Blog : Fish Fry Review

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry Review

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry Review

I’ve purposefully avoided reviewing Daddy Maxwell’s. The reasoning for this avoidance was complicated, I suppose.  Daddy Maxwell’s has been a staple in Williams Bay for as long as I can remember, and I hated the thought of delivering an honest review in the event that something went less than perfect. I love all things Williams Bay, and will defend all things Williams Bay, but I cannot effectively defend against my own honesty.  My father and his father and my great uncle were regulars at Daddy’s for decades, and I always felt  that I, too, might someday make it to that status (I haven’t yet). To make matters more curious, my son works there, dutifully washing dishes and bussing tables throughout the summer.  When I sat down at my table last Friday night I was fearful of the fish to come.

We went early. 5 pm, on the dot, early. It felt early, but other patrons were already finishing their fish when we were seated in that front, circular dining room. There’s just two spaces here, one room with booths that open towards the diner’s bar, and the other room with tables on the East side, where we were. There was a large middle table in that space that soon filled with a happy family and one shrieking child.  Fish doesn’t taste as good when your ears are under assault, but it was too late to back out now.

Daddy Maxwell’s isn’t open for dinner excepting for this Friday night fish fry. That shows keen awareness by the owner, and the menu reflects a willingness to modify what other restaurants often see as a very strict menu offering. This fish fry featured Haddock, Cod, Perch, Shrimp, and some other fish that’s served blackened with jerk seasoning. There are potato pancakes and the usual sides, each served in a small plastic tub. The menu, in case you haven’t ever been, has small bits of inside jokes and innuendo that I’m sure many people understand but I do not.  The deep fried perch comes with three pieces and a question, “Maybe retired old men eat out too often”...

The waitress was polite but firm, and responded with little hesitation when I asked what she recommended. The battered cod was good, she said. The grilled lemon pepper haddock is another favorite. I obeyed her and ordered the Tavern Battered Cod Plate ($10.75 for four pieces) with the potato pancakes and a single extra piece of lemon pepper grilled haddock, just to check it out. My wife opted for the Sizzlin Fish Tacos, (marinated, chopped haddock)…“Que Bueno”. My daughter left the reservation completely and ordered a burger. We nursed our waters and tried to ignore the eardrum shattering screams coming from the neighboring table.

The fish was out in short order, and looked good enough. The dinner was served with two slices of untoasted rye, along side a tiny packet of to-go butter. I’ll avoid comment, because I’m certain my opinion on this is already known. The fried cod looked more like fish-sticks than the larger, chunk pieces of cod most of our market serves. The small chunk of grilled haddock looked nice, so I tried that first. It was extremely subtle on the lemon pepper flavor, but the fish was delicately cooked and flavorful. I enjoyed it very much. The cod was crunchy with a thick batter, and the fish inside was pretty good. It wasn’t my favorite batter or fish on this tour, but it was in line with the average.

The potato pancakes (two) were thin and looked more like actual pancakes than most of the potato pancakes I’ve had. But they were very nicely seasoned and cooked perfectly. The interior was moist and creamy, the exterior just a bit crisped. They were a nice break from my unfortunate run of disappointing potato pancakes. The applesauce is only served with the potato pancakes, so if you opt for fries don’t expect any applesauce. But I am not the sort that slathers applesauce on potato pancakes, which must be something that one learns either at a very young age or never at all, so I eat my applesauce separate. And this was delicious applesauce. Huge chunks of apple, nicely sweetened. A winner on the applesauce scene.

When the dust settled I was satisfied with my meal. I wasn’t amazed by it, or enthralled with it, but I left satisfied that I had just eaten a proper Wisconsin Fish Fry, and my Friday night was still young. I made the most of that early dinner by going home to mow my lawn before returning to the restaurant to wait for my son to finish washing the pots and pans from dinner service. I’m pleased to report that Daddy Maxwell’s didn’t let me down. I was told later that I should have ordered the butterflied perch, but such is life.  Is Daddy Maxwell’s in my top five fish fish fry joints? No, it isn’t. But is it a nice, local joint to find a varied fish fry served with careful effort? Yes, it most definitely is.

Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry 6.5/10

150 Elkhorn Road, Williams Bay

Cod, Haddock, Shrimp, Perch, from $8.25 to $16.50

 

Trout House Fish Fry Review

Trout House Fish Fry Review

Travel down any of these wide roads that lead to other towns and other states, and you’ll likely find something from here, there. There’s a nice parcel of land north of Elkhorn that was blessed with an abundance of cold water springs, the sort that are perfect for raising rainbow trout. Those ponds have tens of thousands of trout owned by Rushing Waters, and those trout find their way from this little spot in Wisconsin to some of the finest restaurants and grocery stores in the country.

A few years ago, Rushing Waters decided to try its hand at a restaurant, so they built out a nice space adjacent the building that houses their operations. The restaurant there is very nice,  a wonderful addition to the sparse restaurant scene that the Lauderdale folks must abide.  I ate at that restaurant a few times and generally enjoyed my meals. Last year Rushing Waters and their Trout House branded restaurant expanded into the Lake Geneva market, albeit by way of Delavan.  That’s where I went to eat last Friday night, because who better to serve me fish than an operation that understand fish from egg to table?

The space that the Trout House Delavan now operates from was most recently a large expansion undertaken by the cheese and sandwich shop known as Brick Street Market. The name comes from the brick streets in Delavan, in case you haven’t been to Delavan, ever. The cheese shop first occupied a smaller area to the West of this one, and then upgraded to this cavernous expanse of square footage and tables.  Brick Street Market didn’t last, sadly, and the Trout House took over the space. The issue with this particular location remains one of some trouble. On one hand, it’s Delavan, which struggles to pull from the Lake Geneva market. On the other hand, that space is so large that it’s nearly impossible to feel as though you aren’t eating a hot lunch in a school cafeteria on a Saturday, when just you and the other few kids in detention are in the building.

I tried to go to the Trout House twice before, both times being turned away. So last Friday I went early, arriving at 5:30, and found immediate seating near the front window.  The space, as described above, is nice and new, with some generic updated finishes, but the space remains so large that I cannot imagine it feeling lively or cozy under any circumstance. Still, the restaurant is clean and bright and there’s some exposed brick on the walls.  Once seated, we perused the menu. No mention of a fish fry. Some rainbow trout dishes, of course, but where was my cod?

I inquired of the waitress, and she told me of the fish fry. It’s two or three piece fried cod, or a single piece broiled cod, served with choice of potato and the typical sides. I ordered the three piece fried, as I need to keep up my weight in the event that I am ever called upon to hold onto a hot air balloon that has blown dangerously close to power lines. My wife ordered the one piece broiled. We drank our water and waited.

The wait wasn’t long, which was nice.   My fried looked crunchy and sublime, my wife’s broiled appeared to be a hefty portion. Hers was served with drawn butter, which immediately captured by attention. There was no table bread or butter, which I thought odd for a restaurant like this.  The potato pancakes were served two to an order, and the accompaniments of applesauce, tartar sauce, and coleslaw were offered up in small plastic tubs. How I longed for the sophistication of a ceramic or metal dish.

The potato pancake was up first. Nicely crisped, smallish in size, overwhelmingly bland. It had some green flecks in it that I initially thought might represent flavor, but those flecks turned out to be parsley, which is the anti-flavor. The pancakes lacked salt and needed a bit more panache. The fried cod was appropriately crunchy and sported a very nice battered exterior.  The interior was white and flaky, well seasoned. The fried fish was a delight, and after two weeks off from the Friday Fish Tour, I enjoyed my three pieces rather quickly. My wife’s broiled cod was dry, and needed some salt.

The applesauce, all two spoonfuls of it, was righteously chunky, which was also the name of my childhood praise and worship band. But it was a bit warm, which detracted from the otherwise wonderful sauce. The coleslaw was ok, and my wife liked the tartar sauce. When I pressed her for the reasons why the tartar sauce was good, she declined to comment further.  The dinner was over shortly after it began, and left me with a general feeling of meh.

