FISH CREEK – In a tourist destination containing restaurants with breezy patios, festive summer plantings and sparkling water views, it is easy to overlook the Greenwood Supper Club. Located in the interior of the Door County peninsula, at the intersection of County Roads A and F, the low profile business has none of those.
But Door County regulars know the Greenwood isn't just another restaurant. Established in 1929 as saloon, the establishment has been owned by the same family since Day One.
In its early years, the Slipper Inn, as it was originally called, sold ice cream cones and gasoline. Most-wanted bank robber John Dillinger stopped to gas up his car. A stage and dance floor attracted customers, and silent movies were screened.
Susi Kwaterski's uncle and father were the founders, but in a few years uncle Arnold left the business, and her dad and mom, Walter and Eva Ohnesorge, settled in for a long run as proprietors. Eva took over the kitchen, serving as head cook, and the Slipper Inn became the Greenwood Supper Club.
The gas pumps eventually disappeared, as did the stage, dance floor, movies and ice cream cones. A classic northern Wisconsin supper club grew in their place.
Dark knotty-pine paneling. Old Fashioneds and Manhattans at the bar. Meat and potatoes on the menu. Fish fries.
The Ohnesorges sold the Greenwood in 1980 to their daughter Susi and son-in-law, Rick Kwaterski, who presided over the perennially popular restaurant for nearly three decades. Rick, the head chef, died several years ago, leaving Susi to solely run the family business.
"This has been my life," she says while chatting at the bar before the Greenwood opened on a recent late afternoon. Kwaterski lives in the house in which she grew up, next door to the restaurant.
True to the traditions of the Wisconsin supper club, the Greenwood has been known for its prime rib ($25.95 and $29.95), fish fries ($15.95 for whitefish, $16.95 for walleye), and alcoholic ice cream drinks. Think grasshoppers and brandy alexanders.
Because this is Door County, broiled whitefish ($19.95) has also been a menu staple through the decades. A Gills Rock commercial fisherman is the supplier.
"We prepare our whitefish very simply," Kwaterski says. "We don't doctor it up with sauces or blacken it."
The Greenwood's fish fry has been so successful, the restaurant offers it on Wednesdays as well as Fridays. During the supper club's best years, customers lined up at the door before opening time on Fridays.
Kwaterski says her restaurant's single-day record for dinners served is 628 – on a Friday, of course. The majority of those meals were fish fries. The Greenwood can seat 140 in its dining room, with accommodations for another 25 persons in the bar area.
Other typical supper club items on the menu includes baby beef liver ($13.95), half a fried chicken ($14.95) and an 18-ounce T-Bone for $28.95. More contemporary fare, such as chicken parmesan and a number of pasta dishes, is also offered at the Greenwood. Daily specials range from roast turkey with dressing on Sundays to roast pork and sauerkraut on Tuesdays (both $16.95).
Customers are eating less these days, according to the owner, and she has added a few dinner sandwiches to the menu, including open-face prime rib ($13.95) and deep fried perch or walleye ($11.95).
While business remains good, it is not as strong as in the past, Kwaterski says. The hour-long wait to be seated for a fish fry has disappeared.
Changing societal attitudes towards drinking has affected bar income, and that impacts the Greenwood in two ways. Its customers spend less on alcohol, and taverns that formerly served only drinks are now offering food to compensate for the decline in their bar business.
"Even golf courses have fish fries now," the owner says. "We have much more competition."
But who among them can claim to have had John Dillinger as a customer?
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.