Blog : Fish Fry Reviews

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry Review

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry Review

The full title of this restaurant might be “Ivan’s On The Square Unique Dining”, but there’s a similar chance that it’s actually “Ivan’s On The Square, East Troy House Tavern”.  I can’t be sure. No one can be sure. Ivan, he’d be sure. But I didn’t see him there, and I don’t know if he’s the owner.  Ivan’s is dog friendly, according to the internet, so the odds that Ivan is a dog and that this place is his are strong to quite strong. Still, it was a Friday and a friend said Ivan’s was worth a shot, so I drove myself to East Troy’s small square and settled into a four top near the old-timey bar that guards the north wall of this in-town establishment.

If you’re a snob, then odds are you won’t admit to liking the smell of Burger King. If you look yourself in the mirror and allow your honesty to prevail, you’ll confess to being enthusiastic about that smell. Those smoky plumes rising from the roof of that greasy establishment,  carrying with them the smell of grilled burgers–there’s very little that I find objectionable to that pronounced smell. I would subscribe to the theory that they do this on purpose. They do it to draw your attention. The other day I drove by Burger King in Elkhorn, and the smoke was billowing from the rooftop. There were no patrons inside, no cars in the drive-thru, perhaps two cars in the entire parking lot. Someone had to be working there. Yet the smoke was rising, signaling to passersby that the new burger had indeed been chosen, and it was flame broiled.  The smell, man. The smell.

With that in mind, the smell in Ivan’s was of a particular cleaning agent. It might have been straight bleach, mixed with a bit of water and used to wash the tables and chairs, the bar and the windows.  It was aggressively sterile, and the smell didn’t help develop my hunger, and my hunger needs so very little prodding to develop.  The smell would bother me throughout lunch, and I thought that a terrible shame since the remainder of the lunch experience was delightful.  A note to Ivan’s, stop using the cleaning agent, and if you ignore my request,  then at least don’t use it shortly before lunch service begins.

Once I forced myself past the abrasive smell, I was onto the menu. It looked good. It looked like it should. The restaurant promises a bistro dining experience, and as far as I can tell the only thing that differentiates a bistro experience from a diner experience is nothing. The menu was full of sandwiches and assorted, proper offerings, each of which looked tempting in their own way. But it was Friday, and I am born of Wisconsin, which meant it was a day for fish, and I am a man made for fish. The fish here would be cod or perch, handed breaded and baked or battered and fried. The perch was only available hand breaded and baked. That’s a common theme for perch offerings in this region, perhaps owing to the more delicate nature of perch and its unwillingness to stand up for itself in a fryer.  We hacked the menu with my friend ordering the breaded and I the battered, so we could exchange a piece and sample one of each when the time came.

There would be little time to consider the wait. The fish was out in short order, perhaps less than ten minutes, which I can always appreciate. The plate looked nice, with two pieces of a rye bread, a lemon wedge, small tubs of applesauce, tartar sauce, and coleslaw, along with two potato pancakes and the aforementioned fish. The bread was placed on top of the fish, which warmed the bread nicely. There was no butter here, no foil wrapped rectangles, no generous bowl of soft, beckoning butter. But the two slices were pre-buttered, which is the first time I’ve encountered this method. I can’t say that I didn’t like it.

After swapping fish, I tried the battered first. It was crunchy and well salted. The fish was flaky and moist. The batter may have been beer based, but the beer flavor was muted, which is preferred, and I enjoyed this fish very much. It was also the first fish fry I’ve eaten in several months, so perhaps my bar had reset lower over the summer, and Ivan’s fish easily cleared it. The next piece was the hand-breaded. It was like a shake and bake breading, but it was quite well seasoned, perhaps even salty. The fish was similarly tender, which I thought to be a feat, considering the two fish were treated and prepared differently.

The potato pancakes were smaller and thinner than is my lasting preference. They were crunchy, which was nice, and they weren’t saw-dusty like some of the pancakes I’ve choked down on this tour. But there was something slightly odd in that I detected the slightest hint of ginger in the cake. I have a distrust of ginger, so the ginger bothered me, if only slightly.  I was in the company of one of these apple-sauce spreaders, but I did a fine job ignoring him as he slathered his applesauce on top of his potato pancake, like some sort of masochist.

The waitress was pleasant, if not overly so. My water went dry at some point during lunch, and as I write this morning I cannot recall if it was ever refilled. But Ivan’s does not disappoint, and the issues I had with the lunch, the bleach smell aside, were nuanced. The fish was excellent, the scene fitting, the little square in East Troy on a November afternoon, charming. A big thank you to my friend for the invite, and if two kids from Williams Bay can find their way to East Troy for some Friday fish, then perhaps you should, too.

