Relish Trays and Brandy Old Fashions

I hosted Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal for Lit Happens (a Facebook based group of readers) last month.   I have been remiss about posting and I actually had this ready to go at the end of September but you’re just able to read the review and recipes now.

About the book:

“Stradal serves up another saga of food and family, hurt and healing, pitched between cliff-hanger moments. . . that make the pages fly.” —People

From the New York Times bestselling author J. Ryan Stradal, a story of a couple from two very different restaurant families in rustic Minnesota, and the legacy of love and tragedy, of hardship and hope, that unites and divides them.

Mariel Prager needs a break. Her husband Ned is having an identity crisis, her spunky, beloved restaurant is bleeding money by the day, and her mother Florence is stubbornly refusing to leave the church where she’s been holed up for more than a week. The Lakeside Supper Club has been in her family for decades, and while Mariel’s grandmother embraced the business, seeing it as a saving grace, Florence never took to it. When Mariel inherited the restaurant, skipping Florence, it created a rift between mother and daughter that never quite healed.

Ned is also an heir—to a chain of home-style diners—and while he doesn’t have a head for business, he knows his family’s chain could provide a better future than his wife’s fading restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, Ned and Mariel lose almost everything they hold dear, and the hard-won victories of each family hang in the balance. With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation?

In this colorful, vanishing world of relish trays and brandy Old Fashioneds, J. Ryan Stradal has once again given us a story full of his signature honest, lovable yet fallible Midwestern characters as they grapple with love, loss, and marriage; what we hold onto and what we leave behind; and what our legacy will be when we are gone.

What I thought…

You don’t have to be a Midwesterner to enjoy this tale. While there are some Midwestern sensibilities played on and humorized, the human tale could be set anywhere.

Not a spoiler, but I went into this tale not knowing how sad it would be.

I re-read the publisher’s blurb above and I’m not sure what kind of identity crisis Ned is having.  I did identify with Mariel’s trials and tribulations.  While the standoff with her mother is initially humorous, the underlying reasons for their break is tragic.

There is a lot going on in the novel and sometimes the back and forth between Mariel’s life and her grandmother and mother’s early lives was a bit cumbersome, but I wanted to know the whole story.

Stradel’s style and sense of characterization is amazing and I enjoyed this book and am planning on reading his others.   (Just finished Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  Enjoyed the characters too.  Be advised, it starts out sad.)

The Food…

The food was plentiful from the Stuckey’s like restaurants from Ned’s family dynasty to Mariel’s humble supper club traditions.   While I probably have never been to an honest-to-goodness supper club, I can relate as I recall one particular restaurant experience from my childhood.   Perkin’s (in Tonkawa, OK) didn’t have “supper club” in its name, but as I read about Mariel’s restaurant and the characters there, I was reminded of this place.   We didn’t go out to eat as a family often because of the expense, but Perkin’s was a treat and seemed fancy.   We would go on seafood night where the buffet boasted crab legs, shrimp and a huge halibut.    During this time period, the only way you could drink alcohol in restaurants in Oklahoma was if you brought your own.  Many people left their bottles behind the bar.  I remember dad stating that so-and-so would not mind if he had a 7 and 7 with his friend’s Seagrams that was labeled and stored there.

When we had special dinners at home like a holiday spread or Sunday dinner for extended family, there was always a relish tray with homemade pickles and store-bought stuffed olives.   I hadn’t thought about relish trays in a long time.  

Enough of memory lane.

I was intrigued by the tradition of the free relish tray and the Brandy Old Fashions (also mentioned in the publisher’s blurb above).   I love a traditional Old Fashion so I was anxious to try this truly Midwestern cocktail.    I also cleaned out the refrigerator and made a relish tray for our cocktail hour with pickled green tomatoes, pickled curry green beans, and summer squash pickles.

I used this Brandy Old Fashion recipe but I just couldn’t bring myself to use 7-Up.  I used club soda instead.   When and if I make these again, I WILL use a sweeter soda.   The cocktail definitely needed it. 


I did rate this book five stars and I read it in one weekend.  I can see why some might get too fixated on the tragedies in the book and not focus on Mariel’s resilience.   I took the positive route.


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