Having spent that vacation in France last month, we decided that dessert would be nice. We ordered the chocolate torte at the waitress’s recommendation, along with two coffees. The torte was divine, deep and rich, not too sweet, but dense and more closely aligned with fudge than anything else. The coffee was acceptable, but would it kill local restaurants to indulge in an espresso machine? I have one that cost $599 and it works perfectly. Please, local restaurants, I’m begging for something other than drip coffee. Worse yet,  we were served cream in single serve take-out plastic teaspoon size tubs. The sort you’d find at a rest stop somewhere between Lodi and Necedah.  What a terrible miss this is for any restaurant, and what an easy miss this is to fix. Please serve cream with your coffee. It’s so easy. Painfully easy.

The dinner tab with tip came to $53. The fish dinners were $15 each, which is in line with expectations. Sadly, on this night, the Trout House failed to impress me. I love what it is that Rushing Waters does. I love their business, and their impact on this local economy. But a fish business should serve me a better fish fry. If not them, who? It shouldn’t be so hard to dial in the details of a proper Friday Night Fish Fry, but I’m finding that somehow it is. I’d give the Trout House a visit, either in their Delavan location or the Palmyra one (north of Elkhorn). But don’t expect to be dazzled,  just expect to be fed.

Trout House at  Delavan 6/10

118 East Walworth Avenue, Delavan, WI

$15 Fried or Broiled Cod

South Shore Bar Fish Fry Review

South Shore Bar Fish Fry Review

I was born in Elkhorn. Raised in Williams Bay. Then I lived in Linn Township, Geneva Township, Delavan Township, Fontana, and now Walworth Township. I am the embodiment of local. The word was made for me. If I’m not a local here, no one is a local anywhere. I was in France last week, being a non-local. If not for my strapping American frame and my obvious American nature, I might, after some lengthy period of time, be considered, at least by some, as a local.  This business of localness typically requires significant effort and significant time.  Last Friday night I walked in to the South Shore Bar and Grill on Delavan’s southern shore, feeling very much not like a local.

I’ve been to this bar before, or I should say, at least once before. I went with a friend for pizza on a night when our wives weren’t looking. On that night, I generally enjoyed the pizza, which is tavern style. But on this night, I was there for the fish fry, and the parking lot sign proclaimed that I was indeed at the right place. I should say that I didn’t intend to visit the South Shore Bar that night. I first went to the Rushing Waters Trout House restaurant in Delavan. The restaurant there is very large, and when we walked in we were delighted to see open tables and no one waiting. The hostess told us there would be a 20-30 minute wait. But there were open tables, I replied, incredulous in my tone. She said there weren’t enough servers. And so we left. This is embarrassing for the Trout House, and if I were in any position of authority there I’d quickly right my ship before all of this excess water sinks it.

The South Shore Bar and Grill is a bar. There’s a large bar in the main room, with a small dining room off to the West side. When we arrived the parking lot was full and so was the restaurant. We were told the wait would be maybe 10 minutes, so we stood by the door, sticking out like very sore thumbs. Eyes glanced our direction. At least one man at the bar whispered something to another man at the bar. It might have been about my powder blue shorts, but I couldn’t be certain. A man on the other side of the bar drank from a tall can of Busch Light. His wife nursed a cocktail.  Everyone knew each other, no one knew us. If it weren’t for the Wisconsin law, I’m guessing 40% of the bar would have been pulling on a heater.

A polite but somewhat harried hostess led us to our booth. The booth cushion on the one side was torn open in many spots, so I opted for the other side. But the other side had very little breathing room, and the table was affixed to the wall, a condition I only realized after pushing and tugging at it for a while. I switched with my son and sat on the torn side. I reviewed my fishy options.

All you can eat fried cod, $11.50. Baked cod dinner, $11.50. Pan Fried Walleye, $15.95. Fried Walleye, $15.95. Fried Perch Dinner, $15.95. These are fine options. Impressive really, for a small bar on the way to no-where, just around the corner from Nothing. The menu reflected a general understanding of the Wisconsin Fish Fry. All items were served with a  side of potato and access to the small salad bar that resided in between the bar and the dining room. I asked the waitress what she recommended. The fried walleye was a bit bland for her taste. She loved the perch. I opted for the fried cod, with a piece of baked cod for good measure.

