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I have been playing around with an idea for a book on Wisconsin Supper Clubs and as part of that research, I came up with a list of almost 400 incredible places to try. One of the first ones we hit with our new “criteria” was Cantafio’s Buckhorn Steakhouse of Beaver Dam.
While some people call it Cantafio’s Buckhorn Steak House, we are a firm believer that they fall into the Supper Club category.
What is a Supper Club?
According to Wikipedia:
A supper club is a traditional dining establishment that also functions as a social club. The term may describe different establishments depending on the region, but in general, supper clubs tend to present themselves as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all.
That pretty much sums up the classic Wisconsin Supper Club. Most were in older buildings with a rural setting, family-owned businesses, and had a full bar. They created dinner specials that were rarely made at home like prime rib, frog legs, and even the classic Wisconsin staple: Friday Night Fish Fry.
These are not national chains. They are not fast food establishments. They are dining experiences that can take up to two hours (or more) between sitting at the bar waiting for your table, enjoying your relish tray or bread basket, indulging in your favorite entree, and having that after-dinner drink or dessert.
Oh yeah, and they are only open for Supper – with brunch occasionally thrown in on Sundays or special events.
Is it a Supper Club or a Steak House?
That is a huge debate. I say it depends on a few things like does it serve things other than steak? Is it in town or on the edge of it? Is there a relish tray? Are there ice cream drinks? Is it warm and homey inside where you feel comfortable and like you have practically been invited into someone’s home?
Even the restaurant name can say “steak house” and it is really a Supper Club.
A lot of people don’t really know what a Supper Club is unless they are from Wisconsin. Most of us grew up with them as part of the normal going-out-to-eat experience and find it hard to believe that a lot of people just don’t “get it”.
Cantafio’s Buckhorn Beaver Dam WI
So, the sign says Steak House, but this is a Supper Club.
The minute you walk into the door you have this “I just stepped into a country bar” feel – with walls covered in paneling, a huge chalkboard for the daily specials, and a counter where the host can not only greet you but sell you a shirt or to take the payment for your dinner check.
Coloring sheets that children have completed decorate the entire area.
Just past that you see the bar, complete with fairy lights and blue under-lit counters. There is almost an entire wall of windows with the nicest view – so you can chat with friends over a drink before or after you dine.
Then the dining room – which clearly shows an older and newer section – both giving off that Northwoods cabin vibe with the knotty-pine-looking paneling and decor.
Cantafio’s Buckhorn Steak House History
So, this place has been around for a while – It was called the Buckhorn Supper Club when it opened in 1978. When the owners (Joe and Rose Cantafio) retired in1997, they sold it. That can go one of two ways: the new owners build upon the tradition of the place and it keeps flourishing or they fail to meet past customer expectations and it fails.
Sadly, the buyers tanked it.
Enter Joe and Bobbie Jo Cantafio – the next generation who bought it back and then worked their fannies off to bring it back to its former glory. They changed up the name a bit to reflect the new ownership and changes (Buckhorn Supper Club became Cantafio’s Buckhorn Steak House).
We think they did their parent’s legacy proud.
They Are A Gold Star Family
This is one thing that really drew me, as I am a Desert Storm Vet.
If you don’t know what it means to be a Gold Star Family – think of the largest sacrifice you can make for this country. I am not talking about putting your life on the line as all soldiers do. I am talking about giving your most precious possible item to the country – your child.
Their son Ryan was a Marine who didn’t come home under his own power.
There is a 5 table small dining room just off the entryway that is called Ryan’s Room. There are Veteran paraphernalia decorating the walls and it is touching. Customers can bring in pics of their favorite Vets and they will be added.
There is also a shrine of sorts in the first dining room – and on that table, you will see cash. That is the community adding to the fund for their Veteran’s policy…feel free to drop a few bucks yourself.
Cantafio’s Buckhorn Veteran’s Policy
Veteran’s eat FREE. You can’t possibly miss the large billboard that is along highway 151 that clearly states that fact. That being said, the conversation I had with fellow Vets who were diners on Facebook led me to believe that very few of us take them up on it.
This is where I would say “Semper Fi” but I was Army….
Cantafio’s Buckhorn Supper Club Menu
Let’s get down to the food! Yes, they have steaks of all kinds, and nightly specials like Italian Wednesdays, Friday Fish Fry, and the traditional Saturday Prime Rib. Add in fun things like Frog Legs, Liver & Onions, and Ribs.
The appetizer of choice seems to be their Onion loaf which is deep-fried and served with zesty ranch dip. We saw several go out to different tables but didn’t try it as we ordered mozzarella sticks.
While there is no relish tray, there is a breadstick basket with cheese spread that is dropped off at your table almost as soon as you are seated.
We tried their Old Fashioneds and were pleased. While they aren’t garnished with all the fruity stuff, you can tell they are muddled with an orange slice as they are made. Not too strong, not too weak – just perfect.
Then came our dinner orders. The hubster was delighted to see that smelt was a special. It was in season (early spring) and he was not going to be talked out of trying it – even though he was talking all about the frog legs on the way over.
I chose my favorite : Fillet. With a baked potato and tossed salad – I know, pretty boring, but I love a good steak!
The 14-year-old opted for the classic hamburger which came with fries. The mozzarella sticks were supposed to be an appetizer for all of us, but they came with her meal – which was kind of goofy.
There was very little conversation when the food was delivered. The Smelt was inhaled – the teen was busy between the burger and the texting – and I had a steak.
Everything was cooked to perfection and I only have one small thing – next time I would order the steak with ONLY the butter topping. They top it with butter and minced garlic. That garlic was a tad over-powering on the fillet…and kind of killed the “steak” flavor.
We were looking at getting dessert but had our dinner check presented before we had a chance to order it. I think it was assumed we were done when I asked for a box for my leftovers. I ALWAYS take food home as I don’t eat large portions since having gastric bypass surgery 3 years ago.
We opted not to push it and went for dessert on the way home somewhere else. Next time? We will try one of their after-dinner ice cream drinks.
It was a Sunday night and the place was a little under half full – service was fast and friendly – they even passed the “never an empty water glass” test.
Yes, we plan to go back and already have an idea of what we will order.
Cantafio’s Buckhorn Hours
Remember, supper clubs are open for SUPPER – so, while they are closed Monday and Tuesday, their open hours are:
- Wednesday & Thursday: 4:30 – 9:00
- Friday & Saturday: 4:30 – 10:00
- Sunday: 4:00 – 9:00
Cantafios Buckhorn in Wisconsin
N8802 County Road A, Beaver Dam, WI 53916
Just call (920) 885 – 9984 for reservations