Blog : Abbey Springs Yacht Club

Abbey Springs Yacht Club

Abbey Springs Yacht Club

This fish fry thing has become a problem for me. It’s not even a problem that I was required to consider, which makes it even worse. It’s a problem I volunteered for. If no good deed goes unpunished, then consider this review series to be both my deed and my punishment.  The problem isn’t that I’ve been eating lots of fish. I’ve enjoyed the fish. I’ve enjoyed discovering locations that are new to me. I’ve enjoyed all of it. And until last Friday, one of the places I most enjoyed was the Abbey Springs Yacht Club.

The first time around, I praised the club. Their bread was warm, their butter soft. Their potato pancakes creamy, their applesauce cold. Everything was above average, close to perfect. I told you this. I told other people this. When I’d receive emails where people wish for me to distill this search down to the champion, I’d willingly suggest that the Abbey Springs Yacht Club was the best available. With this in mind and lots of visiting family in town, I took control of the fish fry schedule and brought my party of 16 to the lakeside restaurant for what I presumed would be a lovely dinner.

We were seated at two adjacent tables, each with a pleasing view of the lake, at a few minutes past five.  Yes, we went early. A long day in the sun necessitated this.  Out waitress was soon table side, and she was as nervous as anyone has ever been, over anything at any time in history.  She barely squeaked out the special, and had a difficult time with any basic questions that our table posed. I felt sorry for her, but I also felt that by the end of July any summer server should have figured out how to overcome their jitters.

Our drinks were brought out soon enough, but the wait for the fish was significant. Perhaps 35 minutes? Perhaps a few minutes more, maybe a few less.  The restaurant was not even half full, due to our early reservation, so the kitchen couldn’t have been in the weeds just yet. When the food did arrive the plate looked mostly right, but there were things amiss.

The coleslaw was piled on the plate, not in a small dish or container as I’ve learned is standard. The reason you don’t set a pile of coleslaw on a plate is obvious.  This isn’t a solid. This is a creamy item that bleeds and leaks all over the plate. My potato pancakes had coleslaw on them, so did my hushpuppies and my fish. This was an unacceptable condition. Speaking of hushpuppies, I had one on my plate, my wife had two.  These are the inconsistencies that plague Lake Geneva area restaurants, and it’s a shame. They are not inconsistencies that require secret formulas to fix. They just require a touch of effort.

The baked fish was ok. It wasn’t great, but it was ok. The pieces were small, almost like the kitchen shredded them with a fork so that we could eat them with a spoon. The fried piece on my plate was large, and at first glance, looked nice and appropriately browned and crisped. But the truth was revealed by the edge of my fork, as the interior of the filet was the consistency of applesauce.  The potato pancakes were redeemable, with a tender, creamy interior and nicely crisped exterior. I liked my pancakes very much, but the rest was a tremendous miss.

I felt the need to apologize to my group for leading them astray, for bringing them to this place with the mushy cod and the leaking coleslaw, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to sway those who might have been otherwise satisfied with their meal. But over the course of that evening and the next day I learned that no one particularly enjoyed their dinner. My dad said his french fries were the best he’d ever had, so that was nice. But the opinions were uniform: dinner was not very good.

This is why I’m going to kill this fish fry review series in the next couple of weeks. There are a few places left to consider, including Crandall’s (the stalwart) and Fitzgerald’s Genoa Junction. After those two options, I’ll crown a winner and we’ll be done with this thing. The biggest problem isn’t finding a nice place to eat fish on a Friday. It’s in finding a place that will serve good fish on a Friday in April, and back it up by serving good fish on a Friday in July. Sadly, Abbey Springs Yacht Club just failed this test.

Abbey Springs Yacht Club Fish Fry Review

Abbey Springs Yacht Club Fish Fry Review

I take some offense to the term “yacht club”. It’s a bit over the top, a bit ostentatious. A bit too much.  There are boats that are launched with routine frequency at the lakefront in Abbey Springs, but I’ve seen these boats and while many are nice, none are yachts. We should reserve use of the word for when we really mean it. Like when we say something is breathtaking. If it took your breath away, it’s breathtaking. If it’s a view of the lake, it’s just a nice view. But in spite of this grudge against this phrase I pulled up a chair at a lakeside table last Friday night and did what it is that I do. I ordered the fish.