The salad bar was modest. A few bowls of mayonnaise based salad of some variety, along with some lettuce, chopped onion and tomato, and shredded cheese. I could have used a few more accoutrements, but seeing as how I was at a bar for fish fry, I didn’t mind. If you wanted a salad bar, you should have gone to a salad restaurant. This was a fried food restaurant with a side of pizza, and I was content to nibble a bit of salad and wait for my fish. After a week  of French food,  my stomach was hankering for some classic Wisconsin fish fry.

And the South Shore Bar didn’t disappoint. The fried cod came out, two pieces with my initial order, and it was delightful. The batter was well seasoned, and the fish was moist, sweet, and salty. I really loved it. The baked was a bit dry, but it was served with a small plastic tub of drawn butter, and that made everything better. There was a single slice of rye bread on my plate, which was awful as expected but it was buttered so how terrible could it really be? Give me liberty or give me death, but if you’re going to give me rye bread you should at least butter it for me.

The two potato pancakes were nicely fried to a golden brown, and while they were a touch dry, they met the expectation of an average pancake.  I quickly ate all of my food and asked for a few more pieces of fried cod, not because I was hungry but because I refuse to walk away from an all-you-can-eat dinner offering without ordering seconds. The cod was again delightful, even if my second piece was thicker and ended up being slightly undercooked.  My wife said the tartar sauce was okay, and I found the applesauce to be delicious. It was served ice cold, and had immense flavor. It was, perhaps, my favorite applesauce to date.

I enjoyed my dinner at the South Shore Bar and Grill.  The waitress was sweet and attentive, the food above average for this tour. The fried cod was a real treat, as the seasoned batter elevated otherwise bland cod to a higher level. I’d add the South Shore Bar to your Fish Fry rotation, especially if your preferred joint is slammed this summer.  I left feeling satisfied in my dinner, and had it not been for those powder blue shorts and my wife’s white jeans, we might have fit right in.

 

South Shore Bar and Grill 7/10

W6763 South Shore Drive, Delavan, WI

$11.50 All You Can Eat Fried Cod

 

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…)

 

Culver’s Fish Fry Review

Culver’s Fish Fry Review

I was a bit nervous about having to write this review. It reminded me of the time I decided to go visit Harbor Country for the first time, just to see what it was all about. I booked my hotel and drove East, down that terrible route and across Indiana, the Fireworks and Strip Club signs lighting my way.  Once I was done driving East, I drove North, up and along that shore, worried that what I would find would be so wonderful that I’d have no means to ever compete with it. When I pulled into the town a deep sense of relief gently washed over me.  This place wasn’t great at all. I had worried about this competition for no reason, for no reason at all. This place was lame, and I was relieved.

I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to sit in the VC meeting where Culver’s first pitched its business plan. The Culvers’ brothers on one side of the table, with their attorney, me and my VC cohorts on the other side.   I’d lead off by asking what this new plan was that brought them to my office.  “It’s a burger joint”,  one Culver would respond. I’d say, so what’s the catch? There’s a lot of burger joints, obviously. How do you plan to attract customers? What’s your angle? Will you serve the food like super fast? “No, we’ll take the order and then give people and little plastic number and make them wait in their cars for a while, maybe like five or seven minutes, then we’ll bring them out their food”. 

Ok. So is the food like super cheap and affordable? “No, it’ll be very nearly the same cost as a sit down meal might be at a regular restaurant where they have waitresses and metal silverware”.  Ok. So, you’re going to create a fast food restaurant that will be quite expensive and you’ll make people wait in their cars for an extraordinarily long amount of time before you serve them some burgers and crinkle cut fries?  “Yes, that’s right”.   That’s when I’d pass on the deal and that’s why the Culver’s family is super rich and I’m typing fish fry reviews.

Last Friday called for a short road trip, which means there was no time for the traditional Friday Fish Fry. But alas, the trip was through Wisconsin, and so we decided there would be no better time to test the waters at Culver’s. The fast food chain has become a ubiquitous Wisconsin staple, and their television commercials spend considerable effort touting their fish fry. I have little doubt that their fish is among the best in the fast food world, but how does it stand up to the typical Wisconsin dinner?