Ivan’s On The Square Fish Fry 7.5/10

2087 Division Street, East Troy, WI

$10 hand breaded cod or perch, or fried cod

 

West Wind Diner Fish Fry Review

West Wind Diner Fish Fry Review

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a thing for restaurants that offer Tater Tots as a side.  When a choice of potato is offered, it’s usually baked or fried. The baked potato is a thing of the past, even though Big Baked Potato works hard to convince you of their imaginary relevance. French Fries will always be a thing, always near and dear to me, but there’s no surprise here. It’s the Tater Tot that’s unique in today’s world of potato, and that’s why the West Wind Diner in Darien has a leg up on its competition, even before the rest of the menu is considered and a dinner is ordered.

The West Wind Diner is at the intersection of Highway 14 and Interstate 43, just outside of Darien.  The restaurant looks like something from Steinbach, Manitoba. If you’ve never been, trust me, this is what the restaurants look like. I’ve been. The parking lot is huge, mostly gravel, made that way on purpose to entice hungry truckers. It’s a truck stop, really, but it’s clean and it’s modern and there’s a case with  pies in it right next to the Please Wait To Be Seated sign.

A super friendly waitress sat us at a booth near the window. There’s no view here to consider, just the front grills of the vehicles in the parking lot.  We hadn’t intended to eat here, mind you.  We drove this direction to eat at the Duck Inn, farther to the North. That supper club staple was slammed at 5:40, with a 30-45 minute wait, so we drove back towards home and I remembered some fine diner meals I’ve had over the years at West Wind. That’s why we were there, and that’s why we listened intently to the fish fry offerings.

Baked or fried cod, fried is all-you-can-eat. There’s a perch offering, too, but when pressed the waitress revealed her affinity for the cod. The baked variety is offered plain, lemon-peppered, or blackened.  The choice of potato was as I earlier mentioned, and while I longed for the Tots, I stuck to my guns and ordered the potato pancakes. A choice of soup or salad was nice. My daughter went for the dumpling soup, my wife and I ate salad, appropriately drenched in ranch dressing.  The croutons were oily and misshapen, which at first seemed a bit difficult but was, in fact, a sign of their housemade origins.

I opted for fried and baked (lemon pepper, apparently, though I don’t remember ordering it that way). My wife went with the blackened cod and fries.  The baked pieces were large, rectangular. They were pretty good, though my wife thought the consistency was a bit chewy. They were a touch dry, and mine lacked salt. The seasoning additions were fine, but nothing memorable. I munched on some bread, because that’s what I do. The rolls were wrapped in plastic, like we were in seats 31 E and F, traveling from Newark to Tampa. There was no butter, foiled or otherwise, in sight. For shame.

My fried pieces were extra crispy, uniquely shaped, and sadly, dry. The tartar sauce helped a bit, but alas, they were beyond redemption. The potato pancakes looked the part, but they, too, were off. The texture was spongy, rubbery,  perhaps over-beaten to such a degree that the starch was too wound and bound. The applesauce was smooth, but at least it was served in a small metal tub (as was the tartar sauce).  At the end of our meal we were given the option of a few different sorts of ice cream, which were served in old-timey sunday glasses. The ice cream was meh but the touch was appreciated and charming.

When the dust settled, I was stuffed. The meal was perhaps a bit below average, but the waitress was sweet and there was obvious care put into the menu and the preparation. Sadly, this is not a congeniality contest. For the Lake Geneva Set, I can’t recommend driving this far out of your way for this fish fry.  While I appreciate the West Wind Diner, I think next time I’ll visit in the morning hours, and order an omelet with a side of tots.

 

West Wind Diner 5/10

620 North Walworth Street (highway 14) Darien, WI

All you can eat fried cod, or baked cod dinner (one or two pieces), typical sides plus tater tots.

Crandall’s Fish Fry Review

Crandall’s Fish Fry Review

Old people get a bad rap for eating early. Younger people flaunt their late eating habits as though they’ve made it into some exclusive club, the club that only eats late. Dinner reservations for me and my cool young friends at 8 pm, please.   But throughout this year of fried fish dinners, I’ve found that old people don’t deserve this bad rap. There’s nothing wrong with eating early. In fact, I’ve been eating most of my fishy meals around 5 pm. Why? Because I don’t want to wait in line.  The old people don’t want to wait either, that’s why they head out early. And that’s why I cozied up to a garden-view table at Crandall’s last Friday at 5 pm on the nose.

