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Supper clubbing: Duck Inn supper club going strong on outskirts of Delavan

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Exterior view of The Duck Inn, Town of Richmond

Like many early Wisconsin supper clubs, The Duck Inn opened in the Prohibition-era 1920s as an illicit speakeasy where customers would “duck in” for a drink, dining and dancing. Today, the popular heritage supper club draws customers from as far afield as Rockford, Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha. Said 28-year owner Jeffrey Karbash, “We’re in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of everything.”

In Wisconsin, supper clubs aren’t just restaurants, they’re also a lifestyle — a mélange of slow food served in generous portions, dimly-lit nostalgic ambience, and good times spent with family and friends over a brandy Old Fashioned.

“I think people like the idea of breaking away from the corporate America chain restaurants,” said Jeff Karbash, owner of The Duck Inn since 1994. “I think that’s a big part of it. Everything’s so corporate now. It’s everywhere. They’re fed up with that. They’re staying away from that. You work in the corporate grind every day and you get off work and you go into a place and you see the same thing. I think people like the idea of walking into a supper club and seeing a small independent family making a living. It’s nice to get back to that locally-owned player.”

The Duck Inn

The Duck Inn, N6214 State Hwy. 89, on the far outskirts of Delavan in the Town of Richmond, takes its name from the supper club’s roots as a rural 1920s/early 1930s speakeasy, a term for illicit bars and nightclubs that were among Prohibition’s worst-kept secrets.

“Patrons were to secretly ‘duck in’ for a drink, where the bartender would tell a patron to be quiet and ‘speak easy,’” noted Delavan native Karbash, who met his wife, Nora, when she worked at The Duck Inn. “After Prohibition, municipalities would issue liquor licenses, but they wanted them out of the city limits, so you’d see a lot of them in the rural communities … with the stipulations that they had to serve food. Being so far out of the city, these people started doing just one food entrée like chicken. When they realized the crowds they were getting, that’s when the supper club evolved.”

For Karbash, the key for The Duck Inn’s enduring success rests on several building block foundations — good food, quality service, a classic supper club atmosphere, traditional legacy supper club bar drinks, and family ownership.

Other key building block “musts,” he said, include the Friday night fish fry and Wednesday and Saturday prime rib specials, which are “very popular” menu staples at The Duck Inn.

Karbash, who put himself through college working in the restaurant business, fulfilled a dream in buying The Duck Inn, which had been closed for eight years years before he purchased, refurbished and reopened the supper club in 1994.

“I wanted to own my own place,” he recalled. “I was always good in the restaurants and always felt most comfortable working in a restaurant. It took a few years to save a little money, get lucky in the market, get lucky with the banker in financing and get the deal together.”

Karbash said there were generations of people who knew of The Duck Inn and were “waiting for it to reopen and come in and give us a try.”

Over the last 28 years, he reinvested profits into building The Duck Inn “into what I imagined it could be,” he said. Most recently, he installed a centerpiece 280-gallon waterfall “duck pond” fish tank filled with colorful African cychlid fish.

Looking ahead, Karbash plans a May renovation to the 70-seat Duck Room dining room housed in the original 1920s-30s era section of the supper club.Karbash said his zest for the supper club business hasn’t waned.“I like how fast time goes by,” he said. “The people are great, the customers are wonderful. The family atmosphere of the operation is nice. Our employees, and customers, are like one big family.”

Another key to the success of The Duck Inn, he said, is its emphasis on “everything being prepared in-house.”

“At the bar and grills, a lot of it is out of the freezer and into the fryer,” Karbash said. “What we do, it’s real food prepared fresh in-house from fresh ingredients.”

The food 

He said they deal with as many local farmers as possible, drawing in local produce from the area, lamb from Pin Oak Ridge Farms in the Town of Richmond, trout from Rushing Waters Trout Farms in Palmyra and others.

Apropos to the supper club’s heritage name, duck is the star headliner of the Duck Inn menu.

They serve roast half duck served on wild rice with a choice of a l’orange, mushroom or cherry jubilee sauces; cashew duck served over basmati rice with a sweet apricot drizzle; apple brandy-glazed duck served on butter sautéed spaetzles; and the duck sampler, served with Duck Inn’s four l’orange, mushroom, cherry jubilee and apple brandy sauces.“Being The Duck Inn, we’re well known for duck,” Karbash said. “We sell a lot of duck breast and roasted half ducks.”

Steaks selections include king or queen filet mignon, ribeye, porterhouse topped with roasted garlic and peppercorn butter, New York strip, and gorgonzola New York strip steak with melted gorgonzola walnut butter.

