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WISCONSIN SUPPER CLUBS: Bridging the Past and the Present

by: Mary Bergin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (May 15, 2016) Excerpt

Relish trays. Juicy steaks. From-scratch side dishes. Ice cream drinks. Every state has its diners, bistros, cafes and chophouses, but Wisconsin lays claim to the supper club, and a renaissance is well under way. We are realizing that what we took for granted for generations is regionally unique and a precious part of our state's culinary character.

"Breaking Break in the Holyland" identifies the many Catholic churches and supper clubs that remain in Fond du Lac and Calumet counties, an area settled by German farm immigrants.

"After Sunday Mass many adults would flock to the supper clubs for brunch, drinks and a challenging game of cards," the booklet observes. "In later years, going to Mass on a Saturday night and then to the supper club was the norm."

Calumet County bills itself as the Supper Club Capital of the Midwest, and one of the most frequented spots is Schwarz's Supper Club in unincorporated St. Anna. The business began as a one-room tavern but now can serve multi-course meals to more than 700 people per night. Customers expect a long wait between arriving and eating, especially on weekends, but this is a part of the supper club culture too. It's more like destination dining rather than a quick hop between work and a movie. We meet friends, talk to strangers, unwind and renew.

Excerpt from Two Days to Explore Caumet County, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (May 15, 2016)

If you're not a camper, check out Schwarz's Guesthouse in the tiny hamlet of St. Anna, a country-style home with three large guestrooms and a screened-in porch for taking in the sunsets. Added bonus: It's literally next door to the storied Schwarz's Supper Club.

No trip to Calumet County is complete without a visit to a supper club or two, and the most iconic of the bunch is Schwarz's. Their Friday night perch fry is beyond famous, and Old Fashioneds are made lickety-split by bartenders who clearly have done this a few times. This family-run restaurant started out more than 50 years ago as a one-room tavern and has been remodeled many times since to handle the crowds.


Congratulations! You're a Favorite Place on Google. Between December 1 and February 28, Schwarz's Supper Club was one of the most popular local businesses on Google, as measured by how many times people found your business listing and clicked on it for more information. You're one of less than 250,000 businesses in the U.S. to receive this recognition; that's less than 1% of all U.S. businesses.

Schwarz's: After 50 years, restaurant hasn't tampered with proven formula

By Deanne Schultz, The Sheboygan Press, August 27, 2009

Through three generations and 50 years, the Schwarz family of St. Anna has run their supper club with the same guiding principles set by founders Ziggy and Evelyn Schwarz — serve generous portions at reasonable prices — and mix in a dose of gracious service.

While some restaurants operate with all the latest technological marvels, the Schwarzes don't accept reservations, are still using 50-year-old broilers and only recently installed a computer system to track orders.

"It's the way we've always done it," John Schwarz said simply.

You'd think that would slow things down, but in fact, the opposite is true. Each weeknight, almost 300 dinners are served, and that number climbs to 700 per night on weekends.

John's parents, Ziggy and Evelyn, established the system of giving guests a menu at the bar, where orders are placed. Overhead, new wide-screen TV's scroll through each evening's specials. When their table is ready, guests are ushered in and entrees arrive shortly after the salads and warm rolls are finished. "We feel we can serve people more efficiently than if they make a reservation," John said. "It works for us."

Part of the secret to their success lies beyond the kitchen doors, where some of Schwarz's 115 employees work, preparing food for the evening.

While other restaurants may buy portion-cut meat, Schwarz's still does its own butchering and cutting. Thick cuts of prime rib and rib eye are dry-aged in temperature-controlled coolers, sharing shelf space with T-bones, tenderloins and New York strips. The cooler is filled, and that's just a weekend's worth — maybe. "We might not make it," John said with a laugh.

Another surprise is the amount of food that's cut and made by hand, like onions the size of softballs that go into their famous onion rings. Last year, the restaurant used 20,000 pounds of them for onion rings alone.

"We cut them and bread them ourselves. It's a real homemade process," John said.