This review wasn’t easy for me. I’ve long known of Crandall’s, but I hadn’t yet been.  As I defend and flaunt all things Wisconsin, Crandall’s is on the other side of that skinny border. It might be two short miles from Wisconsin, but it’s technically in Hebron, Illinois. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and we’ll begrudgingly allow our Illinoisan brethren to adopt our culture. I went there Friday night to determine whether or not they’re doing a proper job representing the Friday Fish Fry, which is, unequivocally, our thing.

I should note that my dinner at Crandall’s was covered by a gracious client of mine who had told me often of this regionally famous institution.  I was grateful for his invitation, and grateful for his wise guidance that led us to a four top table with a view of the pleasant gardens that Crandall’s has cultivated.  Something to be sure of, Crandall’s is not a Fish Fry Joint. It’s a Chicken Joint. The website isn’t CRANDALLSFISH.COM. It’s CRANDALLSCHICKEN.COM.  Even though the lake set knows Crandall’s predominately for its place in our fish fry realm, it’s a chicken shop first and a fish shop second.

Still, the waitress was table side and told us of the special. Fried Icelandic Cod is all you can eat. Broiled cod is single serve. If your obesity is uncontrolled, you can order the combo platter which is chicken and fish. And if you’re me, you order the combo platter AND a side of the broiled cod, just to be sure. The orders were placed and the waitress promptly brought out a basket of fresh, warm bread and cinnamon rolls. The butter was forced into a tablespoon rectangle and  held captive by foil, but it was softened, so things weren’t all bad. The dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls were both light and airy, and both quickly disappeared from our table. Our waitress removed the empty basket and we felt deep shame over our gluttony.

The fish was brought out soon enough, as the restaurant slowly filled with Friday diners of all makes and models. Some old farmers from down the road, some families from town. I recognized several diners from the Lake Geneva scene. Everyone was happy.  A heaping plate of chicken and cod and potato pancakes was placed before me, a towering tribute to fried flesh.  My large piece of broiled was on its own plate, served with some lemon slices.  I ate first from the cuts of fried  cod. They were flour dredged and fried, not battered. The fish was a slight touch dry, but the seasoning in the dredge was pronounced, which was a good thing.  The theme of proper seasoning would run throughout the night.

The baked cod had a nice texture and was properly salted, but it, too, was just a touch dry. I realized I was judging this place more harshly than it might have deserved, but this place is royalty in the fish fry world and I felt I had to hold it to that standard. The potato pancakes were crisp and moist and well salted. Maybe a bit too salted, if there is such a thing. While I was there for the fish, I ate a piece of chicken and quickly realized why the website proclaims the chicken to be world famous. It was tender and nicely salted, the thin seasoned dredge impossibly crispy. The chicken was divine.

As quickly as it started, dinner was over. I was stuffed. The dinner was a success, and it wasn’t difficult to see why Crandall’s holds captive the attention of the thousands of patrons who frequent this roadside restaurant.  While I’ve only been once, I had a distinct feeling that Crandall’s doesn’t waiver much from week to week, dinner to dinner. It has the air of consistency, much like Anthony’s, and that’s what keeps that till humming.  The staff was pleasant and courteous, the space clean and inviting, the parking lot oversized and accommodating. Unlike other restaurants in this series, I don’t think you need me to tell you to go to Crandall’s. If you already know, you already go, and chances are you’ll be there next Friday just like you were the Friday before.

 

Crandall’s  7.5/10

10441  Route 47, Hebron, IL 60034

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.

Novak’s Fish Fry Review

Novak’s Fish Fry Review

On one hand, I should have probably visited France before I turned 40. Maybe it would have been more interesting if I had been 20 years old, backpacking and hitch-hiking my way through Europe, free as a bird without a care or concern or shred of responsibility.  Or maybe that would have been a terrible idea, because who would want to sleep in a dirty hostel when Amex has a Fine Hotels Collection? Who knew about this when they were 20?  Regardless of the benefit of better lodging, there’s one other desire I discovered on my recent trip that likely would have been lost on 20 year old me: The allure of outdoor dining.

While wandering our way through that foreign land I do believe we only ate three or four meals in-doors. This outdoor style had nothing to do with weather, as we ate outside as frequently in sunny Provence as we did in rainy Paris.   On my first full day home, I met up with a client who is also a friend and we decided to eat breakfast at Simple. It was a lovely spring morning, warm and dry.  The patio beckoned. But when I asked to be seated on the patio I was told that I couldn’t eat there. That it was closed. That the outdoor server wasn’t in yet. When I suggested that the indoor server could step a few feet out of the door and voila, become the outdoor server, I was met with resistance. We ate inside, much to our chagrin and much to the offense of my newly adopted habit.

