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► Smoky's... A story lurks behind each piece of restaurant's "Genuine Junk"▼ Smoky's... A story lurks behind each piece of restaurant's "Genuine Junk"
WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL: Sunday, September 5, 1982
Smoky's... A story lurks behind each piece of
restaurant's " Genuine Junk"
By Sunny Schubert Feature Writer
"It looks a bit like Sanford and Son's, doesn't it?" said
Jan Schmock with a laugh. "You can get goofy gazing at the
things behind the bar." Indeed you can. The interior of the
Schmock's restaurant, Smoky's Club, 3005 University Avenue
is almost as famous as the food. While the viands are known
for consistent quality, the ambiance is acclaimed for
But the memorabilia adorning the walls and ceiling of
Smoky's is not the contrived clutter of carefully selected
designer junk favored by places like Charley's Café and
TGIFriday's. Smoky's has genuine junk, which earns there's a
story behind every artifact.
Take a seat at the bar, and you can find yourself
face-to-face with a large stuffed muskellunge, caught by
proprietor Leonard "Smoky" Schmock. The muskie is wearing a
tie adorned with multiple tie tacks, with a squirrel tail
disappearing down its toothy gullet. The tie, made of Swiss
silk, was donated by a customer. The muskie takes his aerial
swim in a vaguely aquarium atmosphere of dried blowfish, at
least one of which lights up; a plastic lobster; a couple of
crabs; and numerous stuffed alligators of varying sizes.
Several Smokey the Bears dangle from the rafters, each a
gift from regular patrons. There's a piñata left over from
son Larry's 6th birthday; Larry's 26 now and tending bar.
On the bar, amid the bottles, is a toy slot machine, an
unopened six-pack of beer from the defunct Fauerbach
Brewery, and a tin lantern adorned with tiny mosquito
houses. A string of cowbells hangs nearby.
Atop the wooden rooflet that overhangs the bar is an old
vacuum cleaner, currently in use as a perch for a wooden
partridge. "We tried to sell the vacuum at a garage sale,
but nobody wanted it" explained Larry. "So we put it up
Diners are treated to a seeming endless eyeful of ...
things, for lack of a better word. Lots of stuff. As for the
overall effect, "eclectic" is perhaps too mild a
description; "bizarre too harsh. "Bazaar applies best.
It's like walking into a permanent garage sale, although
nothing is for sale. Certainly not the stuffed marlin over
the fireplace, which was a gift from a customer. Not the
crude crayon drawings that adorn one wall; those came from
the children who donated their placemat masterpieces.
Smoky certainly won't part with his pennant collection,
which includes most Big Ten schools and a couple of
classics, like Super Bowl I (the Green Bay Packers) and a
"Welcome Home Eric Heiden" pennant from the 1980 Winter
The three huge wasp nests are family memorabilia. "The
boys (Larry and Tom, who now cook at the family restaurant)
shot them out of trees while squirrel-hunting," says Mrs.
Schmock. The wooden beer kegs are collectors' items from the
old Rice Lake brewery, says Smoky.
The wineskins, even the one painted with "Bourbon Street
New Orleans," are souvenirs from a trip to Bogota, Colombia.
The original oil painting of six sorry imbibers came from
the Monmartre section of Paris, France.
The giant pinecones were collected on a family vacation
in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The wind chimes - one small
room contains 17 sets - came from Hong Kong and Hawaii.
The hearth is adorned with a plastic rose tree decorated
with Christmas ornaments and a plastic Halloween
jack-o-lantern, while the mantelpiece holds dozens of sports
trophies from various Smoky's-sponsored teams. The ship's
wheel came from San Francisco.
It is a perpetually changing collection. Even as Mrs.
Schmock pointed out various items, Smoky disappeared into
the basement and returned with a starter's flag from
Indianapolis 500 and a pennant from some long ago Kentucky
Derby. He knocked off the dust and nailed them up without a
Smoky's has been in business for 19 years, the last 12 in
its current location. The previous occupant was Justo's
Club, owned by the wife of former football great Art
Bramhall. After Bramhall retired from the Chicago Bears, he
moved to Madison and became the voice of the University of
Wisconsin Badgers for radio station WIBA, as Smoky will
explain if you ask him about the 1950's vintage Bramhall
poster behind the bar.
Some stuff comes down. The twinkly multicolored Christmas
lights the Schmocks used to leave up all year - for years
and years - came down a couple of months ago, along with
strands of tinsel rope and artfully draped fishnets.
"The fire department said they were a hazard," said Mrs.
Schmock, shaking her head sadly. Left alone to uphold the
year-round holiday motif is a plaque of Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer, doing his Yuletide dance next to a
string of cork fishing-net floats.
Assorted miscellaneous items also disappear at cleaning
time, she added. "It's nice putting all this stuff up, but
to take it all down and clean it and then put it back is a
major chore. We just never get it all back up.
"Believe it or not," she said, "we actually get people in
here who ask, "Who does your decorating?" As if anyone would
actually "do" this!"
► Where the Beef is... By George Hendrix▼ Where the Beef is... By George Hendrix
MIDWEST LIVING: August, 1988
Where the Beef is... By George Hendrix
Our super sirloin sleuth reveals the lucks winners of the
Great Midwest Living Steak House Hunt...
When I call home down in Kansas, Mom usually asks what
interesting, new project I'm up to at the magazine these
days. "Oh, I'm off on another road trip," I said a few weeks
back, innocently adding that "I have to eat at some more
"Have to?" she mocked. "Have to? Why, you poor, poor
Sorry, Mom this is work. You don't think leading the
Midwest Living Steakhouse Hunt is all butter-knife-tender
prime cuts and crispy onion rings, do you? Why, one time I
had to wait 45 minutes for a table, and twice my appetizer
was pickled beets!
In the last nine months, I've criss-crossed the Heartland
from the wheat belt to the Ohio River and back,
painstakingly scrutinizing the top steak house in each of
the dozen Midwest states. To pick the top spots, we tallied
your votes, readers, in response to the "Midwest Steak House
Hunt" contest announced in our October, 1987 issue.
My modus operandi never varied: I'd slip into a crowded
dining room, soak up the ambience, and casually order a huge
hunk of meat. Then, when the waitress wasn't looking, I'd
scribble terse notes to myself like, "Dynamite cottage
fries!" or "No desserts?"
This is what I learned: You readers really know how to
pick steak houses. And the best Midwest steak house of all -
the restaurant with the most sumptuous combination of
sizzlin' beef, down-home fixin's, and "can I get ya another
cup, hon" charm - is in a squat little concrete-block
building on the south shoulder of busy University Street
south shoulder of busy University Street in Madison,
Wisconsin: Smoky's Club.
