Wisconsin Saturday nights are all about prime rib
You can still get the specialty delivered to your door.
Come Saturday night, many supper clubs cook up prime rib, a weekly draw surpassed only by Friday night fish fry. Our appetite for this cut of beef is an old one, but its popularity as a Saturday night special is more modern.
For, roast beef reigned as the centerpiece of the traditional British Sunday lunch. It’s no coincidence that the Yeomen of the Guard — the bodyguards of the monarch — are affectionately called Beefeaters, or that the French once slurred the English as “rosbifs.” Once called the standing rib roast, prime rib became the choice of carnivorous connoisseurs here in the late 19th century. In the Oct. 20, 1899, edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, the Capital House featured “Roast Prime Ribs of Beef au Jus” on its Sunday menu. By the early 1960s, several area restaurants promoted it as a $3 special on Saturday or Sunday nights.
Prime rib got its name from the primal rib section of the steer, not from its USDA grading. The majority of the prime rib roasts sold locally are graded USDA choice, but the more marbled, more expensive USDA prime cuts are possible to find. Dry-aged meat — air-dried on the bone for up to six weeks at an ideal temperature of 36 degrees — is better yet, since it’s more tender and flavorful.
In the U.K. and Ireland, many prefer thinly sliced roast beef matched with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and gravy. The convention here is to serve a single slab of meat, often “au jus” — with its own juices. Portion size typically varies from 8 to 16 ounces or even larger. Ward’s House of Prime in Milwaukee is notorious for its outlandish helpings of its signature prime rib, including one that tops out at more than 22 pounds.
The Laurel Tavern, a neighborhood rendezvous on the near west side, is esteemed for its Friday night fish fry and Saturday night prime rib. Slow roasted beef comes with horseradish sauce and a choice of salad, coleslaw or soup, and potato. If you can’t wait until Saturday night, Brother’s Three Bar and Grill, an east side watering hole located in a former filling station, offers 12-ounce and 16-ounce prime rib dinners on Thursday and Saturday nights as well as a sandwich every day during lunch. It also has prime rib with eggs and hash browns during weekend brunch. At Maple Tree in McFarland, prime rib is available Thursday through Sunday and comes in four serving sizes, ranging from 12 to 24 ounces. Best of all in the current state of things, these restaurants provide carryout service.
For me, part of prime rib’s attraction is that it’s an indulgence. It’s something I savor on a special occasion, whether it be Christmas, my annual summer trek to Ishnala or a Saturday night out … or in.
Dan Curd has written for Madison Magazine for more than 20 years.