Blog : Fish Fry Review

Crafted Americana Fish Fry Review

Crafted Americana Fish Fry Review

You’ll be forgiven if you have no idea what a Crafted Americana is.  It might be a beer or an ice cream sundae or an antique shop or a woodworking studio deep in the heart of Appalachia. It’s none of those. It’s just a restaurant in the Interlaken Hotel. Or The Ridge, as it’s being called these days. It might have been something else for a while, too.   Whatever the name, whatever the condition, it’s on Highway 50 and it’ll always be Interlaken to me. I went there with my family last Friday night at the beckoning of their outdoor signage. FISH FRY $14.

The interior space at this old hotel has been transformed into something new. Something different, at least for this market.  It’s very shiny and very modern and there’s a coffee shop that serves Wisconsin’s Collectivo Coffee, which is nice.  I’m glad to see this old hotel looking its best. But in spite of the glitz and the shimmer it feels very much like a hotel attached to an airport. The dining room, while rather impressive with large chandeliers and comfy leather backed banquet seating, still felt like I was whiling away an hour before my flight to Toledo.

The dining room was quite full on that Friday evening. Full with fish fry eaters, yes, but mostly with groups that looked like they were on some sort of business. A pharmaceutical sales retreat, perhaps. Dinner at Crafted Americana at 6:30, presentation by Astrozenica at 8, sharp. We were seated at a four top, with two chairs opposite a long leather bench. I sat on the bench, to better surveil the room, and found the seating to be quite comfortable. The table was nicely arranged, The chandeliers twinkly. The waiter quickly arrived table side, with a checked shirt with seems to be the new uniform for restaurant staff.

I asked if there was an appetizer worth my time. Cheese Curds, he replied with immediate enthusiasm. I asked about the fish fry, per usual. He said it was two pieces of fried or broiled Atlantic Cod, a distinguished regional fish apparently, and one potato pancake or fries. He assured me the pancake was large.  The dinner was single serve, which I always find disappointing after starving myself in anticipation of my weekly fish feast.  Four waters and an order of cheese curds it would be, followed by fish fry, one piece of each, with the singular pancake.

The curds arrived within seven or eight minutes. They were in a small modern style serving container, perhaps 12 curds in total. This is my typical complaint about the curd. Too much money for too little cheese. These curds were battered and served with an aioli, which is a fancy word for mayonnaise. The curds were good. Better than most, not as good as some.  Following the curds I was delighted when the water brought out a slab of slate with several slices of bread and a prodigious mound of whipped butter.  The bread was Pumpernickel, which I obviously hate, at least usually. This bread had nuts and raisins and barely the slightest sniff of rye. The bread was pretty good, but the butter was divine. Sent from the heavens, whipped by the angels, delivered to me on this Friday night. I liked the bread, and the butter was the absolute best butter I’ve had on this tasting tour.

The fish was brought next. A large plate with one pancake, and one piece broiled and fried cod. Both were a bit square in shape for my initial liking. A couple of lemon wedges dressed up the plate, and the sides of tartar sauce, applesauce, and coleslaw filled the table. At first glance, aside from the square filets and the singular pancake, the meal looked pretty terrific. First, the broiled cod. The second my fork touched the fish I knew it was tough. The texture wasn’t flaky and light like a delicately cooked fish should be. Instead it was a bit hard, sort of tough. Overcooked. Fail.

The fried piece was marginally better, with a beautiful dark brown batter concealing a reasonably well seasoned piece of cod. Still, while this fish was better than the broiled, it was a bit dry and a bit underwhelming.  A taste of the applesauce revealed a hot sauce, warmed like a bowl of soup on a cold day. It was heavy on the cinnamon, which is okay, but smooth and hot. I like my applesauce like I like my Blizzards. Cold and chunky.  The tartar sauce and coleslaw were apparently passable, but, like me, neither elicited high praise from my wife.

The potato pancake was already facing an uphill battle since it was on its own, without a companion to offer support.  It looked the part, and was made of properly shredded potato, but it lacked any depth of flavor and was a bit too dry. It was also salty, very salty, as if the chef over salted some soup earlier in the day and let the potatoes soak in the soup to absorb the excess salt. Then he made my potato pancake with those potatoes.  It wasn’t a very good cake, though it wasn’t as dry as the Pier 290 and Gordy’s DustCakes.

The good: A pretty restaurant with a higher level of finishes. A deliciously unexpected bread and butter tray. That butter, man. That butter. The bad: Dry fish. Salty, slightly dry pancake. My immediate thought was that this space would earn a seven out of ten. But after the weekend, I thought I cannot let the nicer surroundings offset the fact that the fish was dry. After all, this is a fish fry review, not a restaurant design review.  The Ridge Hotel and its Crafted Americana restaurant should be on your tour for Fish Fry. Perhaps they’ll take out the fish a minute earlier than mine, and the pancake won’t be so salty. Even so, on this night, those two mistakes cannot be forgiven.

Crafted Americana (At The Ridge Hotel) 5.5/10

W4240 State Highway 50, Lake Geneva

Fried or Broiled Cod, two pieces, $14

Popeye’s Fish Fry Review

Popeye’s Fish Fry Review

I called ahead. It was 5:50 pm and I figured I’d arrive at Popeye’s with my party of six sometime just after 6.  I learned many weeks ago not to take  off-season dinner seating for granted, so I called Popeye’s and a woman answered. I asked if I needed a reservation for dinner.  She said, “honey, we seat 600.”  But then she proceeded to tell me that a reservation wouldn’t be a terrible idea and she took my name. I asked if they had fish fry, a question asked with an answer already known. Honey, we have the best fish fry in Southeastern Wisconsin. 