► A WINNING FORMULA▼ A WINNING FORMULA
A WINNING FORMULA
As reader JoAnn Six of Middleton, Wisconsin, lovingly
reflected in casting her vote for Smoky's: "It's small, it's
overcrowded, and overdecorated... it's unique." And the food
is great, too!
For 35 years, Leonard "Smoky" Schmock and his wife Janet
(now assisted by sons Larry, Tom and sometimes daughter
Barbara) have wowed steak lovers with gorgeous, deeply
seared filets as thick as two big fists stacked atop one
another. The family's tender, wedgy T-bones ooze with juice
flavored by a delicate marbling of fat. And when the meat
hits Smoky's metal platters, heated for hours in a
500-degree oven, it unleashes the most furious,
aroma-rousing tempest of sizzle I encountered anywhere on my
► A MARVELOUS MESS OF MEMENTOS▼ A MARVELOUS MESS OF MEMENTOS
A MARVELOUS MESS OF MEMENTOS
As for the celebrated décor at 3005 University Street,
Smoky's Club looks like a crew of tipsy elves went on a
rampage after raiding a curiosity shop. A stuffed 38 pound
muskie that Smoky caught in the Chippewa River lunges from
the wall next to an airplane made of Old Style beer cans and
suspended from an overhang above the bar. In the shadows
topping the overhang, a Korean War-vintage Hoover carpet
sweeper beckons with its handle toward a stuffed baby
alligator in a birdcage.
Just bout every memento collected by Smoky, his family,
friends, and loyal customers - dating back to when Harry
Truman was President - hangs on the walls or dangles from
Smoky chats with anyone and everyone who stops by. The
farm kid from Bloomer, Wisconsin - he came to Madison during
the Depression to play football at the university - allows
that "I guess we're a pretty friendly place."
Heartily agreeing, reader Karen Buelow of Greenfield,
Wisconsin writes: "I've rubbed elbows with the governor,
senators, doctors, factory workers, and farmers - all in the
► THE SECRET: QUALITY COUNTS▼ THE SECRET: QUALITY COUNTS
THE SECRET: QUALITY COUNTS
Smoky's steaks and the ambience bowled me over, but it
was the buttery, lightly crusted hash browns that convinced
me I'd found "the" winner. Smoky attributes the flavor to
boiling the potatoes with their skins on. The spuds are
cooled, peeled, and chopped, then friend in cast-iron
skillets as they're ordered. A bevy of made-in-the-house
breads, soups, and appetizers (including pickled beets)
tempt the tastebuds.
Regulars tell me the food is consistently superior. No
mystery about that Smoky says. After all, he and Janet have
been perfecting the same menu since 1953. The real secret of
the restaurant's food and success, Smoky confides, is
simple: "We insist of quality."
► ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS▼ ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS
ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS
I found the same religious attention to quality at every
stop on my hunt. In fact, quality was the only constant. I'm
convinced there's no such thing as a "typical" steak house.
In Topeka, Kansas, a yellowing 8x10 inch card tacked to a
wall served as the only menu at the austere North Star Inn.
At bright, noisy Gracie's in New Lothrop, Michigan the menu
"for lighter eaters" suggested half a fried chicken.
What a job this assignment was! I ate 12 great steaks and
enjoyed a dozen memorable evenings. Then, I agonized: "Are
the onion rings really better at The Lark in Tiffin, Iowa,
than at The Pine Club in Dayton, Ohio?" Talk about a
pressure-packed assignment. Even now, thinking about it puts
a hard little knot in the pit of my stomach. Maybe I just
need to loosen my belt another notch.
► Smoky's sells more than sizzle with thick steaks▼ Smoky's sells more than sizzle with thick steaks
THE BUSINESS JOURNAL: Week of October 29, 1984
Smoky's sells more than sizzle with thick steaks
By Michael Muckian
Said a commanding female voice in no uncertain terms:
"You're going to have to move, please! I've got hot plates
here." She certainly did, an entire tray full of them, in
fact. They all sizzled with thick, stubby steaks ready for
serving. One false move and it would be third-degree burn
time for anyone unlucky enough to be seated nearby.
You could tell just by looking at the waitress, however,
that we really weren't in any danger of that. She moved with
a grace, security and surety that said she'd been through
this maze many times before. And, at Smoky's Club, 3005
University Avenue, Madison, WI there is always a maze of
standers, sitters, diners and drinkers after any home
Wisconsin Badger football game.
That's because, as one Madison cab driver told me
recently; Smoky's really does serve "some of the best
steaks" in town. And for those football fans still involved
in the spirit of the game, wallowing tin the continuation of
the Cap Randall-originated congestion gives them the
opportunity to party, as well at eat hearty.
Smoky's caters primarily to an older crowd and signs
advising that "Profane and abusive language will not be
tolerated" decorate many of the walls.
It's a good place to eat if you have the time and energy.
Fortunately, we did, and I have no trouble dodging the
tray-wielding waitress, and then another going the other
way. It was standing room only at the bar and, given the
long line of people snaking out toward the back door, we
were lucky to have managed a position up front.
The wait can get long on a football Saturday, sometimes
as long as 90 minutes if diners decide to linger longer to
savor a sweet victory. Our predicted time was one hour, but
fate smiled on us, I guess, and we were seated after only 25
minutes. Smoky's doesn't take reservations on a football
Saturday, so I considered our abbreviated time fortunate.
Since steak is Smoky's specialty, it dominates the menu.
There are also the other standbys of American cuisine:
chicken, lobster, shrimp and walleye pike. The servings are
generous and the preparations straightforward. At $6.50 to
$12 per entrée with everything included, Smoky's represents
an excellent value.
We decided this time to test the chef's mettle by
ordering what he does best. Yet, even among the steaks there
were six offerings from which to choose.
Smoky's offers three different cuts in two sizes each.
The fillets, our waitress explained, were the most tender.
The sirloins were more flavorful, but leaned toward the
chewy side. The T-bones offered a little of both, with some
of each type on either side of the bone.
We also had to choose between a 16 ounce or a 20 ounce
cut, with a price difference of only 50 cents to $1 between
the two. They don't fool around at Smoky's and neither did
we. Two 20 ounce filets, please.
Our service was prompt (without being pushy), courteous
and even a little concerned. We considered that alone to be
major achievement in light of the hoards of people milling
First to arrive was a generous basket of rolls and
quart-sized aluminum pot filled with raw vegetables.
Carrots, celery sticks, scallions and radishes served as an
adequate appetizer. We also ate what amounted to some good
sized but fairly ordinary restaurant rolls.
We were served cottage cheese with an unusual combination
of caraway, black pepper and chives mixed in. The spices
enhanced the dish in a unique and definitely enjoyable way.
The coup du jour, cabbage au gratin, came next. It's one
of 10 homemade soups the restaurant offers; though not all
are available at the same time. The cheese is joined with
the soup, making a thick broth stocked with chunks of the
vegetable. It goes a long way in removing the autumn chill.