Last Friday night it was a bit rainy, a bit cloudy, a bit windy. But Novak’s in Fontana was up for their turn on the Fish Fry Freighter, and so we pulled in and found a seat on their outdoor patio. Their patio has old metal chairs and tables, a lovely old iron fence, and ample umbrellas, so many that had it been raining we may not have even noticed. There is no remarkable view from this patio, no lake waves to watch, just a side of the fire station and a distant view of the gas station. Still, the landscaped boulevards in Fontana are in bloom and the grasses pushed and pressed with the wind, and the scene, in spite of any focal view, was rather delightful.

The fish fry at Novak’s is rather straight forward. It’s fried or broiled cod, served with a side of potato and all of the traditional accoutrements.  The cod meal is served as three pieces. If you want two, you’re out of luck. Expecting four small pieces? Hit the door. It’s three and you’re going to like it. When we inquired of our waitress whether or not we could do half and half, we were told no. Perhaps that’s because they can’t properly split three pieces. Maybe they have no tolerance for half pieces of fish, and they interpreted our request literally, with no wiggle room. My wife ordered the baked and I ordered the fried, thereby working around their no substitution rule. We were bored and hungry so we ordered the cheese curds to pregame.

It should be noted that while the patio is quite nice, the interior space lacks any particular panache. It’s just a restaurant space. You won’t remember it.  Our waitress was polite and prompt, perhaps owing to the fact that at a bit after 5 pm we were one of only two occupied tables. I’m guessing the restaurant filled up after we left.  We drank our water and watched the boulevard grasses dance in the lake breeze.

The curds were out within several minutes. They were smallish, and pale in color. I like my curds bronzed, but these were pale, almost yellow. Never mind the color, they tasted right, even if there was more chew to the cheese than I prefer. The cod was out a few minutes later, a nice little platter of fish and potato. The baked cod was covered in what we thought looked like dill, though it didn’t carry a heavy dill favor. The baked was well seasoned, nicely salted, and overall quite good. The pieces, however, were small. I could have used a slightly larger fish.

My wife ordered fries with her dinner, and we both agreed the fries were memorable. They are basically the same french fry that Gordy’s serves, which are among the best in the area. If you don’t eat french fries because you’re super fit and can’t spare the handful of calories, I weep for you. My potato pancake was singular, and it was just decent.  I found it to be too dry for my liking. It was close, but not close enough. Too much time on the griddle, or not enough mayo, sour cream, or whatever they use as a moistening agent.

The fried cod was properly crunchy, nicely salted, and nearly perfect. But there was something amiss. The batter was a bit soggy around the fish, so even though the exterior was crisped, the full bite featured some soggy batter. Still,  the fried portion was larger than the baked, and at the end of the dinner my wife and I both agreed that while we’ve had better, we’ve had many that were worse.  The tartar sauce was sweet and nicely seasoned, and while the applesauce won points for being served in a larger than typical plastic tub, it was too smooth for me.

I’d definitely add Novak’s to your Friday Fish Fry rotation. The patio might not transport you to Paris, but it’s better than sitting inside. At $14 per dinner it was in line with my pricing expectations, and the waitress was both polite and prompt, which is really all any of us can hope for. The fish was properly cooked, properly seasoned, and quite enjoyable. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, but attention was paid, and I appreciated their effort.

 

Novak’s 7/10

158 Fontana Boulevard, Fontana

$14 For Baked or Fried Cod

Fish Fry Problems

Fish Fry Problems

I might eat a fish dinner on a Friday. That fish dinner might be amazing. Tender, white fleshed fish, crisp, moist potato pancakes. Maybe even some chunky, cold applesauce. That dinner might be so good that I return to this computer a few days later and tell you just how good it was. Amazing, really. Go there, I’ll say.

And you might. The next Friday, because you were hoping to find someplace that might cure you of your bad run of fish-fry-luck.  And so you drive, to the place I went, order the things I ordered. The flaky fish and the crunchy batter, the crisped pancake and that perfect applesauce. You order and wait with anxious anticipation.  The fish is brought out. The pancakes, too. The applesauce is served.  But then something happens.

The batter isn’t crunchy at all. The fish is gray. There’s a bone in your broiled piece. The pancake is greasy and limp. The applesauce is warm.  Your waitress is rude and the ripped vinyl bench irritates your skin. You shouldn’t have worn shorts. Everything is terrible. David Curry was wrong.

