By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published Oct 09, 2011 at 5:32 AM

For the fifth straight year, October is Dining Month on, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2011."

The Hob Nob, 277 S. Sheridan Road in Racine, known for its prime rib, roast duck, Friday fish fry, outstanding location and old-school service, is a definitive Wisconsin restaurant. The Hob Nob is located atop a Lake Michigan bluff along Wisconsin Highway 32 on the way south to Kenosha.

The Hob Nob draws on the history of Wisconsin supper clubs, extends it, and somewhat expands upon our collective understanding of what to expect from one of these classics. The decor alone is more upscale, yet maintains a casual, family-oriented feel.

Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. most days (4:30 p.m. on Sundays) and cocktail service half an hour earlier. A changing and extensive wine selection is complemented with a full line of beers, plus sherries and cognacs, including Louis XIII (which sells for just $135 an ounce). At $9.95 each, their signature ice cream drinks are a sweeter and more affordable option.

Stand-by ice cream specialties like the brandy Alexander and pink squirrel are available along with newer drinks made with Godiva liqueurs. These drinks can be made blended or poured over ice cream, stacked six to eight inches high.

Going early for cocktails is a treat, for in addition to enjoying the glorious lake views, you can observe the staff busily making preparations for dinner. The camaraderie among staff members is palpable as they set a plate of butter on each table, fold linens and organize the seats.

The Hob Nob has many seafood appetizers including snail, shrimp and crab plates, which join the oysters Rockefeller, mussels mariniere, baked French onion soup and renowned garlic bread with gorgonzola.

Co-owner Anne Glowacki says most of the menu items are prepared in-house, including all the sauces and soups. She says they take a lot of pride in the daily preparation of the food, the dining set-ups and the bar.

The Hob Nob has always been a family-owned business. The Higgins family opened the original Hob Nob in downtown Racine in the 1930s. Higgins and his two sons started building the current Hob Nob in 1952, which took two years to complete.

Glowacki's husband, Michael Aletto, purchased the Hob Nob in February 1990. It was a smooth transition, as Aletto kept many of the Higgins' family recipes and included some from his family's restaurant in Illinois.

"Michael didn't want to do shock and awe," Glowacki says.

Glowacki says she "entered the scene" in 1993. Glowacki, who has a master's in marriage and family therapy, invested all of her efforts in the Hob Nob. She married Aletto in 1996.

Aletto and Glowacki spent many hours at their business, building up a level of quality and service that customers can always expect. The family now resides in Florida with their three children. They made the move, according to Glowacki, sooner rather than later.

"We moved to Florida with the intention of eventually retiring there. But we did it while the kids are in middle school, rather than after they left for college," she says. Glowacki says they hope the family can stay closer this way, once the kids do leave the home.

Aletto is a fourth generation restaurateur originally from Illinois. He has a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Washington State and spent over 10 years managing Four Seasons dining operations in the Pacific Northwest, with a few years at the Ritz before that.

Aletto moved back to the Midwest in order to be closer to family. "In his heart of hearts, he loves banquets, so working for the Four Seasons was fine. But when he had an opportunity to purchase the Hob Nob, he had to take the plunge," says Glowacki.

Aletto begins his 22nd year at the Hob Nob in February of 2012 and his 35th year in the restaurant business overall. Glowacki, who is originally from Kenosha, says she and Aletto put in 60-hour work weeks at the Hob Nob before finally cutting back after the kids were born. Aletto now commutes from Florida once a month and every other week around holidays.

"Not that he doesn't lust after restaurants here (in Florida) -- he does -- but I tell him, 'You can't be in six places at once,'" Glowacki says with a laugh.

The Hob Nob's management team consists of bookkeeper and events coordinator Kara and dining room manager Teresa, who've been at the restaurant since the mid-1990s. Glowacki says they keep things humming at Hob Nob and credits them with some of the long-term consistency that customers appreciate.

The staff of 40 full- and part-time employees wears a somewhat standardized, formal uniform of black trousers, vests and white shirts, but each staff member does so with a different color tie. Glowacki can't remember when this practice first started, but knows it came about because staff members wanted to "mix things up and have their personalities show through." Some "special ties" are also used on special evenings, such as New Year's Eve, when the bartenders are prone to wearing light-up ties.

Banquets are a large part of the Hob Nob's business. The restaurant has three banquet halls and consists of several unique rooms, each with its own name. For example, the downstairs banquet area is called the Monet Room, named for the Impressionist watercolors on its walls.

The building originally built by the Higgins family also includes the Bel Mar (a beautiful bar and seating area purportedly named for two women, one of which may have been Mrs. Higgins), the Persian Room is behind that and the Moroccan Room is across the hall. The hall leads to a large dining area more simply called the Cocktail Lounge, which has an art deco theme and perhaps the most spectacular view of Lake Michigan one can have while sitting at a bar.

The Terrace Room is adjacent to the Cocktail Lounge, and was added in 1996. It has large glass walls which offer lake views from just about every dining position.

The aforementioned Moroccan Room is interesting not only for its tent-in-the-Sahara desert theme, but because it's semi-private, seating a maximum of six.

"It's first-come, first served. We get a lot of engagements in that room, as well as anniversary parties," says Glowacki.

Although closed every Monday, the Hob Nob is open almost every other day of the year, with a notable exception. "We're only closed four or five days of the year, including Christmas Eve and Super Bowl Sunday," says Glowacki.

"We don't have any TVs, so what's the point?" she says, laughing.

The Hob Nob does a good job walking the line between tradition and innovation, adding new menu items while maintaining the high-quality and consistency of the mainstays. Glowacki emphasizes it's a casual dining environment, they get a lot of boaters in the summer and that all customers throughout the year, no matter how they're dressed, come out for an experience they can no longer get anywhere else.

"We keep things fresh, but we pride ourselves on our level of service," Glowacki says.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.