There's one secret he won't reveal — the recipe for the seasoning that goes on the meat. Developed by his father, the recipe is known to only a few people, like John and his son, Charley. The mixture enhances the distinctive flavor of the meat without altering its rich texture.

Mike and Diane Dressler of St. Cloud have been coming to the restaurant for 16 years. "The food, whether it is steaks or seafood, is always an incredible meal for us," Mike said. "The people, who work not only in the restaurant but also in the bar, make you feel welcome and they really do create a friendly, family atmosphere."

Lisa Schwarz credits their staff with maintaining that atmosphere, saying "our staff is why we do what we do. They do whatever it takes to make the visitors' time more enjoyable."

Jenny Mueller, who has worked at the restaurant for 12 years, enjoys her job. "It's always different," she said. "I make sure my customers are happy. I get to know them after so many years. I know their families and hear about their vacations."

Mueller said that many customers have commented on the portion sizes, which have been a mainstay since the early years. "My parents put out a really good product," John said. "They cut big portions. We were busy in the '60's and we're still busy."

That pace starts in the bar area. "We still only charge $3.10 for an old fashioned, and we pour a generous drink," he said. The reasonable pricing continues with the meals, which continues to draw the Dresslers. "Another factor, besides the great meal, is the price. Over the years they have really tried to keep the prices down, yet not compromising great service and food," Mike said.

Charley and Stephanie also run Stephanie Schwarz's Guesthouse. Formerly the home of John's parents, the country-style home has three guest rooms, private baths and a relaxing screened-in porch. "We just couldn't see parting with the home, so we decided to turn it into a bed and breakfast," Stephanie said.

"We've a lot of really great customers come year after year. We really enjoy it, and look forward to seeing them."

The Pros and Cons of Race Cars Past - Side Glances
Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.

By Peter Egan, Road & Track (Website), February 9, 2010


Last fall I went to both the autumn vintage festival and the SCCA Runoffs at Road America, just a few weeks apart, and got a double dose of race fever. Lots of great cars, beautiful autumn weather, good people to hang out with and great prime rib at Schwarz's Supper Club in nearby St. Anna. Maybe it was the cool fall weather, but I felt strangely energized by the whole scene.

Riders On the Storm

By Peter Egan, Cycle World, October, 2008


The rain held off on Saturday to let Spies win the first Superbike race, and that evening we all climbed into various cars and motored about eight miles north of Elkhart Lake to Schwarz's Supper Club (one of the best restaurants in all the civilized world) in the tiny crossroads village of St. Anna for prime rib.

Schwarz family serving up quality in St. Anna

By Dave Berth, Chilton Times-Journal food correspondent, Published February 14, 2002

In the quaint village of St. Anna lies one of the busiest and most famous of area dining establishments--Schwarz's Supper Club.

While it may be a little difficult to tell someone from another area exactly how to get there, we locals know the way by heart.  "Let's go to St. Anna" brings up visions of great food and good times.  Your taste buds stand at attention just hearing the words.

All right, I may be getting a little carried away.  We have many fine supper clubs in our area, and we will be visiting some of them in up-coming issues, but this week we are visiting Schwarz's Supper Club.

Ziggy and Evelyn Schwarz started it all with what was a one-room tavern almost 45 years ago.  One of the menus from the old days greets you when you enter Schwarz's.  Items like 2 Lobster Tails for $2,00, T-bone Steak (extra large) for $2.95, or the Deluxe Fish Fry for 90 cents, give you some idea how long the Schwarz family has been in operation.

Now don't go looking for those prices when you stop there today.  Times have changed, but one thing hasn't--a dedication to giving the customer a good value.  It is as important to John, Lisa, Charlie, Stephanie and Patrick as it was for Ziggy.  All of their steaks are hand cut on site and achieve that Schwarz's flavor with their own secret blend of seasonings.  From their signature sirloin tips, porterhouse or slow roasted prime rib it is a steak lover's paradise.

A full seafood menu also adorns the menu (the orange roughy is excellent) along with ribs, chicken and a daily special or two.  Whatever you choose, if it is on Schwarz's menu it is a proven winner.