In spite of the relative rapidity of service, we did have
the chance to examine the décor, which is best described as
"Early Garage Sale." Some of the most absurd things litter
the restaurant, including pieces of department store
mannequins, ancient sports pennants and bumper stickers, one
of which says, "When lutefisk is outlawed, only outlaws will
have lutefisk." Who can argue with that?
Smoky (yes, there really is one - he tends bar) must be
one of those kind of guys that never likes to throw anything
away, and his restaurant represents 30 years of such
accumulation. I'd be afraid to look in his basement.
But I wasn't afraid to dive right into the steak when it
arrived. At 20 ounces, I expected a broad, flat plain the
size of a desktop blotter. What I got was a short, stout cut
nearly two inches thick. A cinch I thought, eyeing the meat
and the huge pile of what turned out to be the world's best
homemade hash browns.
Think again, my stomach grumbled, after I had consumed
only half of the rich, juicy steak. Delicious? Yes. A cinch?
Not in a million years. Doggy bag, please.
► Steaking A Claim... Bloomer native's restaurant tops▼ Steaking A Claim... Bloomer native's restaurant tops
WEST CENTRAL WISCONSIN NEWSPAPER: June 18, 1988
Steaking A Claim... Bloomer native's restaurant tops
By Rod Stetzer
Bloomer native Leonard "Smoky" Schmock is suddenly as hot
as one of his famed sizzling steak platters.
Schmock's Madison restaurant, Smoky's Club, 3005
University Avenue, was selected in the August edition of
"Midwest Living" magazine as being the best steak house in
Then on June 8, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson issued
a "Certificate of Commendation," honoring the work of
Schmock and his family at the restaurant.
"It seems like a long time and yet, it doesn't seem that
long ago when we were pounding around on the farm up there
in Bloomer," Schmock said in a telephone interview this
"Already here it is ... 51 years ago. Time marches on.
But, it's still been good."
The 72 year-old Schmock was born on his family's farm
located about five miles north of Bloomer, between Bloomer
and New Auburn. Schmock's grandfather, father and then his
two brothers Edgar and Donald of Bloomer, ran the farm
throughout the years.
Edgar and Donald of Bloomer, ran the farm throughout the
years. His brothers sold the farm about three years ago and
he still vacations in the area.
Schmock attended the one-room Pleasant Valley school
before going to Bloomer High School. While there, he played
tackle and end for the high school football team.
But World War II intervened, and Schmock signed up for a
flight training course at the university. From there he
entered the Navy Air Corps, where he was a flight instructor
for two years. He flew float planes, which were used in
recognizance. The planes were catapulted off of flight
decks, and pilots had to land in the water where the
aircraft were picked up and placed back onto the flight
"That's great entertainment, especially at night,"
After the war, Schmock headed back to Bloomer where he
tried a stint as a cropduster. He was watching another pilot
to see where to dust between Colfax and Elk Mound when a
tree got in the way.
"There I was about 50 feet in he air, hanging there. I
climbed down the tree and went back to West Bend and got
another (plane) and finished out the job.
Schmock returned to Madison, working weekdays as a
salesman and weekends at restaurants. Finally, he got a
chance to buy a restaurant for $5,000.
Ever since 1953 Schmock and his wife, Janet, have been
working with more or less the same menu, offering chicken,
lobster, shrimp and three types of steak. The latter is
served on platters heated in 500 degree ovens.
Having a friendly, capable staff brings success he said
"People do like to talk to you and find out what the hell
is going on. You know you get a backlog of customers and
they come in and ask you about other customers. So you're
kind of a little bit of an information bureau as well."
But it goes beyond chatting with customers. The one-time
kid from Bloomer has a simple formula for success...
"Keep it consistent and don't hedge on quality... You
might save money for a short time by cutting quality, but as
quick as you do, you will lose it in the long run."
► RELAXED SMOKY'S FEATURES CLASSIC STEAKHOUSE FARE▼ RELAXED SMOKY'S FEATURES CLASSIC STEAKHOUSE FARE
If Americans are eating less red meat, you'd never know
it by the crowd at Smoky's Club, which opened in 1953 and
has had a loyal following ever since.
Smoky's reputation has gone well beyond the Madison area:
the restaurant was ranked in Midwest Magazine as the best
steakhouse in the Midwest, won top honors this year from the
Knife and Fork Club of America and is listed in Northwest
Airlines magazine as a good place to eat.
The service moves along with military precision, which
may be tied in some way to the owners' fondness for World
War II aircraft, pictures which share wall space with
illustrated religious slogans. The other dining rooms are
more like a dormitory room, with inflatable sea creatures,
Mexican souvenir hats and other oddities hung from the
Leonard Schmock, who owns the restaurant with wife Janet
and their three children, explained that many of the
artifacts were collected when he was in the Navy and on
annual treks to the Super Bowl. Some of the arresting
memorabilia are gifts from customers.
"A guy brought me a bee hive the other day, and I get
furniture, you name it,'' he said. The net effect is homey,
friendly and conducive to a relaxed dinner.
When we called for reservations, we were told that they
are not accepted on Friday and Saturday evenings. But
Schmock said reservations are sometimes accepted on those
But when I appeared with two children in tow and no
reservations on a Saturday night, we were immediately
spirited off to a corner table in the back room where there
were no smokers, even though there are no sections where
smoking is strictly forbidden. That thoughtful gesture was
much appreciated, and it made us feel welcome and
comfortable even though they were the only children in the
place that evening.
The menu consists of simple, classic steakhouse fare, but
even the little things were done with panache: the side
order of cottage cheese, $1, had the appealing touch of
caraway seed and scallion, and the pickled beets, $1, were
refreshing without being too sour. We also enjoyed the soup
of the day, which was black bean, and the simple dinner
salads with a piquant Roquefort dressing.
My small filet mignon, $13, was, at nine ounces, just the
right size, impressively flavorful and reasonably tender.
The New York strip, $16, at 14 ounces was too much even
for a companion who had fasted all day in anticipation of
dinner at Smoky's. That steak had an even more memorable
flavor. The children split a ground sirloin patty, $5, and
even that was plenty. There is no tenderizer used and the
meat is not marinated. Every piece of meat was perfectly
seared over a gas grill and remained very juicy inside. The
meat is raised and aged in the Midwest and never frozen
before it is cooked.
As good as the meat was, the humble hashed brown potatoes
nearly stole the show. They were huge, puffy and crisp on
the outside, without being greasy in the slightest. If
you're not there for a full dinner, you can still savor this
special side dish for $1.50.
BEST STEAKS...▼ BEST STEAKS...
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL: October 10, 1993
By Dennis Grotte, Wisconsin Magazine
At Smoky's Club, 3005 University Avenue, Madison WI...
