GREENDALE — From church festivals to supper clubs and fish fries, Ron Faiola has explored much of Wisconsin’s fine dining scene. Raised in Greendale, Faiola discovered an interest in food from St. Alphonsus’ Friday night fish fries.
“My family and I would always go to the church’s cafeteria for fish fries,” said Faiola. “I was an altar boy, for most of grade school, so church was always a part of my life when I was growing up.”
This past May, Faiola published his second book, “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round.” In 2013, he released a book on 50 supper clubs, “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience.”
“After my first book was released, owners would ask me why I didn’t include their restaurant,” said Faiola. “So I felt the need to write a sequel.”
Faiola’s first book was ranked number one for Midwest travel books on Amazon.com and he hopes his new volume will have the same success.
Before he became an author, Faiola directed several documentaries on the local Wisconsin experience, including, “Fish Fry Night Milwaukee” (2009), “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience” (2011), and “Tilt-a-Whirls, Cowbells and Beer” (2015).
His most recent film covered festivals at several local parishes: Divine Mercy, South Milwaukee; St. Matthias, St. Roman, and the 55th and final festival at St. Veronica, all in Milwaukee. The film also detailed the decline in church festivals because of insurance costs, poor weather and the decrease in volunteers.
Faiola’s films were critically reviewed in the Chicago Tribune, which caught the attention of Agate Publishing.
“Ron’s books capture the small town feel,” said Jacqueline Jarik of Agate Publishing. “Supper clubs embody Wisconsin because the supper club phenomenon started in Wisconsin.”
Faiola’s documentaries and books have developed a following outside the Badger State.“I see my books as a roadmap for tourists; people will go to the various restaurants and take selfies to share with their friends when they return home,” said Faiola.
One of this year’s themes for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism is visiting Wisconsin supper clubs.
Chico Pope, chairman of the board for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and owner of Buckhorn Supper Club in Milton, called Faiola “a real promoter of the supper club business (who) keeps the momentum going.”
When Pope and Faiola met several years ago, they both felt supper clubs were dying and that people’s vision of them needed to be revitalized. While the author was researching fish fries for his first film, he got the idea to make a second film on supper clubs.
To capture all that a supper club has to offer, Faiola and his friends would order various items and then take pictures of the meals.
“I can’t eat all the food by myself,” said Faiola. “It’s nice to go out with four or five buddies to hear what they have to say about their experience.”
Sometimes Faiola will ask strangers at surrounding tables if he can take photos of their entrée.
“Supper clubs are about making new friends and being a community,” he said, noting the nostalgic supper clubs lend themselves to a more formal dress code rather than casual dining spots.
“What I like most about him is his research,” said Heidi Schmidt who, along with her husband Jimmy Jackson, owns Jackson Grill in Milwaukee. “He is always looking for a comfortable place with good cooking and is appealing to children.”
Besides writing about the food at the various supper clubs, Faiola likes to include its history or an interesting anecdote.
“I really like to know if the place is haunted,” he said. “I’ve never seen a ghost before, but I want to believe. Although I would probably be the cowardly lion.”
Faiola is considering projects outside of Wisconsin and sees Pennsylvania as his second home. He thinks it can be an interesting topic to write on the difference between certain foods in other states, noting the vast variation of potato chips and pretzels. Also, supper clubs in New England cater more to seafood as opposed to steak in the Midwest.
“I don’t have a favorite meal; it depends what I’m looking for or what I haven’t had before,” said Faiola, whose favoritie supper club growing up was the former Rafters in Oak Creek. “One time I had a deep fried turtle; it tasted like dark meat turkey.”
When Faiola is not focusing on food, his passion is music. While he was a film student at UW-Milwaukee in the early 1980s, he produced music videos for local bands. His favorite band is Cheap Trick who he got to visit backstage in Japan. He is a close friend with the band’s drummer, Bun E. Carlos, featured in the original supper club film.