A ‘Steak’ in History
Hunt Club Steakhouse boasts a lively atmosphere, award-winning wine list and delicious steaks from the choicest meats.
It’s just off Highway 50 in Lake Geneva, Wis., and only 45 minutes from Woodstock, but it might as well be centuries away. You almost expect to see George Washington or Thomas Jefferson hitching their horses near the front door.
Cedar, maple and pine trees surround the two-story gray and white Greek Palladian-style building that is something more reminiscent of colonial Virginia than progressive era Wisconsin.
Built around 1915, it was once home to plumbing magnate Richard Crane, a retreat for executives of Crane Plumbing Co., Crane Farms Sanatorium, a hunt club and more.
Its most recent incarnation is the newly opened Hunt Club Steakhouse. Near the entrance of Geneva National Resort, Hunt Club overlooks the western shore of Lake Como and several holes of the resort’s Gary Player-designed golf course. This is a special place, from the décor and atmosphere to the service and the food.
Darkly stained pine paneling, a holdover from its days as a true hunt club, make it comfortable. A real fire, crackling in one of the dining rooms, brings physical warmth. Just four booths and three tables in the dining room, and two bar tables and nine tables in the bar area, make it intimate.
Mentored by the Best
Opened in April 2013, the Hunt Club’s kitchen and service staff are under the direction of Chef John Havlis. He said the restaurant has been “a phenomenal success, going like gangbusters.”
A “local boy” who grew up in nearby Woodstock, Havlis is a quiet, calm and welcoming personality with a serious culinary pedigree who spent time working under chefs Bernard Cretier of Le Vichyssois in Lakemoor and the late Charlie Trotter, a much-celebrated Chicago restaurateur. Of working with Trotter, who’s untimely death in November 2013 rocked the culinary world, Havlis said: “His tireless drive and demand for excellence in every aspect of the restaurant and his constant pursuit of the finest products obtainable were very inspirational for all the cooks who worked under him.”
Havlis shares Trotter’s drive to deliver a memorable dining experience to his guests. Havlis said he tries to put himself in the guest’s seat as he and his team pursue great food and service. “I like to see myself as the guest,” he said. “I ask, ‘Would I eat this?’”
Focus on Food, Wine
Everything is made from scratch. As an example, he said he and his team use beef bones to make their stocks. “It’s a lot of work, but you can taste the difference,” Havlis said.
The chef and his team personally inspect each of the corn-fed Black Angus steaks before they come into the restaurant. Aged a minimum of 21 days, they are the top 1 percent of choice and prime meats.
His passion for great ingredients also spans everything from the fish he serves to the wine list. The walleye on the menu comes from Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin while the salmon is from New Zealand.
The most popular dishes are the 8-ounce filet mignon, walleye, calamari, New Zealand salmon and the cast iron skillet of warm spinach and artichoke dip, according to Martha Militello, manager of the Hunt Club.
Drink to That
Wine Spectator magazine has taken notice of Hunt Club’s ambitious wine selection by bestowing its Best of Award of Excellence to its list of more than 400 selections from notable wine regions spanning the globe.
“All of our wines are carefully chosen by taste, structure and price to match with our menu offerings,” Militello said.
The steakhouse’s expertise with wine and food pairings comes together in its wine dinners that include a five-course meal paired with the best wines selected from the vineyard of the night.
Havlis said the restaurant has also branched out to beer dinners that include choices from the local craft brewer Geneva Lake Brewing Co.
Touch of Comfort
As a fine dining restaurant with such high standards, a striking juxtaposition is that the serving staff dons jeans. Militello said that is part of the feeling of comfort the restaurant wants diners to experience.
“Even though servers are wearing denim, they care deeply about what they are doing,” she said.
Militello added that she wants her guests to be “blown away by the atmosphere of this old house, the quality of the food and the high level of service.”
Some might claim something paranormal is on the menu at Hunt Club. In the 1930s, Crane Farms found another use as employees suffering from tuberculosis were sent to Crane Farms Sanatorium (Hunt Club Lodge) to recuperate. “Unfortunately, not all of the patients recovered and stories of unusual circumstances have been reported and experienced [at the restaurant],” Martha Militello explained.