Walk into this popular Madison club, look up and you
might think someone bought out the entire contents of five
rummage sales and stuck it on the ceiling. Everything from
plastic pumpkins to battered tubas dangles above the heads
Don't look up for long because the real action at Smoky's
Club is on the steak platters, specifically in a large filet
mignon ($16 for 10 to 11 ounces, $14 for the 8 to 9 ounce
steak) and a New York strip sirloin steak ($17.).
It came as a big surprise to me that Smoky's supreme
steaks aren't charcoal-broiled. They're grilled at 500
degrees in a large commercial oven. That temperature
produces a steak with a deep brown glistening crust; a
tender, moist interior, and magnificent flavor.
The club's name comes from it's owner, Leonard (Smoky)
Schmock, who opened it in 1952 with his wife, Janet. Smoky,
now in his late 70's, still supervises the restaurant and
Janet still works as hostess a few nights a week. But the
couple now share club ownership with their two sons, Tom and
Tom Schmock personally inspects each steak that Smoky's
purchases. The meat is aged to produce a drier, more
flavorful steak that grills perfectly. Salt and pepper are
the only seasonings used.
And just in case someone in your party doesn't eat red
meat, Smoky's fried chicken and shrimp are also quite good.
► SMOKY'S DESERVES HIGH MARKS FOR STEAKS▼ SMOKY'S DESERVES HIGH MARKS FOR STEAKS
At Smoky's Club, the steaks are so good that customers
come right out of the sky. Three airlines list Smoky's in
their in-flight magazines as one of the 10 best steak houses
in the country, and some fliers phone for reservations as
soon as they land.
To match the reputation against reality, I visited
Smoky's and selected the biggest steak on the menu - a
It was worth a trip by auto, plane or any other
conveyance. The flavor was remarkably strong, and the beef
juicy and tender.
At $18, the T-bone dinner included soup, salad and a
choice of fries or hash browns.
I chose the fries, which were crisp along the edges, firm
inside, and delicious.
Other dinner choices for steak lovers are New York strip
sirloin, $17; filet mignon, $16; and ribeye and sirloin,
$15. The small filet and the small sirloin dinners are $14.
Wonderful steaks are not the only things that Smoky's has
going for it either.
Creative side dishes and riotous decorations add flavor.
In fact, it was beets as much as beef that made dinner at
Smoky's a unique experience. Pickled according to an
original recipe of Janet Schmock, who has operated Smoky's
with her husband Leonard for 40 years, they were a perfect
blend of sweetness and vinegar.
Equally tasty was another of Janet's creations, cottage
cheese with scallions, celery and caraway seeds. Both dishes
Another unexpected treat was the relish, a vase full of
ice topped with radishes, carrots and celery. Munching on
these fresh delights made waiting for the main course a
So did the decor. Decorations hung from ceilings and
walls, set off with colored lights and tinsel. It was like a
TGIFridays, but better. A chain restaurant is impersonal, no
matter how cute the junk is. Smoky's clutter carries human
Indeed, while the steaks may attract Madison's big
spenders and gourmet tourists, the decor, the prices and the
service are designed to make families of modest means feel
"We get kids," Leonard Schmock says, "lots of them. There
is something for them to look at.'' The buzz of conversation
is so strong that normal child noise does not matter at all.
There is plenty for them to eat, too. The ground sirloin
sandwich with fries, at $5, is ample for two young children.
They can also pick from such side dishes as onion rings and
breaded cheese curds ($3.50 each) or soup ($2).
Some grown-ups, too, find the steak dinners a little too
"I can't eat the big steaks anymore," confesses Leonard
Schmock. "Desk people in general don't eat as heavily." My
partner chose the open faced tenderloin steak for $7.50. It
was just the size she wanted, and she found it tasty and
very tender. She chose hash browns, and I ended up wishing
that I had. Smooth as butter, they were even better than the
Diners who wish to steer away from steaks can order jumbo
shrimp for $13, Canadian walleye pike for $11.50, broiled
African lobster tail at market, or a four-piece chicken
dinner for $9. Lighter choices include a $7.50 chicken
tenderloin dinner and a $7 deep-fried chicken basket.
I enjoyed a Smoky's on tap, which was really the locally
brewed Garten Brau amber. My partner had a glass of wine.
For dessert, we shared raspberry sherbet, bringing the bill
to $39.30 with tax.
The only problem at Smoky's is parking. Navigating the
rear lot when customers have double parked is a test of
skill and patience. At peak times, such as the end of a
Badger home football game, gridlock reigns not only in the
lot, but on Schmitt Place.
► SMOKY'S OWNERS HAVE THRIVED FOR 40 YEARS▼ SMOKY'S OWNERS HAVE THRIVED FOR 40 YEARS
SMOKY'S OWNERS HAVE THRIVED FOR 40 YEARS A-ONE
STEAKHOUSE HAS SERVED NOTABLES
It seems only fitting that Len and Janet Schmock, owners
of Smoky's Club, a Madison institution that annually makes
the Top 10 U.S. steakhouse list compiled by the Fork and
Knife Club, met while both were working in a restaurant.
Just home from the war, Len was looking for something to do
as a livelihood. From the time she was in high school, Janet
had worked as a waitress. They owned and operated Hogan's
Club from 1953 until '69, when the widening of University
Avenue shut them down. Luckily, Justo's, in business down
the street since 1936, was available, so the Schmocks bought
it and renamed it Smoky's Club.
Today, Smoky's has a dining capacity of 170 people and
employs 70 mostly part-time employees. On a weekend night,
the restaurant will serve 500-plus steaks. The restaurant is
now managed by sons Tom and Larry. Smoky's is also where the
Schmocks' daughter, Barbara, a nurse, bakes chocolate chip
cookies sold through area snack bars and stores as `Barbie's
Batch Made From Scratch.'
WSJ: You seat 170 people, though it's not uncommon, is
it, for people to wait up to an hour and a half for a table
on a Friday or Saturday night?
Janet: We never know. People will call and ask, `how long
will the wait be?' Monday night could be like a football
night. It all depends on what's happening at the university
and what's going on in town. We're fortunate that we're just
a few blocks from campus, within cab range, and then, of
course, we have faithful customers who are here a lot. But
we do get a lot of people coming from the university.
WSJ: Has the Badgers' football success increased your
business even more?
Janet: I can't say that. There is a lot of excitement in
town. One thing I can say is, when there is a game, we open
at 4 (instead of 4:30) and it starts to fill up even then...
We're busier earlier because there are a lot of people in
WSJ: You've been in the restaurant business for more than
40 years. What makes a place like this so successful for so
Len: Paying attention; by staying and being here. You
can't run your business from the dog track or Las Vegas or
Janet: We have wonderful help, but of course, we were the
When we first started out and had three children, I did
all the cooking.
