To Midwesterners of a certain age, walking into the local supper club offered a quickie substitution for a weekend in Vegas, at least during that city's Charo-Lola Falana-Liberace epoch. You know, classy with a capital K, but tinged with a familiar, you-betcha comfort.

So when I first envisioned Kim Bartmann's tribute to the supper clubs -- or, as she prefers, supperclubs -- of her northern Wisconsin youth, I happily envisioned rows of tufted vinyl booths, overstuffed relish trays, prime rib so rare it had a discernible pulse, a world-weary chanteuse parked in the piano bar. What I was expecting, I guess, was Nye's Polonaise Room.

Wrong. Just as the savvy Bartmann invigorated the bowling alley (Bryant-Lake Bowl) and the neighborhood bistro (Cafe Barbette), her Red Stag Supperclub subtly suggests many of the genre's traditions, but makes them relevant for contemporary urban diners. Chef Bill Baskin flirts with supper club expectations, but steers clear of mimicry. No supper club I'm familiar with ever took advantage of the superior locally sourced ingredients that Baskin so beautifully manipulates.

First-timers are well-advised to test-drive the restaurant during its popular Friday night fish fry. All that high-temperature grease doesn't eradicate the sweet, delicate nature of the freshwater fish, and the accompaniments are perfect: a spicy red cabbage coleslaw and a tangy onion-kissed tartar sauce. Fries, thick as Lincoln Logs, are tough-guy crisp outside, but sport mashed potato-like interiors. Whole trout, oysters, tempura-battered veggies -- they all get the star treatment, but nothing tops the divine fried smelt, coated with a gossamer-light batter and piled in a paper cone.

Baskin places a premium on the unexpected, whether it's roasted beef bones filled with mellow marrow, creamy lamb tartare with teasing hot pepper undertones, a savory casserole of slow-cooked lentils and three variety cuts of veal or fantastic sardines, grilled straight up and served with a sweet-salty combo of roasted grapes and black olives. Venison, medium rare and sliced thin, is paired with egg noodles and mushrooms, but no supper club stroganoff was ever this good. Pepper-crusted mahi-mahi was steamed in parchment with artichokes and thinly sheared fingerling potatoes.

But sometimes the exuberance fizzles. An inharmonious bacon-shrimp succotash undoes a cracklingly good thick-cut pork chop. Duck was gristly and flavorless. I yawned off the daily grilled flatbread, and gloriously juicy chicken popped with intense flavor one night, but was a dry, salty disaster a few days later.

Weekend brunch really shines. Baskin has unearthed an impressive selection of Minnesota-milled grains and then does delicious things with them: a tender flax seed waffle, superb oatmeal, super-creamy grits. The kitchen's coy sense of humor is evident in poached eggs drizzled in a hollandaise tinted with puréed herbs, accurately billed Green Eggs and Ham. The crowning achievement is a simple smoked trout paired with a few teasingly nutty whole-wheat pancakes.

Lunch is another strong suit. While I never ran across a memorable soup, Baskin, a native Texan, bowled me over with a rich, robust and surprisingly elegant bison chili. A pretty chop salad is noteworthy for its bright colors and flavors, and Baskin puts a lighter, cleaner cast on the traditional Waldorf formula. I love the sandwiches, particularly a meatloaf-inspired burger and a phenomenal fried oyster po' boy.

Bartmann, a lifelong scavenger, channeled her forager's zeal into incorporating a staggering amount of salvaged materials into the restaurant's already environmentally conscious design. In the end, the setting isn't as memorable as Baskin's singular cooking. Still, when the place is packed, it's a gas, a rollicking, roll-up-your-sleeves experience. Who knew that going green could be so much fun?