The Sleepy Owl Supper Club is a Lake Country legend that continues to draw crowds

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By: Loren Shaum

Flavor 574 photo/Loren Shaum

The Owl, located on S.R. 13 just south of Syracuse, was listed in the 1938 Wawasee Directory as a gas station serving beer and sandwiches.

When the property was converted to a supper club more than 50 years ago (supper clubs were highly popular in the upper Midwest in the 1930s), it was so-named because there was an owl often sleeping in a tree across the street. Since then, the Owl has focused on the classic supper club tradition of being a local social gathering spot with great food. Today, it is one of the hottest spots in all of Lake Country.

New ownership transforms the restaurant

Owned for years by a local Italian family, the Owl emphasized Italian fare. When Jeff Larson bought the restaurant in 2007 for his mother, Linda (a 20-year Owl veteran), he expected her to run the show. Things changed quickly for Jeff as Linda passed away three months after the purchase. With little restaurant experience, Jeff forged ahead and brought in some experience, particularly Chip Erwin, host and bartender extraordinaire.

Larson has made dramatic improvements inside and out. The most popular change has been the addition of patio seating complete with an outdoor fireplace. It seats 40 and is packed in the summer. Reservations are highly recommended.

Food is always the difference

Deciding quickly not to change what wasn’t broke, Jeff retained the staff, didn’t change the popular menu, but added dinner specials, often featuring fresh seafood.

“We aren’t quite fine dining, but we do offer a variety of upscale dishes,” Larson said. That said, the lunch menu is simple but the dinner menu is extensive. “Demographics pushed us to offer something for everyone,” Larson continued.

Lunch caters to the local crowd all year and the lake crowd during summer months, and they also have carry-out. The lunch menu includes five baskets; nine sandwiches, with the humongous breaded tenderloin being the most popular by far (7,000 served in 2015); and 13 other dishes, including a blue plate special. Then there are Louie’s (long-time cook) famous soups. The signature soup is French onion, but two additional soups are created daily, and chili is a mainstay on the lunch menu. On Tuesdays, creamy potato soup is offered and frequently sells out fast. Featuring a creamy base with chunks of potato and dumpling, the cup I enjoyed was nicely seasoned with chopped chives and parsley. It was a perfect fit for a bitterly cold day.

Recently, I enjoyed another unique soup from the Owl, the (noncream-based) sauerkraut and smoked sausage soup. The Owl also serves a nicely made Rueben, but the 10-inch pizzas are the best, especially the Owl Supreme (it’s one of the best slices of pizza in Lake Country).

Dinners are special

The menu at the Sleep Owl Supper Club includes:

  • 10 appetizers.
  • Three to four soups.
  • Nine salads: including the ever popular endless salad bowl (an Owl tradition).
  • Eight meat dishes.
  • Eight to 10 seafood dishes.
  • Six pasta dishes, with all sauces made in house.
  • Three pizzas, plus you can build your own with either a thin crust or deep dish.
  • Eight sandwiches from the lunch menu.
  • The same baskets and sides as on the lunch menu.
  • Dessert of the week, often features a house-made cheesecake and the ever popular World’s Smallest Sundae for only 50 cents.

That’s a lot of food!

Chip’s bar specials

Chip Erwin concocts many specialty martinis (like Nuts & Berries) and some clever, but weird, blends. The former is a mix of Chambord (berries), Frangelico (nuts) and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Other mixes include the Sleepy Owl Freeze and the Slingblade. The latter is a combination of ruby-red vodka, sweet and sour mix, lime juice, simple syrup and a passion fruit puree. This colorful concoction is served with a lime wedge and will surely give you a quick buzz, so sip lightly!

The other bartenders, Rolanda, Ashley, Rachel and Amanda, can also serve-up any mixed drink, a rotation of craft beers (10 choices, which are usually listed on the chalk board adjacent the bar) and a selection from their adequate wine list.

The legend remains intact

Over the past eight years, Jeff has brought the Owl back to prominence. Depending on the season, he employs 17 to 20 folks. Several have been there, seemingly, forever.

As the new year unfolds, Jeff is adding a new wine list, a couple new soups, a unique wedge salad, a charcuterie board and a candied bacon Sriracha burger.

With indoor seating for 135 people, the Owl is family friendly and is the only place in Lake Country serving dinner after 9 p.m. every night (except Christmas). Some nights it’s been so busy I’ve even parked at a nearby pier across Waco Drive and walked to the Owl.

In the old supper club style, the Owl is the one place in Lake Country to see and be seen. The large menu offers something for everyone, the service is outstanding, the food is as good as it gets and Chip always welcomes me with a bullet (Kettle One) on the rocks.

The Sleepy Owl Supper Club is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.
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