We lived upstairs (from Hogan's Club) and sometimes I'd
be walking a child with one hand and cooking with the other.
That was 40 years ago. It's different now.
Len: I think the trouble in this industry is that people
start out with a bang and then get tired of the grind. Some
will start out with all kinds of ideas and enthusiasm but it
wears off. That's where they start getting into trouble.
WSJ: How did you two maintain your enthusiasm over all these
Janet: We knew we had to do it; we were determined. It
had to go and we worked hard.
Len: I say it's like a wheelbarrow. If you get on the
back end and push, it goes. If you set it down, it won't go
WSJ: Though your sons are now operating the business, do
you still come to the restaurant every day?
Janet: I no longer hostess every night but Len is here
every single day from 7 o'clock until 5. He sits right here
and does all the book work. But he doesn't work nights
Len: You see, we get endless calls of all description
from everywhere in the country, even as far as London. Are
you there? We're coming in. We've never been here before.
And if you're not here to answer all of that, what do they
WSJ: Are you referring to your reputation as one of the
country's top steak-houses? Janet: They do read a lot about
us in airline magazines...
Len: And the university draws an awful lot of people
through conventions and symposiums. If you've been here for
40 years, they'll test you out...
I don't know how the Top 10 (list) from the Fork and
Knife Club (based in Dallas, Texas) started out or how we
got on it, to tell you the truth. They say they were here
anonymously two or three times and I wasn't here. Maybe,
they just didn't ask.
We've gotten a lot of mileage out of that. But our first
explosion was from Midwest Living magazine, which chose us
as the No. 1 steakhouse in the Midwest, out of 360
restaurants in 12 states.
Janet: They were here one whole day filming.
WSJ: What steak do people order the most?
Janet: In number, tenderloin. Our waitresses are not
allowed to say one steak is better than another because
they're all the best we can buy. What we do is have them
describe each steak.
Len: When they ask me, I'll say, `What do you like?' And
when they answer, I'll say, `Well then, that's the best.'
WSJ: And your personal favorites?
Janet: I like a sirloin, a strip or a rib-eye.
Len: I like T-bones.
WSJ: So what do you do with your evenings now?
Janet: He's happy to go home after all these years...
Len: Watch the boob tube. I put football on. Like last
night, there was a great game until 11 o'clock.
Janet: We're getting caught up on some things we couldn't
before; we were here every night. Were we ever thrilled when
we could dash across the street and go to the Cuba Club for
lunch on a Sunday. Now we can do a few things.
WSJ: I know Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight eats
here whenever his team is in town. Who else is sure to stop
by for dinner?
Len: We have the Purdue coach and his basketball team
meet here every year, the night before the game. The
(Minnesota) Gophers do. Texas Tech asked us to fax a menu.
We had ABC Sports here this fall. We've had CBS and we've
had Max McGee and Paul Hornung and those type of people. And
we've had the referees for the football games coming in on
WSJ: And the UW football team?
Len: Barry (Alvarez) and his crew come in. They'll call
us and say, `I hope you can take care of us. At 6 o'clock
we'd like to bring in a half dozen recruits.' Janet: They
like a great big steak.
Len: And they like a little atmosphere. Lord only knows
they get enough of McDonald's and Burger King...
WSJ: Who's the most unusual person you've served?
Len: (TV and radio personality) Gene Rayburn, way back
Janet: Frank Lloyd Wright, years ago.
WSJ: If you hadn't gone into the restaurant business,
what career would you have chosen?
Janet: I don't know what I'd be doing. I was a waitress
and I loved it.
Len: I could have flown with the airlines, but I was sick
of flying. I had had enough of that. Get up in the middle of
the night and buck the weather. This is like getting ready
for a party every day because you're going to have different
people every day.
Janet: You're working the party, but it's fun; it really
► You have to be a horse to do it!▼ You have to be a horse to do it!
MADISON AREA GUIDE: February, 1996
By Veronica Deane
You have to be a horse to do it!
You have to be a horse it do it. How better could two
former farm kids, Leonard and Janet Schmock, express the
amount of energy, hard work and commitment it has taken to
keep a restaurant name on the hungry tongues of people for
Smoky's means steaks... great steaks... not only to
Madison folks, but to people across the state and nation.
Passengers have been known to get off a plane and taxi to
Smoky's. Tourists who consider food as the best part of a
vacation, have picked Smoky's from recommended lists long
before they arrive.
Year after Year, Smoky's stood among the TOP 10 of the
National Fork and Knife Club. They went to Door County for a
meeting of the Restaurant Association one year and were
surprised to be named #1 among 360 restaurants in 12 states.
Midwest Magazine has published 2 feature articles so
complimentary that one can almost taste the food as one
reads about it. Various Madison BEST OF awards hang on the
"The Lord is so good. He doesn't let it go to our heads,"
Along with the awards, there are "Crazy Legs" Hirsch
memorabilia and pictures of a number of UW football teams.
"One customer came in here and found his father in one of
those pictures. Got him pretty excited."
Smoky's is not swirling with smoke, rather the name
Schmock is pronounced Schmoke in Leonard's hometown.
Leonard, the farm kid from Bloomer, came to the UW to
play football. Later he served his country as a pilot. But
the football spirit still exists. He has attended 29 Super
Bowl games and visiting sports teams often chose Smoky's.
Bobby Knight brings his basketball team. "He kind of
huddles over his food looking in his plate, as if he is
thinking about the upcoming game. That may surprise fans
who've watched him go ape when his team is on the floor."
Purdue teams have also found Smoky's. And the ABC-TV sports
crew, Rocky Marciano and the late Mickey Mantle.
In this day when it's almost impossible to find a really
tender steak in the meat counters, the word gets out when
good steak is served. If you have a yen for a steak you want
it Smoky-perfect. My read meat man and I satisfied that
yearning one evening by indulging in fork tender filets,
brown & beautiful on the outside, red shading into pink on
the inside. Exactly as we had ordered them. Succulent.
Served sizzling on hot, hot platters.
Other steaks offered include a New York Strip, T-bone or
Sirloin. Seafood is special too... Jumbo Shrimp, Canadian
Walleyed Pike-broiled or deep fried & Lobster Tail. A 4
piece chicken dinner is also a favorite or one of the light
Soup du jour was tomato cabbage with a delicious herb
flavoring. The meal included a crock of relishes, dinner
rolls & garlic bread. Salads were not fancy, but icy crisp &
enhanced by homemade dressings - French, Thousand Island,
Vinegar & Oil, Ranch and our favorite, French Roquefort.
Hash browns have become another Smoky's trademark. Fresh
potatoes boiled in the skins to retain flavor and nutrition.