Pasta dishes include vegetarian rotolo primavera, spinach ricotta stuffed in tri-colored pasta with red marinara and Alfredo sauces; choice beef burgundy tips served in a rich burgundy mushroom sauce on a bed of pasta, with mushrooms and onions; and angler’s pasta, sautéed shrimp, scallops and crab served with white wine sauce and topped with hollandaise.

Duck Inn seafood selections include jumbo deep-fried shrimp, South African cold water lobster tail, Alaskan king crab legs, grilled Atlantic salmon filet, pan-fried walleye pike, broiled sea scallops, and pan-fried rainbow trout almondine.

Other entrée selections at The Duck Inn include German wiener schnitzel served with spaetzels, barbecue baby back pork ribs, Grecian pork chops seasoned with garlic and oregano, lamb chops gemolata, and Chef Jim’s chicken cordon bleu — breaded baked chicken breast stuffed with thin slices of andouille sausage and pepper jack cheese, topped with mornay sauce.

Year-round nightly specials include pretzel-encrusted bluegill (Mondays), prime rib (Wednesdays and Saturdays), 3/4-rack barbecued ribs (Thursdays), and Hungarian duck (Sundays).

In Wisconsin, supper clubs and fish fry Friday go hand-in-hand as a Badger State dining institution. Friday night specials at The Duck Inn include all-you-can eat broiled or fried cod; mini shrimp; all-you-can eat smelt; perch; and a smelt appetizer.

An extensive appetizer menu includes blue point oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail, Grecian chicken wings, parmesan-crusted calamari, crab stuffed mushrooms, escargot dejonghe, French onion soup, a duck plate/rumaki combination, and a classic traditional Wisconsin supper club relish tray, served with a house signature buttermilk dip.

A “L’il Ducking” menu is available for children.

Karbash said all desserts at The Duck Inn are homemade, with the most popular being the crème brûlée.

A Wisconsin drink menu 

The Duck Inn’s full-service bar offers an extensive menu of drink offerings including white, red, sparkling and dessert wines; martinis; Caribbean cocktails; winter warmers and specialty drinks; domestic, premium and imported beers; Wisconsin specialty beers; mocktails; beer alternatives; and a variety of after-dinner and ice cream drinks.

“Classic” supper club cocktails served up at The Duck Inn include a dozen different martini selections, Wisconsin Old Fashioneds, brandy Manhattans, Harvey wallbangers, sidecars, slow screws, sloe gin fizzes, Cuba libres, Tom Collins’ and daiquiris.“You don’t see those too much, or all all, at a bar and grill,” Karbash noted of the “classic” old school cocktails.The Duck Inn draws customers from across a wide area, as close as a 20-minute radius inclusive of Delavan, Elkhorn, East Troy, Whitewater, Milton, Janesville, Clinton, Darien, Sharon and the Lake Geneva area, and as far afield as Rockford, Madison, Milwaukee and Kenosha.“We’re in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of everything,” Karbash said.

Among the fans of The Duck Inn is 20-year customer Andrew Richmond, a Beloit native and Delavan area resident who recalls becoming a Duck Inn regular “very quickly.”

“I enjoy the supper club atmosphere,” he said, noting he likes to visit supper clubs when he travels, including The Butterfly Club in Beloit and the lakefront HOBNOB in Kenosha regionally. “For me, supper clubs are a place that makes you comfortable. It’s not like a regular restaurant where you order and eat and you leave. It’s more an experience sitting down to eat — the food, the relaxing atmosphere. If you’re gonna visit Wisconsin, you have to experience a supper club.”

Frequent patrons 

Another fan is Town of Richmond resident Forrest Bright, a frequent patron for over 30 years.

“It’s not unusual for me to be here more days they’re open than not,” he said. “I certainly like their food — the food quality is consistent and really good. I like the way they treat their customers — they’re very, very genuine, very nice. I consider them my friends.”

A self-confessed “one of the oldies” at The Duck Inn is patron Darlene Becker, of Janesville, who has been coming to the supper club since she first started coming with her parents in 1953 under then-owners Freddie and Jean Adams.

“I’d never had duck in my life,” she recalled. “”I ordered duck and I’ve loved it ever since.”

April through December, Duck Inn is open Sundays noon to 9 p.m.; Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4-9 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays, 4-10 p.m. Duck Inn hours from January-March are Sundays noon to 10 p.m.; Thursdays, 4-9 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays, 4-10 p.m. The Duck Inn is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays from January-March and closed Tuesdays year-round.

Reservations are taken online or by phone.

For more information, call 608-883-6988 or visit duckinndelavan.com.

Stay tuned: Next week the Lake Geneva Regional News will feature another popular supper club, Mars Resort. The full story will be published in Luxury Lake Geneva, hitting stands Memorial Day weekend. 

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