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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)

 

Whiskey Ranch Fish Fry Review

Whiskey Ranch Fish Fry Review

There’s a certain thing about a restaurant name that sets the tone for diner expectations. If you visit a restaurant called Whiskey Ranch, your expectations are set long before you pull into the gravel driveway.  This particular restaurant occupies an old house at the intersection of Highways 14 and 11, just outside of Delavan and Darien. Across the street there’s a strip club, in case you’d like to wash away your whiskey sorrows with a dash of glitter. The parking lot at Whiskey Ranch is nearly always full, whether from patrons of the Ranch or patrons of the aforementioned club. Parking in the lot across the street feels like an awfully flimsy alibi.

When we caught a glimpse of the parking lot at Whiskey Ranch on Friday night it seemed as though we’d be finding somewhere else to dine. It was around 6:30 and the lot was absolutely slammed. I parked near the front door and entered the bar to ask how long of a wait I’d have to suffer through. Five minutes was all, so I found a permanent parking spot and we pulled up two chairs to a high top in the bar. There appears to be only two dining areas in this bar, both very bar like.  The waitress and the host both told us often about the beer sampling that was taking place in the other room, which might be a more traditional dining room, but I couldn’t tell. The free beer would explain the abundance of cars in the lot.

The crowd here was a bit boisterous, celebrating the certain fact that they had made it through another work week. How I wish I could celebrate like that. I can barely celebrate New Years Eve, (it’ll be a new year no matter if I celebrate or not), or my birthday (big deal, lots of people have lived this long), or a large closing (Great, now I don’t have any deals pending). This was a group engineered to celebrate just making it, and there they were, enjoying the evening and the free beer and the fish fry.  When the waitress was table side I asked about the fish, which, for the first time in this tour, actually required some explanation.

The Friday specials, the waitress explained, included a traditional fish fry (two pieces find cod), a Fried Walleye Dinner (two pieces), Pan Fried Walleye (two pieces), Baked Cod (two pieces), some fried shrimp dish, a grilled salmon dinner, and a fish fry sandwich, in case you were in a hurry. I appreciated the multiple options, and asked the waitress for her recommendation. Without pause, she said she liked the fried Walleye. So that’s what I ordered, ignoring the cod completely. If a restaurant serves Walleye (like the Waterfront at the Abbey), I must oblige their effort and order the Walleye with potato pancakes. My wife ordered the shrimp dish with fries.

One of my many poor eating habits involves the appetizer. As a child, I didn’t get to eat appetizers. I wasn’t really sure what they were. My dad would never consider pre-gaming a meal with a smaller meal, because who would spend $8.99 on something so unnecessary? I asked the waitress if any appetizer was important here, and she explained some sort of fried corn ball thing that sounded sort of appealing but sort of strange. I ordered the jalapeño  poppers, which was a mistake. They were brought out first, and they were bland and pretty much terrible. I should have known better. This is my fault.

The fish dinner, on the other hand, was a beautiful plate of fried food. The Walleye filets were large, battered, as the menu said, to perfection. The potato pancakes (two) were thin, but well crisped. The plate had a small piece of cornbread, a tiny container of applesauce (too smooth, bland), and matching plastic containers of coleslaw and tartar sauce. There was also a small plastic container filled with some sort of maple syrup concoction. I’m not sure what it was or what I was supposed to do with it. A lemon wedge provided the only color.  The cornbread was on the dry side, but flavorful. It could have used a nice smear of softened butter, but my only butter option was a foil packet from somewhere in Houston. For shame, Whisky Ranch. For deep and terrible shame.

The Walleye was delightful. Beer battered and fried to a wonderful golden hue, it was moist and tender, quite divine. I think the Waterfront’s (Abbey) fried Walleye might have been slightly better, but this Walleye was delicious. The potato pancakes were more traditional, one note, some potato and onion crisped on the flattop. I liked the fact that they didn’t try to church the potato up with some sort of add-in.  There were only two pieces of fish and two pancakes, but that was plenty of food. My wife said her shrimp were pretty good, and I had to eat some her fries so I could properly report back on my findings. They were superlative.

Our waitress was friendly, but she let our water glasses go dry for what felt like most of my dinner, which wasn’t terrific. We waited for quite along while after our plates were cleared to be presented with the check, which did allow for a bit more people watching but was also slightly annoying. The hostess reminded us again of the free beer in the other room, and continued to be somewhat perplexed at our lack of enthusiasm.  The Whiskey Ranch is a bar. It’s in an old house. The ceilings are low, the bar is loud. It feels like an up north bar, which is actually a good thing. Their Friday Fish Fry was above average, but not on par with the standouts I’ve so far discovered. If you’re in the mood for fish and want to hang out with some locals, give the Whiskey Ranch in Delavan a visit. It won’t let you down.