It’s difficult to be a big restaurant in the biggest location in the biggest resort town in the Midwest. While I imagine it’s nice to have seating for 600, and that premium location will never go out of style, if you would have asked Andre, he’d agree. It’s not easy being a giant. When I suggested Popeye’s for fish fry my friend immediately replied,  “Is the food good or is it just a cheesy tourist trap?” 

The parking meters are no longer free. We learned this after parking and noticing the meter maid waltzing along the lakeside street, after 6 pm.  I insisted to the meter maid that assuredly parking had to be free after 6 pm, at least in March, right? 7 pm, the maid replied. I fed my credit card into the machine and felt certain that had it been 7 pm his answer would have been 8 pm.  Slightly irritated by the gall of the Lake Geneva Parking Policies, we entered Popeyes and were led to our seats in the elevated dining room to the East of the entry and bar.  In the event that you didn’t know, Popeye’s Lake Geneva is not affiliated with the fast food restaurant that shares their name.

Our water glasses were quickly filled and my typical question about the fish fry posed. $14.99, all you can eat fried or broiled cod, with a choice of potato pancake or fries, hush puppies and a few of the usual sides. The waitress moved quickly through the dining room, quickly to our table, quickly from our table. Quickly. The evening rush was on and this large restaurant was filling up nicely. We ordered the fish and a half rack of ribs as a pregame to our fishy meal.

The ribs arrived quickly, and were fine. Nothing special. It’s a shame really, since there’s a charcoal spit roasting chickens outside at nearly all times. I’d make a custom basket for the ribs and twirl those over the charcoal along with the chicken.  But that’s just me, and I like tasty food. The menu says the ribs are smoked, which they may very well be, but I couldn’t detect a whiff of smoke in these ribs.  Within 10 minutes our dinner was served.

A huge tray of food was placed on an elevated platform in the middle of our table. It was like a pizza platform, but filled with fried and broiled fish, potato pancakes, and hushpuppies.  A few lemon wedges dressed up the edges. The french fries came in their own basket. It was a feast. I must say that I don’t like family style servings. It cheapens the food.  That’s the reason shrimp cocktail is usually served with five or six or eight shrimp tails. Throw 100 shrimp tails on a platter and smear some cocktail sauce in the middle and the special treat has turned into a free for all.

I grabbed a few pieces of fried cod, one piece of broiled cod, a potato pancake and a hushpuppy. The hushpuppy was nicely crisped, tender in the middle. It tasted of crab. It may have had some crab in it, but I didn’t check the menu to see if it really did. The pancake was quite good. My grandmother was a terrible cook, but she did whip up a fine dish of Tetrazzini with bits of pimento peppers. These pancakes had pimento peppers, and I enjoyed the nostalgic flavor quite a bit. The potato was shredded, as it should be, the exterior crisped but not greasy. These were delicious potato pancakes, and for the first time this tour, I was offered a dollop of sour cream for my pancakes. I liked the effort.

The fried cod was shaped more like an extravagant fish stick.  The pieces were slender and narrow, like fingers. But there was some variation in the sizing, and I like variation in my fish filets. The batter was light and airy, the first of its kind on this winter tour. The fish was tender, well seasoned, and quite delicious. I was impressed. The broiled cod was your basic square of cod, needing salt and lacking any particular dimension.  The french fries were delicious, slightly spicy, and memorable. I place them in a tie with Gordy’s for finest traditional french fry in the area.

The sides were a disappointment. I have long adored the dinner rolls at Popeyes, and used to eat one with a bowl of clam chowder long ago when I ate semi-frequent lunches there. This fish feast, not that it needed it, didn’t include any bread. No dinner roll. No loaf of bread. No slice of intolerable Rye. I suppose I’d rather have no bread than be blindsided by Rye, but still. With no bread there was no butter, no judging. The applesauce was bland and smooth, and sadly served in a small plastic take out container.

The tartar sauce was apparently rather sweet, but not terrible, also served in a take out container. There was no coleslaw. Had there been coleslaw, it would have been served in one of those take out containers, the sort you’d pump ketchup into at a Culver’s. We finished most of the mountain of food and the waitress quickly cleared our table. There was some leftover fish and at least one potato pancake, but the food was unceremoniously taken from the table.  The menu warns that leftovers will not be taken home.

Popeyes very well might be a cheesy tourist restaurant.  There is so much flair here, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Chotchkie’s.  It’s an undeniably large, loud space. The prime seats are the two tops nearest the window, even on a dark March night.  While this Lake Geneva institution won’t win any awards for excellence in design, Popeyes manages to be both cheesy tourist trap and purveyor of above average fare.   On this Friday night, I left impressed by the fish fry. Sure, I bemoaned the lack of bread, coleslaw (the menu says it’s included), and softened butter. And I felt ill over the plastic  cup my flavorless, smooth applesauce was served in. But the lightly fried cod was delicate and well seasoned, the potato pancake with pimento rather divine, and that’s all it takes to win my affection.


Popeye’s Fish Fry 8/10

Cod, All You Can Eat, $14.99

811 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva

Above, Popeye’s image courtesy Visit Lake Geneva.