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A Culinary Gem Found in the Boonies

by on February 3rd, 2009

I don’t ask for much when I go to a restaurant. Clean surroundings, atmosphere, service and quality (and quantity) of the food are what we all look for when frequenting a new place to spend a night out. Many times these adventures turn into nightmares, some into an enjoyment. Keeping an open mind was essential when I went to my first place to review, a very difficult task for me because I do it for a living. It would be easy to pick on every little detail, to only want what I prefer. I may not like the way a chef puts roasted garlic in his mashed potatoes; someone else may think that those taters are manna from Heaven. I just have to be honest and can pass along as much information as possible but in the long run, you’ll have to find out for yourselves.

I balked at first. Going to a place that is out in the middle of the boonies just didn’t sound like a good time to me but I reluctantly threw on some nice clothes, hopped in the car with a friend and left for R Place Supper Club in Wittenberg or should I say Eland. The conversation was pleasant and getting out of the house was a definite plus, although I found that five minutes into the white knuckled road trip, we pretty much had nothing in common. I think we both made the best of the situation and had a few laughs along the way.

After a 40 minute drive, or as she proclaimed “30 minutes plus 10,” we pulled into the relatively full parking lot. I found this a bit odd because of the low temperatures that night but if the restaurant is busy on a cold night, they must be a offering something very special. From the outside, R Place Supper Club doesn’t look any different than any other supper club I’ve seen, and the inside was decorated in what you’d expect of a nice, off the beaten path family supper club. When I went through that door, I was actually a bit nervous. This may just be an article that will only be seen by a relatively small amount of people, but this is these people’s livelihood. Can I trash them for something and be a reason they lose customers or not get new ones? I’ll just have to force myself to be as honest as I can, I suppose.

Seating ourselves at the bar, I figured a couple of drinks might loosen me up a little and get rid of those jitters. Mission accomplished, not in the George Bush II sense though. I noticed that all the customers were seated at the bar area before given a table, fine with me however not everyone would agree. While at the comfortable bar (where smoking is allowed) which was festooned with many neon lights, mirrors and rustic art … pretty much a given for a supper club setting … we were given our menus and told the featured dishes of the evening were Sicilian Meatballs with Pasta or Pecan Encrusted Flounder with a Red Pepper Sauce, both worthy of selection just by the description alone.

The rest of the menu was basic fare with a couple of exceptions such as frog legs and King Crab and the prices were very reasonable. Steaks in the $16-$20 range and an extensive offering of seafood items such as lobster, salmon, scallops, perch, bluegill and shrimp were in the forefront. The Surf and Turf option in the $20 range is probably the best price that I’ve seen for a long time. For the not so hungry, the appetizers and sandwich offerings were mostly a basic variety of deep fat fried and grilled fare… also very reasonable in price. I saw no vegetarian selections.

There were a few people still waiting for a table when we arrived but the wait was no longer than 15 minutes or so. Part of that may stem from the fact that there was a rather large party that got there before us. That gave me a bit of time to check out the place a bit more, so I concentrated on the cleanliness of the establishment (saw absolutely nothing wrong in that area whatsoever) as well as the friendliness and helpfulness of the serving staff. I was treated as though I was a regular patron and they had known me for years. Many restaurants could learn a lesson from this staff. Helpful, smiling, attentive and courteous. All you could ask for in service. Our waitress went out of her way to tell us that the larger party would be served first and there could be a short delay in our food. At some places I have been to, this is not done on a regular basis. Kudos to her for that bit of courtesy. I’d love to mention her but I am just terrible when it comes to remembering names. Hell, half of the time I can’t remember my own.

There was a salad bar that my dinner companion visited but I chose not to get anything from it. I wanted to fill up on the entree itself so I passed. Again pretty much basic fare, well presented and clean. There was a kettle of chili to warm the bones while our food was being prepared, however the large group must have gotten to it before we did, seeing that it was mostly gone. Obviously, it must have been very good so next time I’ll have to check it out.

The focal point of the table area was a beautiful fireplace unfortunately decorated with a Christmas wreath with lights. This would have been fine a few weeks earlier, but I am a bit of a dork for these kinds of things, and the decorations should have been taken down to show off that nice brick fireplace. Didn’t care much for the plastic poinsettias on the table either but they were small and unobtrusive so it didn’t bother me as much I guess. There was ample seating that easily could seat a group of 25-30 people comfortably for which I imagine reservations should be made for accommodations.

Now, down to the nitty gritty… the food. I had the Pecan Encrusted Flounder with the Red Pepper Sauce and my dinner companion ordered a rib eye steak medium rare. There were a couple of problems that could easily be corrected but overall it was what I expected. My entree consisted of two fillets of flounder that were tasty but lacked a bit of citrus that would have really set this fish off, and had they placed a bit of lemon on my plate, it would have sufficed. The red pepper sauce was more of a coulis than a sauce and I have to admit, I felt that it was the best part of the meal and would have taken a quart home with me. Beef based with three different peppers, a bit of garlic and spiced to perfection, it pulled the dish together quite nicely. When I got my plate, I was amazed that it consisted of the fillets, sauce and California Blend vegetables (that had a bit too much white wine for my taste, others may disagree) but no starch. Pasta, potatoes or rice would have made this dish noteworthy; it fell a bit short without it. Presentation was nice but not overly artistic, but this is a supper club, not the Ritz. Like a popular saying on Top Chef, “It is what it is.”

Looking across the table at the medium rare steak, it seemed like she was having a problem with her choice. I saw right away that the middle was very rare, a common mistake with grilling nowadays. Cooks are seemingly afraid to overcook a steak so they under cook it by mistake. I’ve done it myself. She could have sent it back but declined to because she knew why I was there in the first place, and she probably didn’t want that to be a black mark against them. It really wasn’t a big deal to either of us, so she ate what she wanted and took the rest home to grease on later. Same thing I would have done years ago but now I carry a pocket digital thermometer with me when I get a steak while dining out. You can test your steak before you cut into it and it can be done without making a big scene. Please, if you are going to do this yourself, do it when there is nobody looking or else you appear to be the Village Idiot.

Steak temperatures are:
120-125 degrees for rare, 130-135 for medium rare, 140- 145 for medium well and 155-160 for well done. Insert the thermometer into the middle of the steak through the side and wait until the gauge stops. A dial thermometer will suffice but a digital one is more reliable. Remember that your steak will decrease in size the longer it is on the heat, so try not to complain that your well done 6oz. Filet Mignon is smaller than a 6oz. Filet that is medium rare.

The kitchen was manned by Chef Jeremy Looker, who has worked with Emeril Legasse, Wolfgang Puck and was previously employed at The Four Seasons, and Mike Pellagrino whom I have worked with in the past. Both are talented in their own right and bring their ideas to fruition in their cooking using no pre-packaged meals or ingredients as much as possible. Would I go back if I was in that neck of the woods again… absolutely.

R Place Supper Club is located on Highway 45, just a mile or two from the Ho Chunk Casino and is wheelchair accessible.

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