After writing a couple posts about my love for supper clubs, I started getting suggestions for great places in the area. A couple people suggested Rex’s Inkeeper in Waunakee, and after my long lost food date partner Michelle Li sent me a gift card she still had after moving to Seattle, I decided to take my mom to check the place out.
When you walk in you immediately know you’re in an old-school supper club and that you’re probably the only people the bar tender doesn’t know by name. The random floral decorations, leather bar stools and padded dining room chairs are pretty standard was far as supper clubs go. The biggest difference between Rex’s and most other supper club’s were the large TVs on all four walls of the dining room. I wasn’t mad at…it just wasn’t necessary.
Let’s start with the drinks. Both of us got a mixed drink. My mom’s was way stronger than mine, which was odd because usually supper clubs serve some pretty stiff drinks. The grasshopper we got after dinner was pretty tasty, but not very strong either.
The salad bar…that’s one of the main reasons to hit up a supper club on a Saturday night. Rex’s salad bar didn’t disappoint. They had all the salad fixings I wanted…including those tasty bar pickles…plus some premo pasta salad and potato salad. No complaints here!
It was Saturday…so I got the only option in my mind…prime rib. Here’s the thing about prime rib in my opinion…it’s great, but it tastes the same everywhere (Maybe that means I’m lucky and have never had bad prime rib? I don’t know!). Rex’s fits that description to a T. My prime rib was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it was very tender. The hash browns were what they’re supposed to and what I love…hot, crunchy and salty.
FOOD NOTES: As far as fancy drinks and nice decor…Rex’s Innkeeper does not cut it, but that’s not what they do. Rex’s does what it does right…supper club favorites. I’m a sucker for some 80s decor, a salad bar and a steak, so I’ll probably be back to Rex’s. My one and only tiny issues was that the drinks could be stronger.
There are a lot of options for steak in Madison and the surrounding area, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a place that has as much history as Wonder Bar. I’m not going to get into too much detail, but if you like gangster history and don’t mind eating on the other side of a dead body (what? yeah…that’s what their website says), then Wonder Bar is a great place to check out.
My mom and I went on a Friday night and got seated upstairs. There’s nothing super impressive about the decor or the dining areas, but if you read up on the history of the place, it is pretty cool. We decided to start with the BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp. The BBQ was tangy and had a little spice, the bacon was thick and the shrimp were huge. Combine all those ingredients and we had a great appetizer.
Steaks come with a salad, and of course both of us got steak. Even though our waiter warned me the wedge salad could probably be a meal on its own…I decided to go with that. And boy was he right. It was legitimately 1/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce, an entire tomato (cut in half), probably a full cup of blue cheese and a ton of dressing. I don’t usually love blue cheese, but I usually like it on a wedge salad…this time it was good, but I didn’t eat even half the blue cheese that was on the plate.
My mom and I both got the house filet with hash browns…because what else do you get when you go to a steak house?! Both filets were perfectly cooked and had a great flavor. They were also super tender and had that great grill char. The hash browns were crispy and had onions mixed in…winning!
Needless to say…we skipped dessert and took home doggy bags.
FOOD NOTES: If you’re looking for a place to get a stiff drink and some classic steakhouse food…Wonder Bar is definitely your place. My mom and I had a great meal…but keep in mind that classic steakhouse food usually comes with a higher price tag. Another thing to note…if you’re trying to find Wonder Bar…it’s the super tiny brick building right behind the Coliseum Bar. If you’re not looking closely…you might drive right by.
Disclaimer: Due to the generous martinis Smoky’s Supper Club serves, this rave review may be slightly clouded by the very strong martini I started drinking before dinner.
Whenever I talk with someone in Madison about the topic of steaks, inevitably Smoky’s on University Avenue is mentioned. I had heard two things about Smoky’s before visiting it with my mom for her birthday: the steaks are amazing and the martinis are strong. And both of those things turned out to be extremely accurate.
If you don’t know where Smoky’s is, it’s probably because you’ve driven by and it not noticed it. It is tucked in between newer buildings on University Avenue. And aside from it’s neon sign, it doesn’t look like an upscale supper club. There are multiple dining rooms. I saw four but there may have been more tucked around corners, and a huge oval bar that sticks out in the main room when you walk in. It’s pretty dark inside, which may be part of the ambience or a sneaky way to hide that the building could use some updates.
We got to Smoky’s a little bit before our reservations so we were asked to wait at the bar. After paying our $20 bill for two martinis, we realized that the price tag and the rumors proved true and that neither of us had ever had such a strong drink. I got the Razzputini, which from what I can remember had raspberry vodka, some other type of liquor and then grapefruit juice. That grapefruit juice was my saving grace. Thanks to the juice my martini actually tasted good and wasn’t 100 percent alcohol. My mom got the pomegranate martini, which was made with three different types of alcohol, and again from what I remember, didn’t have any juice in it. That one didn’t taste as good as mine, and had a stronger kick. I’m not a big drinker, so I preferred the one with the juice in it, but others might prefer no juice! Either way, they were both extremely well-made drinks.
My one complaint about Smoky’s is that about 20 minutes after our reservation time we went up to ask the host why we weren’t being seated (because there were open tables and everyone else had been seated). Basically he told us he forgot about us, which was kind of annoying but nothing too bad to overshadow the great food we eventually got.
For starters, we had a traditional supper club bread basket and relish tray on our table. Neither were spectacular or original, but there is something special about those traditions and I wish more places offered them with dinners. We decided to skip ordering an appetizer because we asked our waiter about the fried mushrooms and he said they were not homemade. Plus, dinners come with soup and a salad, so ordering an additional appetizer didn’t seem necessary.
