A Wisconsin supper club in Illinois? Well, why not? Crystal Lake's new M Supper Club is a bona fide contender in a sendup of the iconic Midwestern supper club experience.
Favorite Wisconsin supper clubs have been around for generations sporting endearing signage with fonts out of the 1950s. The building that houses M Supper Club witnessed a number of eateries come and go in the last couple of decades. It was the John Evans Inn, Rocks Bar & Grill, The Virginian, and The London Pub and Grill. Owned by Dave Perlick, who has been helming the kitchen at Algonquin's Montarra Grill since 2004, and other partners, the two-month-old restaurant has a clubby atmosphere with separate dining rooms, a lively bar, dark woods and burgundy upholstery. This lends itself to families and couples enjoying multicourse meals in a dinner party mood.
M Supper Club394 W. Virginia St., Crystal Lake, (815) 526-3777, msupperclub.com/, facebook.com/msupperclubCL
Cuisine: Traditional American
Setting: Clubby, reminiscent of a Wisconsin supper club
Prices: Small plates: $7.99-$15.99, entrees: $16.99-$34.99, sides: $4.99-$6.99, desserts: $4.99-$9.99
Hours: 4 p.m. to close Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday
Indeed, the early Saturday evening we dined, the room was filled with multigenerational families toting gifts for someone's special occasion. Although the restaurant was filling fast and we didn't have a reservation, we got seated immediately. There are 217 spots in total among the patio, bar, dining room and "den," a private room with a fireplace.
The spirits menu is downright dizzying in the best of ways. Ten dollars is a reasonable price for a cocktail in 2017, especially for drinks like a 1944 May Tai, a 1936 Margarita or a 1937 Vieux Carre that will elicit a New Orleans swelter at first sip. I was giddy to see the sine qua non of the Wisconsin supper club experience -- a Brandy Old Fashioned sweetened with a sugar cube and candied cherry and orange slices, and tempered with bitters and brandy (in this case MSC Brandy) instead of the requisite bourbon. I ordered a 1971 Cosmopolitan. It was a perfect mix of Hangar 1 vodka, Orange Combier, cranberry, lime and flamed orange. Grasshoppers, Brandy Alexanders, Pink Squirrels and other sippers evoke old-school mixology with elevated ingredients, many from local distilleries.
General manager Rachel Mucci is a certified cicerone who chose strictly local brews from Chicago, Crystal Lake, Geneva and Algonquin for the draft beer list. There's a fun, extensive craft roster in bottles and cans, too. My dining partner was satisfied with his can of pineappley Snaggletooth from Naperville's Solemn Oath Brewery ($5). After Mucci and Perlick tasted more than 600 wines sans food, they settled on a list that's different from what you'll see in local stores and restaurants but without being pricey. Bottles run less than $40 and glasses are $10 and under.
The impressive spirits beckon for a return trip to the lively bar, especially with the launch of Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. in the weeks to come. Expect items like oyster specials and Old Fashioneds for $5. While you're at the bar, check out the 40 or so photos of old Crystal Lake laminated in the bar. Plus, there's live music in the bar every Friday night.
As for the fare, the two-sided menu, which is seafood- and steak-heavy, achieves the owner/chef's aim of a comforting Midwestern culinary experience with an admirable number of local vendors supplying everything from bread and dairy to meat and veggies. We wouldn't have taken M Supper Club seriously if a relish tray hadn't arrived at our table. And, happily, this one omitted the questionable stalks of green onions many other supper clubs slip on the tray. Sweet pickles, radishes, celery, beets, carrots, olives and a mini artichoke cheese dip served its purpose of piquing the appetite.
Small plates are divided among Field, Farm and Stream. If you want to go with Chef's suggestions, look for the M in front of the classic fried cheese curds (made fresh with a Crystal Lake brewery batter), sizzled supper club bacon, local artisanal cheese plate or that classic of yore -- Chicago-style Shrimp de Jonghe. My dining partner went for the shrimp as an entree after I blathered on about how it was invented in Chicago and has been hard to find since the '80s.