That probably explains the huge crowds of people that make the pilgrimage from around the state.  During Road America weekends the overflow crowd spills into the parking lot.  Some even tailgate in the parking lot, waiting for their name to be called.  John had an outdoor speaker installed to play music and call names for those occasions.  As the sign behind the bar says, "If you have a reservation, you're in the wrong place."

What is amazing is that most people don't mind waiting.  Schwarz's ability to serve 700+ people on a busy night is an awesome feat.  What is more amazing is that the atmosphere isn't chaotic.  It is organized by an obviously well trained staff.

Then comes the family.  John stands guard at his usual spot at the end of the bar, overseeing his domain as he works.  Charlie and his wife Stephanie cover another area of the bar.  Lisa works the dining room with her ever-present smile and Patrick is manning operations in the fast paced kitchen.

They are all very good at what they do.  The mass of people know they are in good hands so they can relax, have a drink and socialize as they wait for their name to be called.  "It doesn't matter if the wait gets a little long," a regular customer explains.  "The food is worth it."

When your name is called and you hear those magic words "Your table is ready," you know a great meal in a friendly atmosphere awaits you.

After your dinner you can top it off with an Amish dessert or an ice cream cake for special occasions.  From start to finish you have just been treated to a little St. Anna hospitality--Schwarz's style.

Mainstay supper club still going strong

By Chris Martell, Wisconsin State Journal, Published Monday, June 5, 2000

This tiny farming town that straddles the Calumet-Sheboygan county border often seems like a ghost town. Yet, surprisingly, it's home to one of the most popular supper clubs in Wisconsin.

St. Anna's namesake landmark is a 19th-century church perched on a glacial drumlin; its graveyard has mossy stones dating back to the 1850s. The town is part of the "Holy Land," a cluster of German Catholic farming communities northeast of Fond du Lac, hidden from motorists on Highway 151 by the Niagara Escarpment, the massive limestone ledge that becomes the backbone of Door County. An Amish settlement, drawn to St. Anna's quiet isolation, began to take shape nearby in recent years, so you'll see horse and buggy crossing signs.

Considering its tourist-unfriendly rural location, walking into Schwarz's Supper Club never fails to amaze me. By about 4:30 on almost any summer evening, the place is jammed. Since reservations aren't accepted, diners are willing to accept long waits in the bar, where notoriously strong cocktails are served. In addition to the local clientele, many of them farmers who like to eat supper early, there are people who have driven from larger Wisconsin cities, including Milwaukee. On race weekends at nearby Elkhart Lake, the crowds at Schwarz's are especially heavy.

I've made annual pilgrimages to Schwarz's since childhood, so I can vouch for the fact that the supper club's popularity preceded its being written up in Midwest Living magazine's "Dining Out" column in 1997 or the glowing review it received in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 1999.

Many people claim that Schwarz's has the best steak in the state. The aged beef is never frozen and is hand-cut daily at the restaurant. Then there are the "secret seasonings" concocted by Ziggy Schwarz, who started broiling steaks in his one-room tavern 42 years ago. The restaurant is now run by Ziggy's son, John, and his family.

I've never had a steak at Schwarz's that wasn't immensely flavorful and tender, though there has been occasional deviation on what constitutes rare and medium rare. The sirloin, rib eye, tenderloin, New York strip, Porterhouse and T-bones are uniformly good, as is the prime rib, which comes in portions that range from 8 to 32 ounces.

The rest of the food is equally reliable. There is a full, old-fashioned relish tray, and crisp dinner salads with a lazy Susan of excellent dressings. Dinners also come with a choice of baked, broasted or french-fried potatoes, all of them consistently good.