Last Friday, I wanted to eat some fish. I had appointments that pushed my typical dining time to a later, more normal time. But it’s Fourth of July week, and restaurants are filled to overflowing. I called around to find a reservation. No luck. Our party of 10 would need special consideration, I figured, but no restaurant felt like confirming a table for me. Perhaps the knew the sound of my voice and knew to avoid me.  After some calling, we decided that the Abbey Waterfront should have availability because it is, indeed, a large space. We drove. We waited a few minutes. We were seated.

I didn’t really want to go back to one of my prior favorites, but with friends in tow I decided it would be good to stop the exploration and go somewhere I know to be good. The last time I went to the Abbey’s Waterfront restaurant I wrote a nice review. It was a good dinner. On this Friday I expected a repeat performance.

We ordered our various pieces of fish and potato and waited. The lakeside dining room was a bit warm on this sultry evening, but I gave it a pass as I guessed their air conditioning units were trying their best.  The restaurant was busy, so the 30 minute wait from ordering to eating wasn’t a surprise, though it was a touch annoying. Nevermind, I’d be more annoyed shortly, anyway.

The fish arrived and I knew it was off. The broiled cod wasn’t white like it should be, it was a bit gray, like it shouldn’t be. There was water pooled in the opened cracks of the fish, not drawn butter like any respectable fish would prefer to be baptized in.  The fried piece was still crunchy, but the batter was bland and the fish hidden inside was also gray. The potato pancake was fine, but dry, the applesauce was blah. The first order was cod, so I made the second order walleye. I waited for just shy of eternity, and when the fish came out the fried was just marginal and the broiled walleye was riddled with bones. I left, exceptionally disappointed.

And that’s the problem with fish fry in this area. It isn’t consistent. That’s why people drop anchor at their favorite and enjoy the experience for many reasons that have nothing to do with inconsistent fish and possibly dry pancakes. A friend of mine sent me a text on Friday night, just as I finished my gray dinner. He said, with more colorful adjectives, that the Evergreen Golf Course fish fry was terrible. The worst he’s ever had. An abomination, really. I took that to note and figured that based on his commentary I would be skipping Evergreen in future visits.

But I also sat back and thought that someone just left Evergreen the week before and told their friends it was the best fish they had ever eaten. Someone will leave the Waterfront this coming Friday and extol its impeccable delivery and marvel at the white, flaky flesh of both its cod and walleye. The problem with a fish fry is that for everything to go right there are too many factors. Too many nuances. Too many chances to serve me gray overcooked cod when all I really wanted was a nice little fish dinner.

Freddie’s West End Fish Fry Review

Freddie’s West End Fish Fry Review

Lake Como used to be known as Duck Lake, which I contend is a better name. It should have kept it. I had a cousin who once changed her name, and like the Como/Duck fiasco, I liked her first name better as well. In spite of this mix up, Lake Como is a curious thing. On one hand, it’s intensely shallow. On the other hand, it’s uniquely muddy. It’s the third largest lake in Walworth County, but it’s not much to consider. My lack of Lake Como knowledge aside, I gathered the troops, ignored the Highway 67 detour signs, and wrapped my way around to the north shore of Lake Como.

Freddie’s West End is a bar here, across the street from that lake, wedged into a residential neighborhood. It is not without charm. When I pulled up, early, at 5:10 pm, the parking lot and adjacent streets were lined with cars of varying makes and models. The rain from the wet week had cleared and the bar was full of patrons ready to kick the weekend off with some libations and fish. Do not go to Freddie’s expecting to find a restaurant. This is a bar, through and through, much like a Northwoods bar, this place has little concern for what you think of it.

We walked in what I believe to be the side door, off of a small deck that had a few tables and chairs, still soaked from the rain.  When I walked into the South Shore Bar near Delavan Lake, I was quickly judged by the patrons who knew I was out of place. At Freddie’s, there was no such judgement. A friendly fellow at the bar mentioned something about the weather, and I, noticing the ease of his effort, chimed in. I asked the bartender if we might be able to sit outside, and though she’d need to find something to wipe off the wet tables, she obliged. We settled into our chairs with a fine view of Lake Como in the background, and learned of their fish fry.

The menu was simple. It’s Mary Lynn’s Old Fashioned Fish Fry for $12. If you don’t like it, the only other thing to order would be the chicken tenders for $6, but more on those later. The fish fry comes with the Wisconsin fixin’s, and gives diners the choice of Walleye Pike (a fancy name for Walleye favored by Northwoods types), Lake Perch, Blue Gill, Fried Shrimp, Shrimp DeJonge, or Poor Man’s Lobster (cod). Interesting to note, the only cod option is baked, not fried. If you came to this bar and wished to eat fried cod, you might as well ask for a cobb salad with avocados. You’re going to leave hungry.