The Cross Plains Culver’s is in an awkward location. It’s right off of Highway 14, but the drive-thru is wonky and the parking lot is small. The display screen doesn’t show any particular fish fry option, though it does offer an Atlantic Cod Sandwich, which is presumably the same fish that is served as a fish fry. Wild caught from the Barents Sea, apparently. I asked the fella on the other side of the screen if there was a fish fry. There was. Two or three pieces, served with two sides.  The price wasn’t listed, but I came to find out when the total was announced that it was $12.99. That’s in line with any sit down establishment where you don’t have to eat with one knee on the steering wheel.

I ordered three pieces with fries. Then I paid the enormous tab of $36 (my son had a fish sandwich, my wife chicken tenders with no fries, my daughter a kid’s meal, no ice cream, no sides, no extra drinks) and pulled around to my designated waiting spot. Several minutes later a nice girl brought out a large brown bag with our dinner. After disbursing the contents, we noticed we were short a couple of items, so my wife had to run in to ask for what was left off our order. This is pretty lame, but it’s Culver’s, so nothing fast should be expected.

My fish dinner was served in a plastic plate with matching plastic lid. Three pieces of cod, all nice size filets, with a lemon wedge, fries, and a small dinner roll. The roll was a nice touch, but if ever I would have given a pass for serving foiled, cold butter, this was it. Yet no butter was included. Perhaps it was left behind, like the rest of our order. With no potato pancake to judge, I’ll just say that the fries were fine but in no way should Culver’s be proud of their crinkle cut fries. Their custard is praise worthy, but their potato is not.

The cod was fine. The battered exterior was crunchy, the fish was respectable but in no way memorable. It was a touch dry,  bland, and not worth the $12.99 ransom. I ate it as I drove West, one hand on the fish, the other on the wheel. Nothing about the dinner was good. Nothing about it was memorable. Nothing about it is worthy of your fish fry time. If you’re running late on a Friday night and feel like a fast food fish fry might be a convenient substitute for a sit-down fish fry, don’t do it. Just skip it and wait for the next Friday to roll around.

Culver’s 3/10

Everywhere, Wisconsin

$12.99 Three Piece Fried Cod

Lake Geneva Yacht Club Fish Fry Review

Lake Geneva Yacht Club Fish Fry Review

Sometimes, dive bars aren’t where it’s at. They’re fun, the irony of it all, of the dated this and the out of style that.  But once in a while you just want to be surrounded by nice things. This is why we have nice lake houses. Old cottages are cute and fun, but luxury isn’t so bad either. Last Friday night I abandoned the dive bar scene and embraced the fanciful surroundings of the lake set. The Lake Geneva Yacht Club serves a Fish Fry, which means it must be judged.

Friday night wasn’t a great night. It was a bit windy and a bit cloudy, excepting a bright burst of sun that pushed through the low clouds right around sunset. The dying light made one last gasp and filled the lakefront bar just as we pulled up a chair. Our benevolent hosts had arrived before my wife and I, and as we chatted in that beautiful bar that lakefront light slowly faded beyond the western shore.

This is a restaurant at a yacht club (with a venerable history), so the E-Scow hanging from the ceiling and the trophies filling the glass cases shouldn’t come as any surprise. The surroundings here are vibrant and clean, beautiful, really, as they should be given the building is only a few years old. A large fireplace anchors the Eastern wall of that large, lakeside dining room.  The glow flickered throughout the room, with the overhead chandeliers warmed to low.  Excepting Pier 290, this is the nicest scene of any fish fry you’ll find in the Lake Geneva area.  But this is also a private club, so you’ll need to consider membership to enjoy this place. Or just be like me, and tag along with friends.

After some time lingering near the bar, where I nursed my Sprite, we sat at a table for four in the middle of that lovely dining room.  The crowd was well dressed, happy, with most sporting birth years that fell closer to those of my parents than my own. The waiter was quickly table side, and with a slightly uneasy cadence described our dining options. The Fish Fry was two piece cod, served broiled or fried, served with potato pancakes, applesauce, tartar sauce, hushpuppies, and coleslaw.  That sounds good, I’ll take it.

The Crab Cake appetizer looked worthwhile, so we took a stab. It was a singular cake ($14), nicely crisped but tender as a crab cake should be. It was served with a smear of something or other and a small assembly of finely diced vegetables, bacon, and some corn. It was a delicious appetizer, though I would have liked to have some larger chunks of crab in the cake.  In the distance, the old men in blazers discussed the wind and knots and cleats and sails.