Homemade onion rings are a Schwarz's specialty, and a full order, at $4.50, could serve as a dinner for a barn-raising crew, if such things still exist. On this summer's annual visit, I noticed that the menu has taken some baby steps away from traditional supper club fare. We decided, for that reason, to try the breaded portabella mushrooms, $3.75. Before the first bite, it seemed heretical to deep fry something so delicate. To our surprise, it was excellent, with the moisture and flavor of the mushroom holding up admirably against the deep-fried breading, served with a peppercorn dipping sauce. Also bordering on the trendy is the mesquite chicken quesadilla rolls, which are chicken sticks rolled in tortillas with Wisconsin cheese and jalapenos.

The rest of the menu stays safely within the confines of the classic supper club variety, with lake perch and haddock on Friday night, pork chops and ribs, chicken, shrimp, salmon, walleyed pike and orange roughy. And while I haven't personally observed many "Lite Eaters" at Schwarz's, there's also a menu for them.

The restaurant began in 1957 as a place to reward oneself after a hard day in the field. Most of Schwarz's customers these days, it seems likely, no longer toil on farms. But the idea remains the same: an unpretentious place to end the day with food you can count on, year after year.

Quick service, meaty meals are Schwarz's secrets

By Dennis R. Getto, Journal Sentinel dining critic, Published April 25, 1999

A few feet inside the door of Schwarz's Supper Club, I was worried.

The street outside the supper club was lined with cars, and the restaurant's lot was over half full. The bar was jammed, and we didn't have reservations.

Then I saw the sign behind the bar. "If you have reservations, you're in the wrong place," it read.

So I knew we'd get a table, eventually. I just didn't know how, because when we went to check in at the hostess' stand, the woman there simply handed us two menus and told us to sit in the bar and wait for a server.

We did as we were told. Five minutes later, a server took our food order and our name, but told us we'd have to get our own drinks at the bar.

I picked three tunes from the CD jukebox, but didn't hear all of them, because halfway through a glass of wine and a Virgin Mary, the hostess called our name over the loudspeaker. We were led to a table where a bread basket and a relish tray awaited. Our waitress delivered salads first, then entrees in short order.

"You seem busy tonight," I said to her.

No, she said. "This is light. It's usually busier."

"Even on a Thursday?"

"Every night," she said.

It wasn't until a few weeks later that I learned just how popular Schwarz's is with people from all over eastern Wisconsin. The restaurant has 160 seats, said John Schwarz, who operates the club with the help of his wife, Lisa, their son, Charlie, and Charlie's wife, Stephanie.

"On a busy Saturday," he told me in a telephone interview, "we serve 750 dinners."

In the restaurant business, that's a feat. Most restaurant owners hope for three sittings on a busy night. So 500 dinners in a 160-seat restaurant like Schwarz's would be great.

So how does Schwarz's serve the other 250?

The answer, John Schwarz said, lies in that odd system of having patrons order from the bar. Because customers have their drinks before they sit down and because the kitchen gets a jump-start on their orders, patrons spend less time at the table.

I've seen similar food service at places in Green Bay and at Coerper's in Milwaukee and never cared for it much. It seemed designed to get diners to spend more at the bar.

But at Schwarz's there was no pressure to order drinks. Our waitress couldn't serve them to us, John Schwarz said, because she wasn't old enough.

Over the past 40 years, Schwarz's, in a small town named St. Anna, in Calumet County, between Sheboygan and Lake Winnebago, has gained a strong following from people all over the eastern half of the Badger State, John Schwarz said.

"Some people come up for a Sunday drive," Schwarz said.

In 1997, the supper club was the subject of a color feature in Midwest Living magazine.

It isn't a fancy place. Dining rooms are bright and simply decorated with wood trim and stenciled designs on the wall.

Like the supper clubs of old, it's a place where beef is king: Sixteen of the menu's 34 entrees are steak or steak combination dinners. The menu told us that the steaks were hand-cut daily from prime beef and seasoned with a special mix of spices developed by John Schwarz's father, Ziggy Schwarz.

Unfortunately, neither a 16-ounce tenderloin ($14.25) nor a 6-ounce sirloin tip that we had with grilled shrimp ($12.25) impressed me. The meat was tender, but in my book it needed a darker, richer crust to really become memorable. These were good steaks, but not great ones. On the combination plate, I liked the shrimp better.