Brown & crispy & surprise - no grease to leave a lingering
aftertaste. I could have made a meal on the cottage cheese.
And don't miss the pickled beets.
For dessert, if you can possibly think about one, there
are simple ice cream dishes or you may want to buy daughter
Barbara's Chocolate Chip cookies.
Janet was a farm kid also... from Black Earth. When it
was time for her to leave home, her talents lay in
housekeeping & cooking, so she became a live-in maid. Later,
she gained vital experience in various places as a waitress,
ending up at the old Hoffman House, where Leonard tended
bar. They both came to know many Madison residents and it
gave them the courage to buy the first restaurant to become
Smoky's for $5,000.
Some folks had misgivings about them being too young and
"We were so confident. We wanted to do the very best we
could in a cozy, friendly, environment. We struggled. It was
not easy. We lived up over the restaurant & often were
scrubbing floors downstairs at three in the morning," Janet
"The water turned to ice on those floors on winter
nights," Smoky added
"I used to do all the cooking... rolls, pies, everything.
We boiled meat bones to make our soup stock. When the
children arrived, I took them to the kitchen with me. I had
dreamed of sitting out front, greeting guests, but a friend
gave me good advice: "It isn't the person out front that
pleases, it's the food that comes from the kitchen." Janet
The Schmocks have trained all of their own cooks since
those early days. They start as dishwashers, become bus
people, salad makers, etc... until they reach pots and pans.
"They are all blends. They know about all the positions."
"We couldn't have survived without wonderful, caring
help." The Schmocks will say, mentioning Viola, who was
still working at 80. Nora, who is requested by regular
patrons, or Maggie, who was one of the original women in the
kitchen. "We have a wonderful relationship. We have even
taken care of non-English speaking parties because among us
we can speak Norwegian, German, Spanish & Italian."
They have survived the financially difficult time when
the others were folding up. They have overcome the off
again, on again media hype that red meat is bad for you. And
come through a crushing blow of losing everything when a
fire totally destroyed their home. They moved into another
home and started a tradition. Every family on their street,
their cousins and their aunts are invited for a huge
Christmas party at Smoky's every year... to sing carols, eat
wonderful food and thoroughly enjoy what the holiday is all
They love having families as customers and even the
little ones in high-chairs are fascinated by the well known
eclectic decor - some items collected during their
vacations, others from the second hand stores and much given
to them by customers. There's a large antique store sign, a
wordless parrot and a stuffed baby alligator in a bird cage.
A blowfish, a string of wooden fish and a preserved 18 lb.
Muskie caught by Smoky. A Hoover vacuum cleaner and a
strange golf cart and clubs. Pictures of clowns and one of
the late Snowball, a friend to everyone on State Street. The
wall next to us had pictures of various fighter planes.
Another held a patron's gift - a painting which he watched
an artist create on the street of Paris.
Pay attention every day. Check all the meats and other
ingredients that come into the kitchen. Pay your bills. Walk
before you run. Serve consistent quality. Make people feel
at home. These are the rules Janet & Smoky set for
themselves and the reasons for their successful 45 years.
Janet would add, "And the Lord is so good."
Granted, you may have to be a "horse" to accomplish what
Janet and Leonard have done. But it also takes faith and
courage, graciousness & selflessness. And the work ethic of
2 Wisconsin farm kids and "the Lord's hand."
► SMOKY'S STILL ONE OF THE BEST▼ SMOKY'S STILL ONE OF THE BEST
Visiting criticism on Smoky's Club is a little like doing
an artistic evaluation of Mount Rushmore. It's there, it's
an institution, and its legend precedes it. End of story.
At least that's always been our impression. Known for its
steaks and soups, Smoky's always has been a benchmark of
tradition among Madison restaurants.
It's the quintessential American steak house, the last of
a vanishing breed. Apparently, people know it and still
flock to it, even early on a Wednesday night.
Lately, we've heard some minor criticism of Smoky's, that
the cuts of beef hadn't been up to par or the preparation no
longer was what it once was.
Was this a legitimate concern or merely someone trying to
be chic? (The "Beethoven wasn't so great'' syndrome, if you
A downturn at Smoky's was not a cultural trend to be
taken lightly. We thought we'd better check it out.
We arrived early and wound our way through the dark,
cluttered restaurant to the "west wing.''
The ceiling was still hung with garage sale leftovers and
littered with those little holiday lights that seem so
festive at certain times of year and so annoying at others.
The west wing was well-lit, a little less cluttered, and
seemed to have a theme to its bric-a-brac (sports pennants
and paintings of military aircraft).
We were seated under one of the many signs warning
against the use of profane or abusive language. Perhaps our
legend preceded us.
The menu is steak, specifically New York strip sirloin
($19), large filet mignon ($18), large sirloin ($17), large
T-bone ($19), small filet ($16), small sirloin ($16) and
ground sirloin ($9).
For those not interested in steak, the menu also offers
deep-fried jumbo shrimp ($15), broiled lobster tail (market
price), Canadian walleyed pike ($12), scallops ($14) and
chicken ($9). There are also several sandwiches and lighter
fare, most of which are $7.
All dinners come with soup or tomato juice, salad, rolls,
choice of French fries or homemade hash browns, and a relish
To steak or not to steak? There really wasn't any
question, at least for one of us. I chose the small filet (8
ounces) with broccoli au gratin soup and hash browns and
ordered my salad with homemade Roquefort dressing (50 cents
Jeannie ordered the Canadian walleyed pike broiled with
the same set of side orders. A bucket of cut carrots,
celery, radishes and scallions over ice was delivered to our
table, and we noshed gratefully.
Jeannie was satisfied with water. I had a glass of
industrial strength Cabernet Sauvignon ($3). Just one glass,
We also asked the waitress to make sure the kitchen
didn't lose our order. We had an appointment to go to that
evening. Our hostess assured us the restaurant had the best
service in town. We would put that to the test.
Soup arrived first. The broccoli au gratin wasn't as
thick as we had expected, but nevertheless had a viscosity
suitable for the dish. The broccoli had been pureed to
little green specks, which made for a better blend with the
broth. We had expected a little cheesier brew, but found the
soup pleasant enough.
Salads were next, standard blends of chopped iceberg
lettuce, cucumber slices, a single cherry tomato and boxed
croutons. The Roquefort was flavorful, and we would have
enjoyed just a little more of it.
A basket of four rolls, individually wrapped saltines and
homemade garlic toast rounds fell into place here, too. All
fine, but nothing to knock your socks off.
That role, apparently, was reserved for the entrees.
Both the steak and the pike arrived on sizzling steel
platters we were warned were too hot to touch.