The fish arrived within a reasonable amount of time, served on a white platter with quality, smaller dishes holding in the tartar sauce and other accompaniments. I liked this, as the plague of plastic takeout containers had been kept out of this fine establishment. The fish filets were not large, but they were large enough, and shaped like a proper rectangle, not a silly square. A lemon wedge sat atop my broiled piece. The potato pancakes were moderately sized, and after a disappointing run where my cakes were served in the singular, I had a nice pair of pancakes to consider.

My first bite was of the fried cod.  The batter was super crunchy, thin, not tough, the cod white and tender like the cod in my dreams. It was perfect. Well salted, slightly sweet, and perhaps the best fried cod I’ve had so far, only rivaled by the Lookout Bar at Lake Lawn Lodge. The broiled piece was slightly undercooked, which is preferable to slightly overcooked.  The hushpuppies (2) were sweet and creamy, the best hushpuppies I’ve had to date. If dusted with powdered sugar and served after dinner on a small white plate, I would have appreciated them even as a dessert.

The potato pancakes were well salted, with a bit of extra flavor that I couldn’t quite identify. They were thin, but properly cooked, nicely crisped, and delightful. Were they the best pancake I’ve had? No, but they were close.  The applesauce was too smooth for my liking, but it was cold and flavorful. The tartar sauce, according to my dinner mates, was lighter than typical, nuanced with flavor, and generally accepted as being delicious.

This was a beautiful dinner. The food was wonderful. The scene divine. The hushed murmurs of sailing strategy only slightly distracting to my fishy focus.  Given that this is a private club, it only stands to reason that it would be better than your average fish fry, but this dinner was exceptional. The next day, I inquired of the membership manager as to what a social membership would cost me. This is a fish fry I might not be able to live without.

 

Lake Geneva Yacht Club 9/10

1250 South Lakeshore Drive, Fontana, WI 

Members Only

$17 Single Serve Fried or Broiled Cod

Harpoon Willies Fish Fry Review

Harpoon Willies Fish Fry Review

Last Friday marked my twelfth consecutive Friday night fish fry, at my twelfth different restaurant. The process of deciding which establishment to judge hasn’t been as easy as you might think.  Should I drive to East Troy to some restaurant that someone on this blog said I should visit? Or do I stick to the staples, to the restaurants that everyone knows? Visiting the unknown might be more fun, and if I visit the unknown and the fish is awful then at least I won’t offend anyone in my home town. Last Friday, my wife and I went to Harpoon Willies in Williams Bay. I’ve been there more times than I can count, but this was the first time I’ve ever ordered the fish.

Unlike the other restaurants I’ve visited, Harpoon Willies matters to me.  On a hot summer afternoon in the early 1990s I stood nervously in that parking lot in my dirty lawn mowing clothes while Harry Caray autographed a receipt for me. Holy Cow, Cub’s Win. Followed by a scribble that must have been his signature. I took some time off from Harpoons after that day, but in recent years the in-house smoker brought me back. The brisket sandwich is as smoky and tender as it might be anywhere. The waffle fries are the best french fry on any menu in the county.  It’s with this understood bias that I entered into that dark establishment last Friday night.

The restaurant is across the street from the lake in Williams Bay, but it still classifies as lakeside to me. There’s a large screened porch that was understandably quiet on this chilly Friday evening. The primary dining area consists of a long bar surrounded by some high tops and a few booths. The booths were rebuilt with reclaimed barn wood a year or so ago, and they’re quite nice. The whole scene is nice. It’s like a dive bar that looks cool and doesn’t make you regret entering the second the door pulls shut behind you. There’s an old boat hanging from the ceiling, sports on the televisions, and generally upbeat crowd that would make me comfortable with my mom and dad or my daughter in tow.