The beef that did impress me was prime rib, which I tried in a king cut (22 to 24 ounces for $15.50). Slow-roasted, moist and flavorful, the massive piece of pink meat was more than two inches thick -- and more than I could finish. Next time, I'll order a petite ($9.50) or a queen ($12.50) cut.

The other three entrees that I sampled in two visits were all very good. A large rack of pork ribs ($12.25) was chewy and nicely flavored with slightly sweet, smoke-scented barbecue sauce. Baked walleye pike ($11.25) was fresh, light and drizzled with melted butter to enrich its sweet flavor.

And for $5.95, broasted chicken was delicious -- still moist and flavorful inside a delightfully crunchy crust. With broasted potatoes (which we liked better than baked or french fries), it made a nice Sunday meal.

Dinners came with a relish tray of carrots, black olives, Oriental corn ears, gherkins and green onions; salads were mostly iceberg and served with a lazy Susan of four pretty standard salad dressings -- Thousand Island, French, blue cheese and Parmesan peppercorn.

And I'd rather our waitress hadn't taken our bread rolls and bread sticks to "warm them up" in the microwave. The bread rolls came back gummy and the bread sticks lost some of their crunch in the process.

But there were two other bright spots in dinners at Schwarz's. The first was the great selection of appetizers -- cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers ($3.50) dipped in a tequila-laced batter; homemade onion rings ($4) served crunchy, sweet and golden; zucchini wedges ($3.50) lightly coated with sharp sourdough bread crumbs; and mesquite chicken quesadilla rolls fried crisp and filled with a warm, creamy mixture of cheese and jalapenos.

The second was dessert -- a thick slice of three-layer chocolate cake ($3.50) -- dark and rich, with a half-inch of chocolate butter cream between layers.

We ordered one piece and four dessert forks and had all we could do to polish it off.

Looking back at the two dinners, it was clear to me why Schwarz's has so strong a following. Portions were generous, prices reasonable, and most of the food homemade.

That combination goes a long way toward winning hearts -- and appetites -- here in Wisconsin.

THE TAB: The first dinner for two at Schwarz's cost $33.44 for two entrees, an appetizer, a soft drink, tea and coffee. Dinner for four cost $64.63 for four entrees, two appetizers, a dessert, a soft drink, two coffees and a tea.

Dining Out

Great Eating at Midwest Restaurants, Midwest Living, Published October, 1997

Schwarz's - St. Anna, Wisconsin

Ziggy and Evelyn Schwarz tossed steaks on a broiler for the first guests at their one-room tavern 40 years ago. Today, Ziggy's son, John; John's wife, Lisa; and Ziggy's grandson, Charlie, carry on that tradition. they greet regulars and first-time diners at this red brick supper club near a small settlement of Amish families (22 miles northwest of Sheboygan).

As you enter this bustling, no-reservations restaurant, friendly waitresses dressed in black and white distribute menus and take your order. Then, you join couples, singles, and families with kids in the spacious bar.

When your meal is ready, your waitress shows you to a mauve-linen-covered table or floral-brocaded boot in one of three quiet, candlelit dining rooms. Hand-painted grape clusters and vines curl across walls.

Regulars often start with the restaurant's specialty: thick-cut, lightly breaded onion rings. At every table, you'll find supper-club essentials: a relish tray, home-style breadsticks and rolls, plus fresh salad dressings (try the chunky blue cheese).

Charbroiled steaks hand-cut daily star among entrees. Ziggy's secret blend of seasonings still flavors every cut of beef, from prime rib and tenderloin to T-bone and porterhouse. Seafood lovers might choose baked walleye or grilled shrimp. Friday's fare features six fish specials that include haddock and fresh lake perch.

It's hard for diners to resist desserts from nearby Amish bakeries. You can sample a thick, warm brownie topped with a scoop of caramel-pecan ice cream.

"When we come back to Wisconsin, we always eat at Schwarz's," says Don Williams of Fargo, North Dakota. He proposed to his wife, Viv, here 36 years ago.