But before I could order and before I made that reservation I filled out the membership application and sent in my $200 to Abbey Springs. That membership fee allows me access to the restaurants of Abbey Springs, both the clubhouse grill on the golf course side of the property and the Yacht Club Dining Room on the lakeside. It’s a small price to pay for another dining option on the water, and so there I was, membership in hand, seated at the table watching the rollers build and sway from one end of our big lake to the other.

The dining room here is nice. It’s not incredibly nice, but it’s nice. It lacks some of the sophistication of the Lake Geneva Yacht Club, but the space is comfortable and nicely appointed. There’s a large bar on the West with adjacent dining space, and a large dining room on the East. Like most restaurants of this style, the dining room was full of folks that belonged to a different generation, the greatest, perhaps. While we waited for our friends I perused the menu.

I’m fond of restaurants that list their fish fry in their menu. I don’t like restaurants that mention the fish fry as though it’s some unique treasure, some special that they just thought of and had little time to add it to the menu. In bold print, there it was:  Friday Fish Fry. Cod, potato, sides, $15 for all you can eat.  Our friends were late but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the bread basket, complete with a pumpernickel, a whole grain, and sourdough roll.  The bread was warmed and quite wonderful and likely would have done well on its own, but the most glorious addition to a Friday Fish Fry was also present: A dish of soft, whipped, room temperature butter. What a delight, after weeks of bread and butter disappointment, to start my meal with this treat.

The waitress was pleasant and attentive and quick to take our order. Mine was clear. I’d have half broiled and half fried along with the potato pancakes.   Within fifteen minutes our dinner was served. At first blush the plate was a delight. Several smaller pieces of broiled cod, one large piece of fried, two potato pancakes, a lemon wedge, two hushpuppies, and a nice ceramic dish of applesauce and tartar sauce. The coleslaw was served on the plate, which was unique, and not especially preferred considering I don’t like coleslaw, but I abided the addition and neatly pushed it to the side.

In a first, the broiled cod also featured distinct grill marks. The fish may have been broiled and then briefly finished on the grill, but it looked to me like it was only grilled. Either way the pieces were tender and sported an extra flash of flavor from those grill marks. My dinner mates enjoyed the broiled cod quite a bit, perhaps more than I did. I liked it well enough, but I don’t think it was the best broiled cod I’ve had on this journey. The fried piece of cod was supremely crunchy, battered in a tempura style. The fish inside was moist and tender, but lacked salt. It was good, but again, not quite the best I’ve had.

The potato pancakes were well crisped on the exterior while still maintaining a creamy interior. They were delicious. It’s a rare feat, or so I’m discovering, to serve potato pancakes worthy of actual praise, but the Abbey’s pancakes were near perfection. The hushpuppies, two to an order, were drier than a typical hushpuppy, and sweeter, too. But I wouldn’t let that get in the way of devouring both of them, as the sweetness was a nice interruption to the savory fish and potato.  Were they as good as the Popeye’s hushpuppies? No, but they were certainly close. The tartar sauce won some praise from the table, and the applesauce was remarkably flavorful, if a bit too smooth.

It was apparent to me that this was a superlative dinner. Some of the items were not perfect, but the combination of lakeside dining, comfortable seating, and delicious food is a rare combo here. If you’ll recall, I loved the fish fry at the Outlook Bar at Lake Lawn Lodge, but I hated the restaurant space. I loved the restaurant space at the Ridge Hotel’s Crafted Americana, but the cod was dry. There’s always something that takes a meal and derails it. But at the Abbey Springs Yacht Club, whether there are actual yachts there or not, most things were executed to near perfection. Buy yourself a membership and order the fish. It’s worth it.

 

Abbey Springs Yacht Club 9/10

1 Country Club Drive, Fontana, WI 53125

$15 All  You Can Eat Cod (plus $200 annual dining membership)

 

(Author note: The definition of Yacht in my usage has nothing to do with Coast Guard certification, rather only my own interpretation of the class of boat that should be referred to as a yacht…)