Once we were situated at our high-top for two nearest the porch and lakeside windows, the pleasant waiter was table side to take our order.  I asked if any appetizers were worth my consideration.  Without hesitation the calamari was recommended.  When ordering calamari it’s a toss up between restaurants that serve it with marinara sauce and those that serve it with cocktail sauce. Harpoons makes no equivocation and serves theirs with cocktail sauce, the way God intended.  The Fish Fry, according to the waiter, was a single serve portion of fried, beer battered cod, with a single potato pancake (the single pancake returns to vex me). The sides of applesauce, coleslaw and tartar sauce are included.  We ordered the fish and waited.

The calamari was brought out first, within five or six minutes. It was a decent sized portion, not necessarily generous. But the calamari was tender and the breading light. It was a delicious appetizer. We greedily ate it, which is the only way to eat fried calamari. Should you ever find yourself with someone who casually and delicately eats fried calamari, you must distance yourself from them. They likely swallow pills dry and purposefully bathe in lukewarm water. A few minutes after we finished the calamari the fish was served.  The first glance proved three golden pieces of cod with a large, flat potato pancake underneath. The sides were served in plastic take-out containers, stacked on top of it all.  In spite of my immediate disapproval of the takeout cups, the rest of the dinner looked delicious even if the portion size looked small.  Because I’ve been a patron of Harpoon’s for years, I had high expectations that they would deliver on their typically better than average bar fare.

I knew there was trouble when my fork first, and barely, touched the fried cod. The human brain is a an amazing creation, and it knows just how much pressure a hand holding a fork should have to apply in order to break through a piece of soft cod. My hand applied the pressure, the fork pressing into the battered exterior. Instead of breaking open, as a piece of fried cod should perform, this cod just compressed under the pressure of my fork.  I pressed harder, the fish didn’t yield. I picked up the piece of fish with my hand, this is a bar after all, and took a bite. The crunch was perfect, but the fish was immeasurably dry. The next piece was the same. The third piece, the same. My wife’s fish was equally tough and dry. The fish was the worst piece of fried fish I’ve had on this tour. The week of anticipation, the hunger brought on Friday while thinking of a delicious bite of fried fish, the entire week and forthcoming weekend, ruined by this overcooked fish.

The potato pancake was very thin, and as a result, it was a touch dry. It wasn’t super crispy, and it wasn’t very flavorful.  The singular note of potato was all that I could discern.  It was a disappointment. The applesauce was smooth but flavorful. The coleslaw and tartar sauce acceptable, but not praiseworthy, according to my wife.  There was no bread or butter served with dinner, which is a typical situation at a bar, so while I missed it I didn’t expect it.  We finished our meal and quietly drove home to pick fish out of our teeth.

And in this, there is a lesson. Just because a place serves fish, that doesn’t mean the place is somewhere you should go for fish fry. I’m doing this review series to weed out the restaurants that aren’t worth your time, but that only applies to the fish fry. Harpoon Willie’s serves most delicious smoked meats. The waffle fries are divine. The scene is quite wonderful, summer or winter. But the fish fry was a complete and terrible miss. Perhaps the chef left the fish in the oil for a couple of minutes too long. I’ve done the same. Perhaps every other order that night was perfect. Whatever the reason,  I wouldn’t go to Harpoon’s for their fish. Just like I wouldn’t go to Pino’s for their fish. I’d go to Harpoons to eat a brisket sandwich and waffle fries. I’d go for their pizza, which is quite good. I’d go because I like Williams Bay and I like the idea of a quick dinner or lunch lakeside, either in winter with a game on or during summer in the screened porch. You’ll see me again at Harpoon Willies soon enough, but I won’t be eating the fish.

 

Harpoon Willies 3/10

$13 Fried Cod (three piece) with Potato Pancake

8 East Geneva Street, Williams Bay

Pino’s Fish Fry Review

Pino’s Fish Fry Review

Pino’s Last Call has been a Walworth dining option for more than 30 years. I’ve eaten their pizza many times, and count it among the best tavern style pizza in the area. In spite of these years and because of this pizza, I’ve never, ever, eaten anything else from Pino’s. It’s a pizza place, so I order the pizza. Except last Friday night when I went to order the fish. Every restaurant in Wisconsin is a fish restaurant on Friday night, so whether Pino’s wants to or not, they submit to the expectation. Friday night I found myself in the restaurant, hungry.

