Tap Into Your Midwestern Pride At Millie's Supper Club
By Anthony Todd in Food on Jun 22, 2016 2:47PM
Prime rib and Salad at Millie’s. Photo via Instagram
Let us get this out of the way up front: I'm a proud Midwestern boy. I may put on a veneer of sophisticated fanciness, and drink port and eat french cheeses on weekends, but my happy place, my comfortable spot, is somewhere between central Iowa (my home) and northern Minnesota (my family's vacation spot since I was 5-years-old). I understand the joys of Velveeta cheese and hot dish. And while I might not be a Wisconsin native, Millie's Supper Club made me feel at home in a way I can't quite explain.
For background, Millie's Supper Club is a new spot in Lincoln Park that aims to replicate the classic Wisconsin supper club experience. It's got a log cabin-style frontage, a gorgeous bar with red leather everywhere, a TV playing vintage shows and more duck decoys than you can possibly imagine.
But here's the thing that sets Millie's apart from all of the other themed restaurants I've been to lately: it's not ironic at all. When I posted a photo from my visit on social media, I got some flak from cynical friends making fun of hipsters faking traditions, and I get where that comes from, but they are totally wrong. When I visited, almost everyone at Millie's was over 40, probably from the upper Midwest, and enjoying themselves thoroughly. Millie's has accomplished the unusual, and actually created exactly the thing they set out to replicate.
Let's start with the drinks. No supper club experience would be complete without a brandy old fashioned. And while lots of bars have attempted to upscale the drink, the traditional version (complete with a maraschino cherry and a 7-up topper) brings me back to a time when quaffable cocktails on the rocks were the thing to drink, and not every drink needed seven kinds of bitters. Millie's has some stronger drinks (the "Not So Old Fashioned" is a boozy kick to the head) but stick to the classics. The beer selection features craft brews, but screw it, you're in Wisconsin in about 1974—drink Schlitz.
Lazy Susan at Millie’s. Photo via Facebook
The real star of the show at Millie's is what I'm hereafter referring to as "The Best $14 appetizer in Chicago:" The Lazy Susan. This spinning tray comes replete with all of your favorite Midwestern sides, including bean salad, cottage cheese, summer sausage, Wisconsin cheddar cheese dip, smoked trout dip, liverwurst, braunschweiger, beets, pickled veggies and those amazing tiny breadsticks that come two to a cellophane package. My dining companion, an Oregonian who has fallen in love with the Midwest, discovered liverwurst, which will soon fill our refrigerator. If any four people in the city can eat this whole platter (including, of course, the crackers that go with it), I'll tip my (imaginary) hat to them.
Abundance is the name of the game at Millie's. You're going to have one, if not two, carryout bags, so just plan for it. Even a half portion of the excellent wedge salad ($8) (which they graciously split in two) was enough for a small army, dripping with blue cheese dressing and bacon, and an order of deviled eggs, (which I've become accustomed to getting two at a time at fancier spots) filled a plate for $7. Though, honestly, the deviled eggs were the only slight disappointment of the evening, as I prefer mine spicier.
Ice Cream drink (plus Moose) at Millie’s. Photo via Instagram
Rather than order any of the more interesting mains, we stuck to the classics: a fish fry (served every night) and some prime rib. The fish fry was surprisingly perfect, a dramatic improvement on the standard Midwestern junk, with a light coating of batter covering delicately cooked whitefish. The prime rib was utterly familiar, a giant slab of meat dripping in jus and accompanied by a baked potato drenched in butter and wrapped in foil. I had to confirm with the server that I got the small size I ordered; a full size order could kill a much stronger man. It was slightly underseasoned for my taste (in other words, totally authentic for the Midwest) and I think I finished about 1/5 of the thing. Because apparently my arteries and liver hadn't suffered enough, I closed out my night with a spot-on rendition of one of my favorite treats, a Brandy Alexander, thick enough with ice cream that getting it through the straw was a muscle-straining challenge.
Millie's is neither for the faint of heart nor the snobbish, and if you're looking for "excellence" in cuisine as it is traditionally defined, go elsewhere. But I'll certainly be back, because it makes me feel like I'm home.