The waitress was attentive and sweet, and we made our decision.  The three of us ordered the Walleye, the Perch, and the Cod.  Feeling like the chicken tender must have done something special to wriggle its way into this fishy menu, I added in an order at the last minute.  We waited for around 20 minutes for the food to arrive, which I found to be somewhat of a strange delay given the basic nature of the menu. Still, the wait offered a nice chance to inhale some cigarette smoke that was wafting across the patio, and I hadn’t had a smoke in my whole life, so I needed my nicotine fix.

The food arrived in plastic baskets, which felt right for this bar. The fried assortment of fish and potato looked the part, and I was excited to taste the variety.  The perch filets were numerous, lightly breaded with a cornmeal exterior, and almost crunchy. The very light dusting of cornmeal wasn’t enough to make for a crunchy exterior, but it was enough. The perch was quite good. I had perch at Gordy’s, and this was easily as good or better. The french fries that accompanied that order were crunchy and thick cut, very nicely prepared. French fries shouldn’t be hard, but they are, and Freddie’s has them mastered.

The walleye dinner was one large fried filet, dusted in the same cornmeal as the perch. It was meaty and white, perfectly cooked. Unfortunatley it desperately needed salt, and I had loads of bones in my piece.  I have ten intense fears in this life, and one of them is choking on fish bones. I don’t know if I have ever choked on one, but I fear it anyway. In the way that I’ve never been bit by a large spider, but it’s one slot above the fish-bone-choke on my list. I cannot tolerate bones in fish filets, so it was a disappointment.  The applesauce was smooth and blah, the tartar sauce and coleslaw both okay but, much like me, did not receive any express praise from my wife.

The baked cod was quite good. A touch overcooked, but just barely. The drawn butter was flavorful, as drawn butter must be. I dunked a few pieces and decided it was an above average cod.  The potato pancakes, two to an order, were small and dense. Too dense. The interiors were starchy and dry. Last up, these chicken tenders. One bite revealed the truth that the menu was hiding. These were not chicken tenders, these were chicken tender shaped Mcnuggets. The assortment of mashed chicken bits into a tender shape was not good. In fact, it was terrible. I wouldn’t order these bits of chicken again if they were the last chicken Mcnuggets on earth. Even McDonald’s knows there’s a different between a nugget and a tender, and I’d hope Freddie’s fixes this error, soon.

All in all, I sort of enjoyed my visit to Freddie’s. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.  The subtle ambiance of a Northwoods bar is something that slowly grows on you and gains your allegiance, and I can see how Freddie’s has become a local favorite. But judged without prejudice, it was just okay. The perch was the standout I think, though it was admittedly made better by a quick bath in the drawn butter that I borrowed from my wife’s cod. The walleye had too many bones for me, and the potato pancake was below average. I’d add Freddie’s to your rotation if you haven’t ever been, and if you’ve already been, well, then I’m guessing you already knew to avoid the chicken.

Freddie’s West End 6/10

W4118 Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva, WI (North shore of Lake Como)

$12 cod, walleye, perch, shrimp

The Waterfront Fish Fry Review

The Waterfront Fish Fry Review

I didn’t grow up in the church of the Friday Fish Fry.  Sure, I went once in a while, but it was never a pattern. Once a year, twice maybe. In the summer when relatives were in town, we’d fish fry. But we never made a habit of it. As an adult, I too would fish fry. But only every so often. There was never any particular need. With plenty of other things to eat on a Friday, why fish?

With that in mind, I must tell you what happens later. If you’re a fish fryer, then you already know, and even if it’s never discussed, it’s always understood. If you’re not a fish fryer, this might come as some strange surprise to you. But when you start going to fish fry, the habit that might become a pattern sneaks up on you. Eat fish on a Friday, feel fine about it. Eat no fish for the next six days, feel fine about it. Friday afternoon, when the work day is dwindling off towards another weekend, that’s when it grabs you. Where are we going to eat fish tonight? The habit becomes a pattern and the pattern, at least for those in Wisconsin, tends to become a religion.

Last Friday it was intolerably hot. Much like the weekend that followed. Because of this heat I needed to eat somewhere that I thought might have a modern air conditioning system, something adequate to ward off this heat and humidity. Last Friday, more than any Friday before, I wasn’t so keen on discovering something new. I wanted to go somewhere known. I wanted to go to Abbey Springs, to use my dining membership for the second time in several months. To Anthony’s, where I know exactly what to expect. But alas, I soldiered on in the attempt to weed out the pretenders in this Friday Fish game. My son and I pulled into the Waterfront’s parking lot at 5:45 pm last Friday. It was hot out.