A plate of five plump saucy shrimp, redolent of garlic and sherry, were begging to be dipped with the locally baked bread. We also opted for Hot Maryland crab dip -- a generous portion of lump Blue Crab, artichoke and spices with triangles of lavash for slathering purposes. Other appealing starters include archetypal supper club choices like colossal shrimp cocktail; baked oysters Rockefeller; Iceberg wedge salad and a Caesar plain or crowned with filet mignon, shrimp scampi, chicken or salmon; and Wisconsin beer cheese soup flecked with sausage.
Chef Signatures include Black Angus steaks, wet-aged, hand-cut and sourced from Stockyards Beef in Chicago. For the quintessential carnivore experience, Chef suggests the 16-ounce well-marbled boneless rib-eye. If you compare the $33.99 price tag to those at Chicago steakhouses, it's not a bad deal. Add $2.49 for various crusts and sauces. Steaks come with a baked potato and broccoli.
The kitchen gets lots of orders for the rich steak medallions Diane-style; fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs; lobster mac 'n' cheese; and the Prime M burger.
Under the Handhelds, look for the addition of a lobster roll in the weeks ahead.
I goofed opting for local Rushing Waters trout Milanese ($19.99). It was tasty but underwhelming in size. The thin fish wouldn't have filled me up if it weren't for the sizable, creamy starters we had. The accompanying Supper Club Potatoes and brown butter green beans were perfect in preparation. Next time I'd go for a steak, crispy roasted Indiana half duck or one of the winning daily specials that go for $16.99 (except for prime rib).
Speaking of the daily specials: The Tuesday Supper Club Meatloaf sounds like a beefy riff on turducken -- meat loaf stuffed with a Sheboygan beer brat, wrapped in a bacon blanket and a sweet Chipotle glaze. Wednesday is Shepherd's Pie; Friday is a classic fish fry; Saturday brings slow-roasted prime rib in two sizes; and Sunday offers meaty Italian Sunday gravy over pasta. Don't wait until November for your fix of Thanksgiving comfort food because any Thursday you can order the special 2-pound turkey leg confit with sage apple dressing, ginger cranberry compote and whipped spuds with gravy.
Dessert options include a cobbler of the week like the Michigan blueberry and citrus cobbler, plus a crème brûlée of the week (Dutch chocolate bourbon on our visit). Where in the world can you get a baked Alaska in 2017? The wedge of Southern butter cake with strawberry gelato, coulis and toasted Swiss merengue is a fun, delish idea for a culinary throwback. We shared a Chocolate Caramel Boozy Shake ($10) that got its intense chocolate hit from ice cream and a nice note of caramel with the addition of Ballotin caramel turtle whiskey.
Our waitress was armed with an impeccable knowledge of both the food and beverage menus. The entire dining room appeared more than content with service and victuals.
Supper club diners traditionally liked to don pearls and suit jackets, so it was sweet to see middle school kids cleaned up and well-behaved as they dove into platters of ribs. Chef Perlick says the ambience is meant to be casual with a touch of class, so families can dine in their shorts and T-shirts (it's a scant half-mile from the beach) or dress up for special occasions.
Check the website or Facebook page for upcoming wine dinners, barbecue and brew dinners, and a Bordeaux and tapas dinner. Considering the high quality of food and drinks, these special events are more than fairly priced.
Riffing on the trend of ginormous food, M Supper Club offers what looks like a novelty item, but Chef Perlick says they've sold five or six of "The Old 96er Challenge" since the restaurant opened. You'll have to allow 45 minutes cook time for the 96-ounce meal for one that includes: four pounds of bone-in USDA Prime Rib-eye; one pound of hash browns with brandied mushrooms and onions; onion straws; broccoli crowns; and a giant triple chocolate milkshake. The meal is free if consumed by one person in 45 minutes. The $179.99 meal can also be served as a family-style meal.
M Supper Club might not have a Northwoods view or a thick Wisconsin accent, but it's a winner for quality local ingredients braided into a nostalgic menu of food and drinks served in a cheerful comforting atmosphere. Indeed, this could become your happy place.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.