Pino’s occupies the old Ben Franklin store in Walworth, tucked into the back of a small strip-mall style enclave wedged between the old town square and Sentry. The space is large. Correction, the space is too large. It’s a space that I’m sure fills at certain times, but most of the time it’s just a large restaurant that feels rather sparse.  My wife and I entered around 6:30 pm and made our way to the North side of the restaurant, opposite the bar area, and sat down in what was the frame department of my youth. The high top for two was fine.

The waitress was cheery and table side in a reasonable amount of time. I had asked to be seated in the bar area on account of the NCAA basketball that occupied those televisions. I am nothing if not an inattentive dinner date.  I asked if any appetizers were worth ordering. She said the mozzarella sticks are homemade, rather than saying they were housemade, which is, of course, the correct way of identifying the location of assembly.  I ordered the cheese curds, because my wife is a curd aficionado and we’ve had a nice run with the curd lately.

The fish fry is Haddock, a Cod like fish that’s somehow different. A quick google search told me that Haddock is drier than Cod, a bit more firm, and nearly indistinguishable from its dark water dwelling relative. The Haddock is served broiled or fried, all you can eat, with potato pancakes or fries. I ordered the usual, one piece of each, with the potato pancake.  The cheese curds were brought, along with our waters. Michigan State was winning.

The curds were fine. Not the best I’ve ever had, but fine. Sort of similar to a Culver’s curd with a breading and not a batter. They are served with marinara sauce rather than ranch dressing, and while I prefer the ranch I did like their super sweet marinara sauce very much. The wait for our fish was somewhat lengthy, but not so long that it felt like an inconvenience. I watched some of the game and some of the kids pestering their parents for video game money (there’s a small arcade area near the front door).

When the fish made its initial appearance it was obvious were weren’t dealing with Cod here. The Haddock was in small fish-stick shaped pieces,  two pieces fried and two pieces broiled. The pieces were small, perhaps four or five bites each. The battered was golden brown, the broiled sprinkled with a top spicing of paprika and what I thought to be oregano.  The broiled was a bit dry, which is apparently a hallmark of Haddock. It was passable, but I didn’t find it to be magical in any way. The fried was a bit soggy on the exterior, lacking any particular crunch.  When cutting off a bite sized section with my fork the fish fell out of the battered exterior, leaving me with some hunks of fish and a calamari shaped ring of batter. This wasn’t ideal. The fish had a nice flavor, perhaps preferable to a typical cod dinner, but I didn’t care for the more dry texture and I didn’t like the deconstructed arrangement between the batter and the fish.

The potato pancakes came two to an order, which was a welcome plurality after the singular cake at Crafted Americana. These pancakes were not crispy, a bit greasy, and a touch dry.  This is not a winning combination for a potato pancake. After having found several pancakes with interesting flavor profiles, this was back to the single note, rather bland cake. It falls somewhere in between the average pancake on this tour and the poor pancakes I was served at 290 and Gordy’s.  As I ate, I longed for the delicious pancake of the Lookout Bar, or the Big Foot Inn.

The sides of applesauce, tartar sauce and coleslaw were served in small plastic containers. The applesauce was perhaps two large spoonfuls worth. It was smooth and bland, but at least it wasn’t hot. The coleslaw and tartar sauce were okay, my wife said.  I noted the lack of enthusiasm in her eyes.  In spite of our orders being identical, my wife’s dinner was served with a small container of drawn butter, but no applesauce. I was served applesauce but not butter. This is an inconsistency that shouldn’t be tolerated, at least not by a restaurant that’s been in business for thirty or more years.  There was no bread for the table, no butter, softened, foiled, or otherwise.

I have no relationship with Pino’s. No fond memories of eating here with family and friends, laughing the night away.  Because of this I can judge this dinner without any cloudy encumbrances of nostalgia or familiarity. This fish fry was not memorable. It was cheap, and at $9.95 per for all you can eat it registers as our most economical dinner of 2018.   But the fish fry was mediocre at best. There were too many misses to consider this a fish fry worthy of your time.  In spite of this, I still think you should visit Pino’s on a Friday night. Just order the pizza.

 

Pino’s Last Call 4/10

$9.95 All You Can Eat Haddock

545 Kenosha Street, Walworth

 

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.