This restaurant is on Highway 50 in the Delavan inlet. It was built new several years ago, or so I recall. I went there to eat a few times after it first opened, but as with most restaurants here, if the menu doesn’t resonate and the scene doesn’t inspire, I often don’t go back. The Waterfront is a nice enough space, new, with icy cold air conditioning. There’s a front porch (too hot), a main dining area focused around a large bar, and a side dining space on the East side of the building. That’s where we were seated, in a booth with wood top and cracked vinyl covering the bench seats.

The waitress was chipper and quick to our table, and without delay I asked of the fish fry. It was presented several different ways, one with some sort of creamy concoction, one might have been Walleye, and the others baked and fried cod. It was all you can eat, which I always enjoy on account of my terminal obesity. Given the options, I asked the waitress what she preferred. The fried cod was good, she said, and so I ordered half and half with a side of potato pancakes.

The wait was short. Like insanely short. I suppose that’s good, but the wait to receive our food was so short it almost caught us off guard. But the plate was large and filled to the edges with food, and so we didn’t complain. The baked cod was served three pieces in a small dish, much like you’d use to plate shrimp scampi. The baked was dry. It lacked salt. I exhausted my lemon wedge onto the pieces and my son lathered tartar sauce on his, but they could not be saved. Time Of Death: Approximately two minutes before the cod was removed from the oven.

The fried cod was much better, as the waitress promised. The batter was crunchy, the interior flaky and white. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. The thing that can put a fried cod piece over the top is usually some sort of combination of salt and slightly flavored batter. This lacked both, so while it was good enough, it wasn’t a standout on this tour. The coleslaw and tartar sauce were both okay, according to my son, who declined to elaborate except to say the coleslaw had some seeds in it that he didn’t appreciate.  There was also a piece of marbled rye bread, or perhaps pumpernickel, which though I despise,  I nibbled as a form of self-punishment. The bread was buttered, but there was no table butter.

The potato pancake was served two to an order, though they were small. They were also curious looking, like they were hand formed in the way you’d hand form a sugar cookie before pressing it with the palm of your hand to flatten a bit. The reason they were slightly off-looking is because they were not a typical pancake. Instead of shredded potato, as God intended, these were some sort of mashed-potato creation, lacking any tooth to the bite and overall leaving me with a feeling of deep and thorough disappointment.  I understand that chefs often take liberties, but if you’re in Wisconsin and you’re serving Friday Fish Fry, please don’t waiver from the standard. Shred your potatoes. Rinse them. Squeeze out the starchy water. Mix with some classic ingredients, and fry on a flat top or, if you must, in your fryer.

In spite of these issues, the dinner was nearly saved by a most amazing applesauce. It was served in a plastic tub, which is terrible, but the side itself was delightfully cold, immensely flavorful, and delightfully chunky. The latter of which is how my grandmother would compliment me when describing me to her friends. Applesauce cannot save a dinner that was destined for obscurity, but it does show a nice attention to detail. Unfortunately, the detail was skipped on those mashed potato disks and just missed on the fried cod. I liked the Waterfront for its convenient location, ample parking, hefty portion size, and refreshingly cold AC. But as for the items that matter most,  the Waterfront missed the mark.

The Waterfront 5/10

408 State Road 50, Delavan, WI

$13.99 All you can eat fried or baked cod (optional creamy cod dish and possibly walleye, but I wasn’t paying attention)

Mars Resort Fish Fry Review

Mars Resort Fish Fry Review

A man and his wife sat at the corner table and argued over the bark on a tree. Half way down, he insisted.  She responded with something about the weather. Snow, soon. The waitress confirmed it.  He talked about earthquakes. She asked about the tree. They nursed their drinks, each engaged in a conversation that seemed to have no bearing on the other.  A man at another table. Rick, or Jim, or Bill. He walked in slowly and sat down. The waitresses came over, one by one, to give him a hug. Good to see you, Jim/Bill/Rick.  The bartender knew his drink.  He had on his Cubs hat, and the Cubs had just won. He had reason to be in a good mood. It wasn’t yet 4 pm.

Mars Resort has anchored the south shore of Lake Como since 1923. Originally named “The Old Glory Camp”, this lakeside restaurant/bar had a few ownership and name changes before finally resting on the name Mars Resort in 1949. It has operated continuously ever since. No matter the fish, no matter the ribs, something in this area that has operated for so long under the same roof deserves our praise and our attention.  That’s why I slinked in to a window table just before 4 pm last Friday night. No area restaurant has had as much practice serving fried fish, and practice, as I tell my kids, is supposed to make perfect.

