Is there anything more “Wisconsin” than the supper club? While there are very few in the Milwaukee area anymore, head to other parts of the state and they are alive and kicking. Last spring I reviewed Ed Thompson’s Tee Pee Supper Club in Tomah and to date it is one of the most visited posts on this website even before CNBC writer Jane Wells wrote about it, stole my photo, and linked to my site. Wisconsinites love their supper club. They like the fact that they get a soup and salad with their meal. They like waiting in the bar and ordering an Old Fashioned. They like the no-frills uniformity of the supper club menu, which rarely features anything exciting, new, or innovative. You won’t find trendy items like seared Ahi Tuna, Kobe Beef or anything with chipotle peppers on a Supper Club, and that is just fine. In fact it must be more than fine, given the 45 minute to 1 hour waits that are typical at Marty’s Place North, a supper club located a few miles north of Minocqua.
Marty’s to me is the quintessential supper club. A northwoods setting, packed parking lot, warm and cozy bar and dining room, and a menu filled with staples like Roast Duck, Walleye Pike, steaks, Saturday Prime Rib, and of course, Surf-and-Turf featuring a fillet Mignon and a lobster tail. Oh and I almost forgot, the obligatory gambling machines in the bar. My most recent visit was during the Beef-A-Rama festivities and I wasn’t surprised when we were told we would have to wait 45 minutes for a table. Actually I kind of enjoy waiting at Marty’s Place North because the bar is so awesome. They have cozy chairs and very fast bartenders. The beer selection is pretty decent for up north and I was happy to find Sprecher Amber available. I figured it would be a two drink wait and when I polished off the Sprecher, I just had to order a Brandy Old Fashioned after watching the bartenders make at least 15 of them right in front of me. The concoction of bitters, Korbel Brandy, sugar and club soda or 7-up or Sprite really put me in the right frame of mind for my supper club experience. It also would prove invaluable in our dealing with some pretty shoddy service.
We were seated in the upper dining room at a table that overlooked the bar area. It was a great vantage point to watch the customers pour into the restaurant and bar. Our waitress saw that we still had our drinks from the bar and directed us to the appetizer bar, which is one of my favorite things at Marty’s. It features Melba toast, crackers, and those breadsticks that are packaged in plastic that taste awesome when you dip them into a real pat of butter, which is provided at every table. As much as I still enjoy the breadstics and butter that I loved as a kid, my favorite thing nowadays is the liver pate. I am not sure if they make it themselves or buy it from somewhere, it is some of the best liver pate I have eaten. It doesn’t have an overwhelming liver taste and it is smooth and creamy. The appetizer bar also has some macaroni and ham salads, a couple of cheese spreads, and veggies and dip. I tried to be careful not to fill up, but believe me, after a couple of drinks and a 45 minute wait, its hard not to stuff your face when presented with all-you-can-eat appetizers. Our waitress came and took our orders and we asked for another round of drinks.
After what was quite a long wait (seriously it was at least 20 minutes, probably closer to 25 or 30) our waitress finally returned to the table with our soups and salads. She wasn’t even wandering around the vicinity of our table so we couldn’t flag her down to see where they were. Honestly, I think she just plain forgot about us. That to me is completely unacceptable, especially given that this place has been around forever and is used to large crowds. As I thought about it, I recall the last time I was in here we were stuck with a shitty waitress as well. I guess I just have bad luck here.
For the wait I was rewarded with a decent bowl of French Onion Soup. To Marty’s credit they don’t charge extra when you order French Onion. Many places feel that since they have to but croutons and cheese on the soup and finish it in the oven, they can charge you extra. Salads are standard fare, iceberg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and thick institutional grade dressings. Marty’s does have hot bacon dressing or crumbled blue cheese to try and lift the uninspired salad into something fairly decent to eat.
I ended up ordering one of my favorite supper club staples, Roasted Duck with their own cherry sauce. They recommend that you call two days ahead and reserve your duck, but the last two times I have been there on a Saturday there were plenty of ducks for us who have the audacity to not know what we want to eat two days before we visit Marty’s. For sides you get to pick your starch from a selection that includes wild rice pilaf, bakes potato, fries, twice baked, and I think some other potato preparation. The last time I visited I had the wild rice pilaf, which was fairly bland. This time I had twice baked, which also proved to be pretty mediocre. The duck however was roasted to perfection with a crispy golden skin that gave way to rich, moist, succulent meat. My only complaint was the cherry sauce which was too sweet and syrupy and almost reminded me of canned cherry pie filling. It needed to be toned down with some acidity or salt. The addition of some type of vinegar would have cut the sweetness and made the sauce a bit less syrupy. Nonetheless I was very happy with the dish.
I also got to sample the surf and turf which featured a grilled fillet Mignon and a decent sized lobster tail. The tenderloin was pretty good, although one of them was not cooked to the correct level of doneness. The waitress offered to take it back, but we declined. Plus by the time she came back to check on us, we were more than halfway done eating. The lobster was also pretty good, especially dipped in clarified butter.
They offer a decent dessert selection but after the appetizers, soup, and entree I was stuffed. I enjoyed a nice glass of port wine instead. And again we waited for a long time to get our check, scanning the dining room for our waitress to try and flag her down. Seriously she probably could have turned over our table another time given how long we waited for things. Overall I was satisfied with my dinner at Marty’s but to be honest the service sucks. My rating would have probably creeped up to at least a 3 if our waitress hadn’t been so terrible. The worst part about it is that she didn’t know she was doing a crappy job. No apologies, no explanation for our delays, nothing. This is my second visit to Marty’s over the past couple of years where service has been so bad that it managed overshadow pretty good food to the point that I am not sure I will return anytime in the near future. There are far too many places serving similar food up north to put up with bad service.
EatWisconsin Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Rating Guide: 0=Absolutely terrible, avoid at all costs, 1=Bad, 2=Mediocre/Average, 3= Admirable, 4=Excellent, 5=Sublime
Marty’s Place North is located at 2721 US Hwy. 51 N – Arbor Vitae, WI 54568. Phone: 715-356-4335 http://www.martysplacenorth.com/