The fish was spread luxuriously across its plate,
occupying the entire space. My steak was a short, squat
stack of meat positioned center plate. Our hash browns for
two arrived together, a pancake-sized patty or potato on its
The pike, dusted with paprika and sauteed in butter, had
a lush, creamy texture that melted in your mouth. It was a
little on the bony side, but other than that proved a very
My steak was equally tender, very moist, with just the
right amount of flavor. Dark on the outside and pink on the
inside, it was easily among the best steaks I'd had in a
long, long time.
Based on our experience, reports of Smoky's demise appear
to have been greatly exaggerated. Feel free to visit with
And if you're in a hurry, don't worry. We were seated and
served and departed within 40 minutes. Maybe it is the best
service in town.
► MILWAUKEE JOURNAL: May, 1997▼ MILWAUKEE JOURNAL: May, 1997
MILWAUKEE JOURNAL: May, 1997
By Constance Daniell
You could call it "the house that steaks built."
Generations of students have been weaned from the hamburger
habit and turned on to steaks at the venerable Smoky's
restaurant while attending college in Madison.
It was 34 years ago that Janet and Leonard (Smoky)
Schmock opened the first Smoky's just a block down the
street from it's present location on University Ave. In
those day, of course, that was the outskirts of town.
Then, as now, the big drawing card was steaks. Oh the
menu always contained a few other choices - still does:
chicken, lobster, a fish dish. But it was the steaks - New
York strips, filet mignons, sirloins, and T-bones - that
drew raves from adoring patrons.
Smoky's has become something of a Madison institution.
Visiting alumni invariably make a beeline for the place. On
any given night the restaurant will be catering to as many
out of town patrons as area residents.
Experience has taught us that "forget it" is the best
advice for anyone thinking of dining at Smoky's on the
evening after a Badger football game. Regardless of a team
victory or loss, the place is packed.
Weekends are almost as busy, so we made reservations for
four at 7 p.m. on a Thursday. Our friends Howie and Ginny
Koop, who live in nearby Dane, joined us.
Arriving shortly after 7, we inched our way through
wall-to-wall people to reach the hostess station, only to be
told there would be a short wait. It took some doing, but my
husband managed to work his way to the bar and order a round
of cocktails: two manhattans and two martinis.
About 20 minutes later we were seated at our table, where
a tray of chilled, crisp, raw, fresh vegetables awaited. We
ordered a second round of cocktails and decided to share two
appetizer offerings: shrimp cocktail and onion rings.
The shrimp not whole as expected but chopped into
bite-size pieces, were overpriced, I thought. The onion
rings on the other hand were excellent: an ample serving of
large rings lightly battered and deep-fried to a crusty
Homemade soup of the day... night's offering of cabbage
soup - an excellent choice. Steaming bowls of well-seasoned,
creamy chicken broth contained large chunks of floating
For entrees, three of us ordered steaks: a 20 ounce large
T-bone, a 12 ounce New York strip and, for me, a 8 ounce
filet. Each was succulently tender, properly aged for the
best flavor and broiled to medium-rare perfection as
ordered: crusty brown outside, delicate pink inside.
Ginny's Canadian walleye pike, lightly battered,
deep-fried to a tempting golden hue, was moist and
fresh-flavored. French-fried potatoes and hash browns were
offered, and we all chose the latter, another Smoky's
specialty. They were homemade, not the frozen hash browns so
frequently encountered, and were crisply fried to form a
dark brown crust enclosing a creamy white center.
The salad, unfortunately, was a rather lackluster blend
of the inevitable iceberg lettuce. The Italian house
dressing was bland and ordinary.
Ice cream and chocolate sundaes were the only dessert
offerings, so we passed. The bill, including two imported
beers served with dinner and three coffees with the entrees
came to $69. plus tax.
Despite crowded conditions, the service was surprisingly
fast and efficient. From the time we were seated until our
coffee was served covered little more than an hour.
The restaurant's dining room is cavernous, connected to
several smaller dining rooms that seem like annexes added as
Tables are jammed together and the "decor" at Smoky's
includes walls and ceilings covered with an incredible mix
of collectibles: wind chimes of every description, football
and baseball pennants, posters, placards printed with
religious homilies, a floating plastic Oscar Mayer wiener,
beer mugs hung over the bar...
Howie described it, not unkindly as an "eclectic
collection of junk."
In a telephone conversation a few days later, Janet
Schmock laughed and called the decorating scheme "early
garage sale or attic."
"So many customers bring things in and want us to put
them up, " she explained. "It's something people think is
In the restaurant's early days, Janet did all the cooking
while Smoky handled the bar. Today, it's still very much a
family affair with two sons, Larry and Tom, taking an active
► SMOKY'S▼ SMOKY'S
THE CAPITAL TIMES: 1998
By Debra Carr-Eising
Bad language and rowdy behavior are not tolerated.
Few reservations are taken because priority is given to
walk-ins. Still, the waiting can be long - especially on a
busy Saturday night.
The place shuts down altogether for two weeks in the
winter and another two weeks in August. Plus, it's closed on
Such strict guidelines would seem to hinder a business,
but Janet and Leonard Schmock have made them into a recipe
Their restaurant - Smoky's, 3005 University Avenue,
Madison, WI is a popular place to go for sizzling beef in
In fact, Smoky's has been named on of the country's Top
10 Steak Houses by the Knife and Fork Club of Dallas, Texas.
It's an honor Smoky's has maintained for two years.
We really try to serve the best, says Janet Schmock. "Our
meet suppliers can tell you that. They stand right here when
we inspect everything. What we don't exactly like - the
coloring, texture or marbling of certain steaks - we send
back... our standards are pretty high."
In addition to good food, the Schmocks attribute their
success to loyal customers and good service. Their ratio of
waitresses to customers, for example, is quite high.
"We've always been blessed with very good help," says
Janet Schmock. "And over the years, we've had very few bad
eggs. In fact, a couple of our waitresses have been here 35
Another important part of the whole picture is to always
be on premise, says Leonard Schmock. After all, people like
to know that the owner is interested.
"You never know when something might break down," he
adds, "and you have to be there to innovate and get things
In 1953, the Schmocks opened their first restaurant just
a few blocks from their present location.
"We started out with only $5,000., but we were willing to
really, really work - and we did," recalls Janet Schmock.
"Leonard did all the bartending, and I did most of the
cooking, then we'd both clean up until 3 or 4 in the
" We were open seven days a week for a long time. I don't
know how we did it while also raising three children. It was
no picnic, believe me!"
In those early days, the Schmock family lived in five
rooms above the small restaurant, which had a seating
capacity of 50.
Today, Smoky's has five dining rooms that we can seat
"We just finished our third expansion," explains Leonard
Schmock. "If you would have look through that window last
year, you'd have seen threetreess.
"Abut those sparrows weren't paying the rent," he jokes,
"so we thought we'd put up a wall."
Although the building may be large, Smoky's menu remains
rather small - specializing in four different steaks.
