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'The Laurel' lands mention in new supper club book

Mark 'Gus' Gusa, head chef, and Roberta Little, owner of The Laurel, are pictured in the restaurant's main dining room.

Supper clubs are a Wisconsin tradition.

So it only made sense to author Ron Faiola that a book on the subject might be a good idea. Faiola's "Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old Fashioned Experience" will be available for sale online and in bookstores beginning April 15.

"Supper clubs in Wisconsin offer a special experience, emphasizing conviviality, slow-paced dining and food made from scratch," Faiola said of the allure of such eating establishments. "They are also destinations for a scenic view or their unique atmosphere."

Two familiar supper clubs from northwestern Wisconsin are among the 50 establishments featured in the book -- The Laurel Supper Club near New Richmond and Indianhead Supper Club in Balsam Lake.

Roberta Little, owner of The Laurel along with her husband, Glen, said she was pleased that her supper club was one chosen for the publication. The section about The Laurel includes a brief story with a number of photos.

"I was happy that we would be in the book," she said. "Supper clubs are few and far between."

Little said The Laurel is a special place to eat and socialize because they cook on charcoal and everything is homemade.

She said the atmosphere is also special, with the "old tongue and groove pine."

"We're not sheetrock," she said. "It makes you feel homey."

Faiola's quest to find Wisconsin's top supper clubs began while he was filming a documentary about Friday fish fries around Milwaukee. When he decided to feature a fish fry at a local supper club, it suddenly struck him that Wisconsin has a large number of such establishments.

His own personal history of eating at Wisconsin supper clubs also fueled his interest in the topic. "I used to go fishing up north with my grandfather and we'd usually stop at a supper club or two," he recalled.

The brainstorm led to a second documentary about supper clubs in the state, which eventually led to the book.

"I had a list of over 200 places, then narrowed it down to 100 and then 75," Faiola said of his process for selecting the supper clubs that are featured. "The supper clubs on the final list just served supper ... they had to be family run and not currently for sale. I got a map of the state and flagged each location, then sent out letters to the clubs I wanted to visit."

Faiola traveled across Wisconsin from February through mid-May last year to gather the necessary information, photographs and video for his supper club projects.

The book highlights the traditional cuisine, special amenities, and history that make each club unique. The book features full-color photography and is organized by region.

"The day I was visiting the Laurel Supper Club it was April 14, 2012," he recalled. "The weather was perfect and I kept passing dozens of motorcycles on State Trunk Highway 64. I had some free time and drove into downtown New Richmond and took in the sights, then followed a group of bikers to the Outer Limits bar on County Road T. It was an amazing site - hundreds of motorcycles, kind of in the middle of nowhere and yet right around the corner from my supper club."

The Laurel has a long history along Highway 64, east of New Richmond, The Littles have owned the supper club since about 2005. Prior to that, the establishment was owned and operated by Gary Gorka for about 18 years.

Gorka said The Laurel was likely established in the 1930s as a "roadhouse." It featured a slot machine that helped the township pay for plowing in the winter.

"The Laurel" means "fine eating" in Irish. Gorka said the name likely was chosen because of the Irish heritage of many local families. The name of the supper club was briefly changed to The Timberwolf, but Gorka switched it back to The Laurel when he purchased the business.

The original structure was the main bar area near the entrance, Gorka said. There have been several additions to the building since then, including the main dining room.

As highlighted in Faiola's book, The Laurel is well known for its popular popovers and honey butter, as well as its soups, hors d'oeuvres, salads and steaks.