Witnessing an origin story at The Harvey House
The Harvey House was Madison’s most anticipated restaurant in recent years and opened in summer 2021 to fanfare that matched the anticipation.
It was Madison’s most anticipated restaurant in recent years. The Harvey House opened in summer 2021 to fanfare that matched the anticipation for the supper club-inspired restaurant, which was built in a historic train depot on West Washington Avenue. Owners Joe Papach and Shaina Robbins Papach previously worked at The French Laundry (Papach was sous-chef at the Thomas Keller three-Michelin-starred restaurant) and Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Restaurant (Robbins Papach was a cook).
The couple set out to build a restaurant that would grow up alongside their young kids, and they decided Madison, Robbins Papach’s hometown, was a good place for that.
The Harvey House embodies the elegance of supper clubs past while still feeling like the most modern eatery in town. Its food, service, atmosphere and hospitality create an experience.
In the kitchen, Papach focuses on regional flavors and continental classics, driven by French technique. Yes, there’s a relish tray, but it’s not a standard rendition. They will always rotate seasonal crudités and other snacks on the shareable board. The menu has all the elements of what you’d see on a supper club menu, but with a top chef’s touch.
Yet Robbins Papach says they’re careful about the “supper club” label.
“Some people when they come here, they’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t a supper club.’ It absolutely isn’t,” Robbins Papach says. “There are some elements that we love from supper clubs that we are trying to honor, but I wouldn’t call us a supper club.”
She says they have been turning the question around on guests, asking, “What does a supper club mean to you?” And it’s a different answer every time, she says. For some it’s price point. For others it’s certain dishes that taste like the ones from their memories. For others it’s an aesthetics thing. Some say a supper club isn’t a supper club until it has a few decades under its belt.
“Most supper clubs have been around for so long,” Robbins Papach says. “So part of the appeal is the peeling wallpaper and the authenticity of what it is. There’s something that can’t really totally be explained when you go into a space that’s been around for 100 years, 50 years or even 20 years. People have put so much into it over those years.”
The Harvey House, although new, feels steeped in history already. The restaurant was named after two Harveys: Robbins Papach’s grandfather, and Fred Harvey, a man who started a chain of restaurants called Harvey Houses in the 1800s along train lines before train dining cars became commonplace.
As the years go on, stories and memories will help build The Harvey House’s legacy, but right now the owners are enjoying the early days of finding its identity.
“So many people impact what it is as a restaurant,” Robbins Papach says. “That’s what we’re really excited about here.”
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