In April of 2018 I bought an Abbey Springs Dining Membership so I could eat at their lakeside restaurant and review the fish fry. Back then the membership was $200 for the year. I figured I’d eat there several times throughout the year which would amortize that fee to a reasonable amount. Why wouldn’t I pay that small sum to have the option of dining at a nice lakefront restaurant? I would, and so I did, and when I went for fish fry five years ago that was one of two times I visited the restaurant. So much for value. Not to be outdone by my younger self, I marched over the Abbey Springs and re-upped my dining membership so that I could tell you once again about their fish fry. Time will tell if I visit more than once, or if this most recent fish fry will prove to be excessively expensive.
As with all restaurants, the mood and appeal can vary greatly depending on how many people are, or aren’t, in the space. A jammed restaurant will almost always feel pleasant, unless the acoustics are poor and the room is too loud. In the same way, an empty restaurant will always feel pitiful. You might find that an empty restaurant serving terrific food is your secret, and that it’s romantic and special because no one else knows about it. I would suggest that’s impossible, because after some amount of time of consistently serving great food no restaurant can remain a secret. But an empty restaurant serving mediocre food is just depressing. Some of this was my fault, of course, because I arrived early, as is my tendency. The reservation was for 5:15, and when we arrived we were one of perhaps 5 seated tables. In the westerly room, a handful of patrons sat at the bar. We were ushered to our lakeside seat and took in the view while our waters were filled.
The space here is nice, owing to a several years old renovation that still feels acceptable. This is one of the nicer spaces around the lake, and while the Geneva Inn’s Grandview restaurant feels similarly outfit and Gage’s Pier 290 wears the crown of Lake Geneva’s Nicest Looking Restaurant, the Yacht Club is very comfortable in its skin. The fish fry offering was friend or broiled cod, for $23. In 2018 the fish fry here was $15 for an all you can eat dinner. As we looked over the menu we were brought a basket of fresh bread, one plain and one with nuts and dried fruit in it. I like all varieties of bread, except Satan’s favorite: Rye. The bread was served with little butter balls that were nicely soft. It’s amazing how many restaurants haven’t yet figured out that we want our butter soft. As is my usual affliction, I ate all of the bread and then told the waitress that my wife ate it. Never change, David. Never change.
I might have told you my theory about restaurants before, but if not, it’s this: If the restaurant has fried calamari on the menu you can generally order that and nothing else and that will be enough to tell you if this is a good restaurant or a bad restaurant. With calamari on the menu here I ordered it, along with a side of cocktail sauce. I didn’t need to order that, of course, but such is my lot in life. I’ve been trying to avoid seed oils because instagram tells me that they’re bad for me, but here I was, ordering fried fish and calamari. I might as well have ordered a cold pitcher of canola oil. The calamari came out within 8 minutes and the rings were small and just passable. It wasn’t a good sign, given my belief in the calamari litmus test, but I persevered. The fish fry it would be, half broiled and half fried, with potato pancakes.
The fish was out 23 minutes after we ordered it, which is a barely reasonable delay between order and delivery. The meal looked good, though I could immediately tell the broiled would not be to my liking. The chunks were small, and rather than being broiled, they were grilled. There’s a particularly acrid flavor that can accompany grilled fish, and in this case, that undesirable flavor overwhelmed the little pieces of fish. They were dry, not well seasoned, and generally unpleasant. I wouldn’t grill these if I were the chef. In fact, if I were to serve broiled fish at my restaurant I’d float it in so much butter that no one could ever tell me it was dry. Onto the fried.
The fried was a single piece of thickly battered cod. It was golden brown and crunchy, which is a great description of almost anything, including me when I used to spend more time on my boat and held my frosted tips in place with a generous dollop of gel. The fish was reasonably moist, but under seasoned. When paired with the tartar sauce it found some redemption, though the tartar sauce was uniquely dark and flavorful and not especially to my liking. The potato pancake was rather unique. It was very onion forward with a spongy consistency typically found in over-floured pancakes, or perhaps there were more eggs in this mix. The applesauce was smooth, though it came in a portion equal to 3 teaspoons. My dedicated coleslaw taster considered the coleslaw while I nibbled on the two hushpuppies. The coleslaw was good, my hushpuppies were dry.
While the views and service were both stellar, the meal was a disappointment. It wasn’t bad, not by any stretch, but was it something I’d seek out? Not really. Perhaps it’s just the early season rust that’s been getting in the way of these fish dinners. Perhaps everything will be better in time for summer. Perhaps. As of this date, Pier 290 is still home to the best fish fry for 2023.
Abbey Springs Yacht Club
1 Country Club Drive, Fontana, WI 53125
$23 Cod, Fried or Broiled