The salad was exactly what I was expecting. A small, perfectly fresh salad with cucumbers, red onions, croutons and multiple homemade dressing options. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one dressing option when getting a salad at a supper club, and that’s French…but my grandparents would disagree with that and say blue cheese is the only option. I went with French, but I can only imagine their homemade blue cheese would have been just as good.
There were two soup options the night we went. I got the clam chowder, which was a good choice. It was the perfect balance of creamy and savory while not being too heavy and thick. The vegetables in the soup were chunky, and both the vegetables and the clams were plentiful.
We both went with the 12 0z ribeye, which did not disappoint. It came out on a sizzling platter with a great charred exterior and perfectly pink inside. It was also seasoned with the right amount of salt and pepper that added that simple, classic savory flavor to the charred exterior. It was definitely one of the best steaks I have ever had, and because of the size I got to take another serving home.
The hash browns come on a separate plate and must have been cooked in a cast-iron pan because they were round, extremely hot and perfectly crispy. I loved that they weren’t greasy at all, but we did add some additional salt on top.
FOOD NOTES: The rumors about Smoky’s Supper Club are true. The steaks are amazing and the martinis will knock you on your ass. Everything about Smoky’s screams quality, expertly-executed, traditional supper club, and I love it. I also love the location. It’s kind of hidden, but perfectly accessible in the middle of Madison. The prices at Smoky’s are a bit steep at first glance, but the quality and quantity of the food proves it to be 100 percent worth it. I hope someone someday soon will put a little TLC into the building so Smoky’s and it’s great menu will be around for many more years.
Madison has a lot of food events to promote restaurants, like Taste of Madison and Restaurant Week, but one restaurant sticks out in my mind as never participating in any of it: Tornado Steakhouse. Tornado is this elusive restaurant on the south side of the outer-capitol square (which is kind of the opposite side of where all of the other foodie restaurants are). Not a lot of people talk about Tornado, but a lot of people do go there so I could never figure out why it was never part of the foodie buzz in Madison. Well, I think I figured it out. Madison foodies are very into new, experimental, modern things, and the Tornado is none of those things. It is 100 percent a traditional steakhouse done exceptionally well.
It is technically located on South Hamilton Street, but there’s also an entrance on West Main Street. The Main Street entrance brings you through a cramped bar featuring a couple round leather booths straight out of the 50s. The Hamilton Entrance takes you up a couple steps, past the secret entrance to their late-night bar the Corral Room (I hear it is straight out of Mad Men) and into the main dining room area. I’m not sure exactly how many dining rooms there are throughout the steakhouse, but I saw at least three on the way to the one we were seated in. All of them were bordered in dark wood paneling, and were sparsely lit by old-school sconces.
As if the portions we were soon to order wouldn’t be enough, we were given a bread basket and a relish tray. The bread basket had a biscuit, a crunchy long breadstick and a small loaf of bread. The biscuit was buttery, fluffy, moist and very good. The breadstick had a good flavor, but was kind of hard. We saved the loaf for last because we had high hopes for a small warm loaf of yummy bread, but it was super hard, not very good and kind of disappointing. The relish tray was not actually served on a tray. It came in an iced beer mug and had a pickle, some celery and carrots and a skewer with a radish, cucumber slice, cherry tomato and olives. It was a traditional relish tray, but I love the simplicity of a relish tray!
Every entree comes with a salad to start with. It sounds like you’re going to get a side salad, but it is a massive serving. Both the Caesar and spinach salads we ordered were double the size we were expecting. My Caesar salad had fresh romaine and a nice portion of parmesan cheese on top. The dressing wasn’t too overwhelming, but I did not eat the whole anchovy filet that was on top of my greens. The spinach salad my mom ordered came with a vinaigrette that was very tangy and yummy.
Now on to the entrees. They offer seafood, chicken and other random protein options (venison, rabbit, lamb), but both of us were obviously going to order steak in a steakhouse like this. I got the 16 oz. New York Strip Steak, and for a person watching portion sizes a 16 0z. steak is just a little more than four servings of steak. I ordered it medium rare. This steak was the most perfectly cooked, perfectly charred and perfectly flavored steak I have ever had. They really know what they’re doing at Tornado! The 16 oz. sirloin my mom ordered was exactly the same.
All of the steaks come with a single onion ring on top. The batter was very heavy, and lacked some necessary salt to balance it out. I got hash browns with my steak. They were crispy, hot and well seasoned, but compared to the steak they were nothing special. I thought for the caliber of steakhouse Tornado is, they would serve them with sauteed mushrooms and onions or something like that. My mom got the steak fries with her steak. They were not greasy and tasted baked rather than fried, but again they were overshadowed by her steak.
FOOD NOTES: Despite the disappointing loaf of mini bread and the not-so-special potatoes served alongside our steaks, Tornado served up the best steak I have ever had. A lot of restaurants my parents and grandparents took me to as a kid had relish trays, and I really like when restaurants offer them…it is just so simple! The service was good throughout our meal, but there were multiple people doing multiple things throughout the dining room, not sure one dedicated server. The menu definitely gave us sticker shock when we first decided to go, but based on the fact that we each brought home another two servings of steak and one extra serving of potatoes as leftovers…the price doesn’t seem as astronomical. The prices are high, but not nearly as outrageous once you see the portions (especially if you exercise portion control and save some for another meal). Basically, my meal was $35, which sounds really high but I had another full meal of steak and hash browns, plus another meal of steak…so in my mind that breaks down to $2o for the initial Tornado meal (with the relish tray, bread and salad), $10 for the second at-home leftover meal and $5 for the third portion of steak. Doesn’t sound as bad does it!