniels.  This may have changed in recent years but when I was behind the bar whiskey was not popular.

Twin Anchors’ Brandy Old Fashioneds were okay, but perhaps a bit too strong, and I did get a bit nervous when I saw the bartender drag out the pestle.

Onto the dinner–typically to start, a supper club may either begin with bread and bread sticks, or sometimes a relish tray with
celery, radishes, and olives.  Twin Anchors offered the bread, and it was a delicious brown bread.

Now if you’ve ever been in Twin Anchors or heard of it you know they are known for their ribs. And they are good–broiled ribs that fall right off the bone.  Ribs are clearly what Twin Anchors does best.

But I decided to forgo the ribs and ordered the jumbo shrimp, grilled, and served on a skewer (and they are huge), which came with garlic butter and shrimp cocktail sauce.  Though I usually gravitate toward the butter sauce it was bland and needed a more lemon and garlic (skip the gourmet ingredients here, this is not the place).  The shrimp cocktail took its place. I was disappointed in the shrimp..nothing bad about it but no “wow” factor.  For my side item I had a baked potato with lots of sour cream and butter. Another supper club staple. It also came with cole slaw, and it was delicious and went down quickly.

The cod fish fry, on the other hand was cooked perfectly, not too greasy, not too much batter.  The tartar sauce went well with
it and it would have made any Wisconsinite happy.  Fish Frys, by the way, are also a Wisconsin staple item, with many supper clubs and restaurants having beer-battered deep fried or baked cod.

We asked the server if Twin Anchors served ice cream drinks. This is another Wisconsin specialty item.  When us cheeseheads don’t think we’ve had enough fat and cholesterol from the Fish Fry we top it off with an ice cream drink. Ice cream drinks are somewhat thicker than milkshakes but usually contain cream liqueurs, and all ice cream drinks are blended with vanilla ice cream. One popular drink is a Grasshopper, which is made with creme de cacao and  creme de menthe and tastes a little like a York Peppermint Pattie. Another fave is a Brandy Alexander, which is yes, brandy, creme de cacao, and nutmeg. My favorite is a Golden Cadillac, which is with creme de cacao and Galliano.

Twin Anchors does not have ice cream drinks and we did not feel like driving up to Wisconsin to get some so we went home for the night. Conclusion: Twin Anchors has excellent ribs and a good fish fry. It’s not a Wisconsin supper club, but it’s the next best thing.

Twin Anchors

1655 N. Sedgwick