 

Whiskey Ranch 8/10

W9002 Highway 11, Delavan, WI 

$14.99 Fried Walleye Dinner, $10.99 Fried Cod, $11.99, Pan Fried Walleye $14.99, Fish Fry Sandwich $8.99

 

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

 

Vail Fish Fry Review

Vail Fish Fry Review

The woman on the chairlift said her boyfriend was filming something in some other mountain town. He’s a skier, like her.  She was happy about that, about him, about all of it. Her age led me to believe this wasn’t her first boyfriend. She was older now, content to work her mountain town job of selling ice cream or skis or bumper stickers, “THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING”. They already called her, and she rode up that chairlift beaming because it had just snowed. The other things didn’t matter.  She had to be to work by 11, so maybe she was a waitress who worked lunch/dinner. But for now there was fresh powder on the slopes and she was happy.   Happier than I think she should have been.  Exuberant about the snow. SNOW! She couldn’t contain herself. There was no other reason for living. Her boyfriend was away and her work was calling but first she had to worship the snow.

I spent last week in Beaver Creek watching the strange people who worship the snow. If you step back and look at it, it’s really quite insane. The snow is everything, in fact, it’s mostly the only thing. It’s why they get up, it’s why they live. It’s an obsession. That’s how I feel about fish fry. On Friday night we were walking the small faux-village of Lionshead and saw a sign outside a nondescript restaurant. “FISH AND CHIPS $13”.  Not wishing to break the chain of Monday fish fry reviews, I took the bait.

Bart and Yeti are dogs. This is their bar, or it was their bar. I think they’re dead now.  The bar claims to be one of the last few “local” hangouts in the Vail valley. We had to  park a half mile away in one of those terrible Colorado parking garage structures, but as it was after 5 pm we narrowly dodged having to pay for our stall. The bar was loud, full of snow-worshippers reveling in the dying dim of a powder day.  The restaurant was cold, a condition that plagues mountain towns everywhere. Somehow, somewhere, someone convinced Colorado that the cold is fine, that if it’s a bit sunny then 25 degrees feels nice on the skin. This is why the doors to restaurants, bars, clothing shops and even ice cream shops remain open, all through the winter. They’ve lied to themselves. It’s a dry cold, they say. It’s a warm sun, they insist. But they’re wrong, it’s just winter and it’s cold and Bart and Yeti’s was as cold as the Hagen Daz shop that sold the sort of ice cream that Culver’s would only serve to their back lot dumpster.

The waitress was an older woman who seemed both happy and disinterested. Perhaps she was still buzzing from her earlier sacrifice to the Powder gods. We were seated in a small room to the right of the bar. Our corner table was near the window, and close to a group of skiers who wore straight brim hats without the slightest hint of irony. I listened in on their conversation, which revolved around snow, beer, and an epic ski trip to Taos in the mid 1980s. Gnarly!  The men told the tales and the women laughed,  still high from their powder day or recently high from something else. Our waitress brought us water, which tasted like minerals, which tastes like all of the other restaurant water we drank that week. I ordered the clam chowder, which the waitress told me was homemade.

The compound word homemade should never appear on a restaurant menu. Housemade is the proper term, unless someone really did make the soup at home and then transport it to the restaurant, in which case I’d like to question the sanitary conditions in that home kitchen. Still, the clam chowder arrived and it was okay. The clam bits were tender and sandy, but the broth was a bit thin. I like my clam chowder to cling to my spoon with intent. We ordered an appetizer of nachos, because they waitress told us we couldn’t go wrong with that. She was wrong, when the nachos came out under a top layer of charred cheddar I found the juxtaposition  of hard cheese, tortilla chips, and heaps of raw onion and tomato to be a big swing and a miss.

The fish fry arrived almost 25 minutes after I ordered it.  Three pieces of fried cod, some french fries, and a side of tartar sauce. No coleslaw, applesauce, or other accoutrements. No table bread, no butter, softened or otherwise. The cod pieces looked more like chicken tenders, thin and shallow, almost kidney shaped. The breading was golden and crunchy, the fish overcooked but adequate. There was also some confusion as to the make and model of the fish. I asked the waitress if it was cod, and she replied in the affirmative. But the menu says “white fish”, which could be almost anything.  It might have been cod, but it might have been tilapia from the golf course ponds of central Florida. Who could know? The french fries were skinny, like McDonald’s fries but not nearly as good. The freezer bag must have been running low because my fries were mostly little stubs. The dinner was to come with chips, which could have implied fries, but the waitress made it appear as though the fries were an upgrade. I’m not in third grade, so don’t serve me potato chips with dinner. Thanks.

This was not an all-you-can-eat dinner. That would likely be too gluttonous and unhealthy for these Colorado patrons. With the smell of weed wafting through every faux-village, ski slope, and coffee shop, I suppose I can understand why the thought of a large fish dinner might make these locals squeamish. My wife was keen to point out that my dinner was not a fish fry. It was fish and chips, which is different, I suppose. And why shouldn’t it be? This wasn’t Wisconsin, where we know what a fish fry is, and what it should be. This was Colorado, where Bison Burgers and Rocky Mountain Oysters rule the menus of the bars and tourist restaurants.  When the tab was paid and we walked in the freezing cold back to the elevated parking lot, I felt confident to have been reminded of what I already knew. Colorado is fine, but Wisconsin is better.

 

Bart and Yeti’s 5/10

Lionshead (Vail), Colorado

$13 Fried Cod