When private supper clubs swept the Southeast in the first part of the twentieth century, the phenomenon was spurred by a lack of restaurants (or at least ones at which customers could openly and legally drink liquor.) Now, even with restaurants opening across the region at record pace, supper clubs are back.
This time around, patrons aren’t necessarily looking for chef-blessed food or stiff drinks, both of which they can easily find elsewhere. Instead, they’re seeking the kind of face-to-face camaraderie that hasn’t fared well in the Internet age. “You meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” says Darlene Moore, co-founder of Asheville, North Carolina-based The Blind Pig Supper Club, which began hosting gatherings as fundraisers for local charities in 2011. “Great friendships start here.”
In many cases, supper-club diners surrender the predictability of set menus, comfort of restaurant seating, and freedom of choosing one’s own dinner partners for the community spirit that comes with a meal of foraged herbs and local pork bellies, served at a shared table alongside, say, a railroad track. As for the meals themselves, they diverge wildly based on what’s lately excited the hosts or guest chefs: Diners might meet on a mountaintop for bacon fat sweetbreads, or crowd into a basement for oysters spritzed with kombucha, supplied in the exact quantity for the ticketed crowd.
“Not having waste allows me to use exactly the product I want,” says Melissa Martin of New Orleans’ Mosquito Supper Club of another aspect of the format—culinary freedom. “Chefs curate their menu with Mississippi flavors, but bring their own flair,” says Stewart Robinson, of Mississippi’s Delta Supper Club. “Michelle Bernstein did Miami Cuban in the Delta. Same thing with Edward Lee doing collards and kimchi.”
Although idiosyncrasy is a guiding principle, there are a few commonalities among many of the thriving collectives. Club organizers typically don’t announce an event venue in advance: Perhaps a Facebook post reveals a theme, or subscribers receive an e-mail naming participating chefs. Then the race is on to secure seats.
Here’s where and when to get involved:
The Blind Pig:
Founded by Chef Mike Moore and his wife, Darlene, this Asheville-based club has organized more than 150 events, benefitting dozens of charities, and expanded to cities across the Tar Heel state. Next up: An ocean-themed tasting menu in Raleigh on July 29. theblindpigsupperclub.com
Delta Supper Club:
Stewart Robinson, Kimme Hargrove, and chef David Crews started what they call a membership-based “social culinary circle” in 2015 to highlight Mississippi Delta culture. Coming off an event last week with Oxford chef Vishwesh Bhatt, they’ll fire up another round of suppers in September. deltasupperclub.com
The Scenic City Supper Club:
Erik and Amanda Neil, owners of Chattanooga’s Easy Bistro & Bar, joined with local news site Nooga.com two years ago to launch a club that celebrates local ingredients. The group will convene for its next quarterly gathering on Aug. 20 with a meal hosted by chef David Bancroft of Auburn, Alabama’s Acre. facebook.com/sceniccitysupperclub
Mosquito Supper Club:
Though rooted in one place, New Orleans’ resident supper club specializes in bayou cuisine. Melissa Martin serves up dishes such as shrimp gumbo and crab cakes every Thursday and Friday from September through May. mosquitosupperclub.com