There were schedule conflicts on Friday night. I’ve tried to eat at Mars several times during this fishy tour, but each time the sheer number of cars in the parking lot rebuffed my attempt. I like to eat fish, but I don’t like to wait 30 minutes for a table. Because of our odd Friday schedule, I knew I could either eat dinner slightly later or slightly earlier, and as a devoted fan of eating, I opted for earlier. Knowing I needed to capitalize on this early dinner, I headed for Mars. Surely the restaurant couldn’t be busy at 4 pm.

And it wasn’t, excepting the bar that was filling in and the happy customers nursing their Old Fashioned’s.  Sometimes  you want to go where everybody knows your name, and it seemed that indeed everyone here knew each other’s name. Except mine, of course, even though my local status is likely even more local than the most local among them. Still, Mars isn’t my thing, and it isn’t my place, so I sat at a local bar with my daughter and her friend and felt very much like an outsider.  I almost felt the need to apologize to the waitress, who seemed concerned that she didn’t recognize me.

Mars is a classic supper club. It has classic supper clubby things, like a piano bar, where, on one of my only other visits I was entertained by Wayne Messmer. The decor is old school, thankfully old school. If I learned anything from the Big Foot Inn it’s that you don’t go messing with what works. At a supper club, old works. Don’t dress it up. Don’t ruin what makes the place different. Mars doesn’t, and that’s why Mars feels, even for an outsider like me, very much like home.  Sitting lakeside on Como, my daughter commented on the water. It’s so shallow, she said. I assured her that she wasn’t seeing the bottom, but just the scum of the water that is Lake Como. After I told her that, I wondered if it could have indeed been the bottom. With Como, one never knows.

The fish fry is All You Can Eat cod, fried or broiled, with a choice of potato and a choice of soup or salad. I liked the option of a soup or salad. A friend of mine was in Boston over the weekend, so in his honor I ordered the soup, Clam Chowder, on this chilly, windy spring evening. My daughter and her friend both skipped the fish fry and ordered off of the menu. Apparently everyone around here is sick of fish except for me. There were other options for fried walleye, but I didn’t want to eat walleye two Friday’s in a row. I’m watching my figure. At $12.95, the cod dinner was a bargain.

Shortly after ordering the waitress brought out a cracker basket and a rounded mound of soft, spreadable cheese. I greedily fought my daughter for the cheese, and enjoyed it very much. There was no traditional bread basket, just this cracked basket, but the addition of the soft cheese made me forget all about the bread, and even made me look past the foiled packets of butter. My clam chowder arrived a minute later. It was hot, creamy, and above average for a clam chowder. It wasn’t all poisoned with too much celery, either. The clams had some nice sand content, so I knew they were good.

The fish was table side within a few minutes, which was a benefit of eating dinner at 4 pm with my elderly friends.  The plate looked right. A lemon wedge,  two large piece of fish, two potato pancakes, and some plastic containers holding my applesauce, tartar sauce, and drawn butter.  Don’t assume I’m just a fan of softened butter, by the way. Melted butter works just as well, and I felt rather satisfied and portly as I submerged my pieces of baked cod into the pool.  I tasted the applesauce first- nice and cold, a little bit of chunk, delicious. Nice. The tartar sauce would have to go unjudged, as my wife and designed tartar sauce tester was not present. It looked super relishy, which may be good and it may be bad, I couldn’t tell.

The baked cod was good. Firm, reasonably well cooked, and quite satisfying. It was good enough on its own, but with some lemon and a butter bath it was even better. The fried cod was fine, but not particularly memorable. The batter wasn’t really a batter, as it was too thin. It was more like the fish was rolled in flour and tossed into the fryer. Without the batter to protect it, the exterior of the fish dried out a bit. It was still good, and I still enjoyed it, but it wasn’t quite on par with the standouts.

The potato pancakes were pretty good, and closely resembled breakfast hash browns pushed into a pancake shape. I liked them, but I won’t say they were at the top of the list. That’s sort of how I felt about the whole dinner at Mars. It was quite good, but not as good as others. I liked the scene, a lot. I liked that the patrons were happy and known. I like that a place like this exists, here, in this place, on that shallow water shore.  Mars didn’t reach Anthony’s level, but it is certainly a nice little bar. If you go there often, I have no doubt that it won’t take long before everybody knows your name.

 

Mars Resort 7.5/10

W4098 South Shore Drive, Lake Geneva

$12.95 All You Can Eat Cod (Walleye optional, likely an upcharge)