"Our waitresses are forbidden to suggest a certain steak
because in a T-bone, you get part sirloin, part filet," says
Janet Schmock. "A top sirloin is very flavorful and thick
like a roast, but they say the filet is the most tender.
"So, what's good is what a customer happens to like. Some
people will eat absolutely nothing but tenderloin. Others
will eat only a strip."
In addition to excellent food, Smoky's is noted for its
unusual decor - a wonderful mix of glitz that hangs from the
ceiling and covers the walls.
"Some of it's memorabilia from our travels around the
world and various other outposts," explains Leonard Schmock,
who flew in the Navy for five years during World War II and
fondly points to photographs of wartime aircraft.
"People like looking around at this stuff," he adds. "It
gives them something to do if they have to wait for a
Customers also are encouraged to bring in interesting
things that they no longer want. For example, loyal patrons
have donated a ship made from beer cans, large mounted fish
and inflatable Oscar Mayer wieners.
"We've accumulated a lot of stuff, but many of our
pictures were lost when our house burned down in 1987,"
recalls Janet Schmock. "No one was hurt in that fire,
though, so we've got a lot to be thankful for."
Originally from Bloomer, Leonard Schmock came to Madison
in 1937 to play football and study agriculture at the
University of Wisconsin, World War II, however interrupted
After the war, Leonard stayed in a plane and did crop
dusting for area farmers. He also was a bartender at the old
Cuba Club, as well as a salesman for Libby Foods before
opening his own business.
Over the years, Smoky's has evolved into a family
operation with sons Larry and Tom assuming more of the
The Schmock's daughter, Barbara - who's a nurse at the UW
- also lends an occasional helping had. But she's busy with
her own business (Barbie's Batch Baked From Scratch), which
supplies homemade chocolate chip cookies to area convenience
stores and specialty shops.
"I'm still here every day," says Leonard Schmock, with
turned 76 on his last birthday. "You can always find
something to do - even as old as I am," he quips.
" A lot of our original customers aren't around anymore,
but their relatives keep coming. We're into the
Smoky's early clientele included some noteworthy people,
such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip La Follette.
"They'd sit out in front until we opened," recalls
Leonard Schmock. "Frank Lloyd Wright would sit in the back
of his car with the top down. His driver would let him off
and he'd come in with his cane.
"I'm told that George Bush ate here back in 1978 on a
minor mission before he was elected into office."
Jazz musicians Al Hirt and Ronnie Cole also have dined at
Smoky's, as well as several former Packers, including Max
McGee, Paul Hornung and Fuzzy Thurston, Elroy Hirsch is a
"Smoky's is kind of the place to go for Big 10 coaches,"
says Larry Schmock. "Purdue and Minnesota bring their whole
basketball teams here when they're in town."
All of the meat ordering and much of the bookkeeping are
now done by Tom Schmock, who grew up in the restaurant
"A degree in hotel and restaurant management really
doesn't mean a lot here because we don't run the place like
a corporate restaurant," says Larry Schmock.
"Everyone has their own way of doing business. What we
prepare in the kitchen is basic meat and potatoes. There's
not much prep work other than the soups and salad
In the summer, Leonard Schmock is often at the Farmers
Market gathering ingredients for their homemade soups.
"He loves to grocery shop," says his wife. "I love to
cook and clean, and we both love food. It seems like we were
meant to do this."
But you have to love it, adds Leonard Schmock. The hours
can be long, especially when you're first starting out.
"Every night, though, you're constantly meeting new
people," he adds. "That's the fun part of restaurant life."
► I dream of beef - The ever-popular Smoky's continues to serve superb steaks.▼ I dream of beef - The ever-popular Smoky's continues to serve superb steaks.
Isthmus: March 9-15, 2001
I dream of beef The ever-popular Smoky's continues to
serve superb steaks.
By Raphael Kadushin
What makes a restaurant a local landmark? Partly it’s the
size of the crowds, and the crowds at Smoky’s start
assembling early. In fact, the restaurant’s parking lot was
already full when we pulled up on a recent Saturday at 4:45
p.m., and that wasn’t much of a surprise. Long considered
one of the Midwest’s most reliable steakhouses, Smoky’s
boasts a distinguished pedigree. And it doesn’t take
We were relatively lucky; we only had to wait about 15
minutes before the hostess called us up over her booming
microphone. That was just enough time to admire, or at least
scan, the setting. The cavernous dining room itself was
already jammed with people. Hanging from the low ceiling
were Christmas lights, musical instruments, birdcages, a
lunchbox and an inflatable pig. The desperately festive
effect was offset a little by the barrage of signs hanging
in the hallway. Profane language, one warned, will not be
allowed. Words that bless, another admonished, are like a
fountain of life. Words that curse are like a cesspool.
Unfortunately we were accompanied by a profane friend
(a.k.a. Mr. Scatological, or the human cesspool), who seemed
intent on testing the house policy. Fortunately, our
companion’s Tourette’s-like stream was drowned out by the
crowd, and we ended up sitting in the middle of the dining
room, under an inflatable football, and feeling very lucky.
We felt even luckier when dinner arrived. While you may
be eating in an overgrown carnival booth, here there’s no
question that Smoky’s takes its legacy very seriously. Steak
is its enduring claim to fame, and you won’t get a better
one in town (although you can do just as well at the Tornado
Club, without the wait). The best buy was my large 13-ounce
sirloin, a relative steal at $19. Accompanied, like all
dinners, by a serviceable tomato juice or soup (a watery
French onion), and a crisp iceberg lettuce salad, the hunk
of meat didn’t need any prelude. Caramelized brown on the
outside, perfectly tender and pink on the inside, the
sirloin sat sizzling on its metal platter, spitting juice.
Accompanied by a round of buttery hash browns wrapped up in
their own golden crust, the steak satisfied every
Just as good was an 8-ounce filet mignon, though this
wasn’t the evening’s big surprise. While a plate of four
lightly breaded chicken pieces was a good deal for $10, it
was a broiled African lobster tail that almost stole the
show from the impeccable steaks. After almost losing a tooth
recently to a rubbery lobster in a 3-Michelin-starred French
temple de cuisine, I was elated with Smoky’s tail. This was
everything lobster should be: sweet, rich and almost
velvety. How do you top that? Desserts, our efficient server
told us, are just limited to ice cream, sundaes or sherbet,
but most people don’t ask. And why should they, after the
best surf-and-turf around?
Page Summary: Read restaurant reviews about Smokys Club, one of the best restaurants and steak houses in Madison, WI, serving Middleton, Verona and Waunakee, as well as Mount Horeb. Looking for restaurants near me? Smoky's serves up the best steaks, chops, seafood, cocktails and martini's in Dane County, including Cross Plains. Mc Farland and Oregon, Wisconsin.