Last week we headed up to Eagle River Wisconsin to see Jim’s mom Ruth and take a much needed weekend off. We have been going to the North Woods for over a decade and by far my favorite attraction up there is the old school dining. Wisconsin is know for it’s supper clubs – a 1950’s throw back restaurant concept which is alive and well throughout the state. If you don’t know about this phenomenon – check out “In Wisconsin Supper Clubs are open to All” – a well researched piece by David McAninch for the travel section of The New York Times. There are plenty of places to choose from in the Eagle River vacinity, but after a lot of hits and misses through the years – the following two spots are our go-tos every time. Both are located on country roads and have the old school vibe I am consistently drawn to. But don’t go expecting polished service or creative menu concepts. Instead revel in the community feel and menus geared towards carnivores.
A client friend from the store first told us about this tiny spot hidden along a county highway outside of St. Germain. It almost looks like a red one room schoolhouse – with natural wood paneling, taxidermy and plaid curtains composing the interior. The place has charm in spades and feels like somewhere Don and Betty Draper might drop in on road trip. Highlights are the Brandy Old Fashioneds (which they muddle to order) and the Prime Cut Steaks (served sizzling on Armetale platters). The Steaks are certainly good, but it is the Homemade Hashed Browns and house-made Garlic Ranch Salad Dressing which are tops. You can add a few Fried Shrimp to any steak dinner – which you should do – because they are phenomenal. And because of the quaint nature of the small dining room, be prepared to wait, perhaps as long as two hours during the busy summer season. But seats in the separate bar area turn over quickly. And there is plenty of people watching inside and nature watching outside (through the giant aquarium windows behind the bar) to keep you occupied. You are on vacation after all, so just relax and make an evening of it.
We had driven by this place dozens of times before first dining there last summer. Like Blink Bonnie this place is packed in the summers. But the scale of the restaurant is larger and accordingly the wait times are more manageable. Try and score a seat in the large dining room with the two massive charcoal grilling stations – this is where all of the food is cooked. The restaurant’s founder sold these grills wholesale in Chicago before opening his own spot in the North Woods. Today his grandkids run the place. Sadly they don’t muddle their Old Fashioneds – but they do make a mean Brandy Alexander which is a nice way to end your evening at the bar. Again, Steaks are the main attraction here – but Jimmy had a solid Smoked Pork Chop which might have been the best thing at the table. Dinners come with a salad and potato. For the salads Giant Wedges of Iceberg Lettuce are brought to the table along with a trifecta of house-made dressings (which are even better combined). For $3 you can add blue cheese crumbles – so go for it. Entrees are served from a stainless steel cart which wisks dinners from the broiler to the tables. A fun retro touch. The baked potatoes are huge and served with the restaurant’s own Cottage Cheese/Sour Cream Hybrid – also very tasty. Again, little has changed here since the 1950s – the room is paneled, dimly lit and filled with tons of European and North woods ephemera. A cozy place to tuck in and spend a relaxing evening.
MacGregor’s Blink Bonnie
1506 County Rd
Saint Germain, WI 54558
White Stag Inn
7141 State Highway 17 N
Rhinelander, WI 54501
no reservations, or websites, for either place.