It was February of 2018 when I last judged the fish fry at The Waterfront, that harbor side restaurant located inside the Abbey Hotel. At that time, the fish fry featured a choice of broiled or fried cod or walleye. It was $13 for an all you can eat fried fish feast, which means 2018 will now count as being the good old days. When I was younger, old men would chew the fat and discuss the good old days, which meant those days that were long before these days. Maybe it was sometime during the last world war, or something just after it, but certainly it wasn’t some recent time. Today, the good old days defy old timey labels, and in 2023 I view 2018 as being a time that was, and is, firmly a good old day. Fish fries were $13, no one wore masks, real estate pricing was based on comparable sales, and Chicago agents worked in Chicago. Pure bliss, past tense.
Last Friday night at 6 pm my wife and I walked into the Abbey Waterfront. There was a loud cluster of women in the room that housed the hostess table, and a largely empty room in the back, nearest the water, where the band stage filled one part of that octagon room. The hostess said the wait would be 20 minutes, as the wait staff was overwhelmed with orders from the women’s group that occupied the first room. I found this not to my liking, as I am no longer judging restaurants based on covid era standards, because we’re past covid era standards and should be expecting better. Short some waitstaff on a Friday night in mid March? Probably time to hire more. The hostess said we could wait at the bar, but we could not sit at one of the several empty tables in the bar room. As I am a nonconformist, I walked to the back room and sat at a table. No alarms were sounded, and everything seemed just fine in spite of my disobedience.
About 20 minutes later, a nice young man came to take our order. I asked of the fish fry, and he told me if was either walleye or cod, fried. There was a choice of potato. I chose the potato pancake, which I recalled was dry in 2018, but perhaps it had gained some moisture over the five years of my absence. I asked for a mix of cod and walleye, and so it was. The order. Thirty minutes later it was table side.
The fried fish appeared to be quite nicely battered and fried to a picture perfect golden brown. I had high-ish hopes. The potato pancake was pale, and lonely with just one on the plate. I ate it first, in hopes I’d capture whatever moisture it had to offer. Alas, it was dry as it was before, and relatively bland. In 2018 I had a bone in the walleye, and one bite in I had the same problem. Bone. Another small nibble, another bone. I moved to the cod. It was not the worst fish I’d ever eaten, but it wasn’t memorable enough to offset the failure that is a bone-in fried walleye. There were two hushpuppies on the plate that were dismally small and dense. As I ate, I picked through the walleye bone fest, and it was then that I came upon my newest fish fry rule. Because of this rule, the applesauce, tartar sauce, and coleslaw will go unreviewed.
If you serve me a filet with bones in it, you are disqualified immediately. I will not endanger my tender esophagus for the glory of a slightly read fish fry review. On this night, I didn’t like my dinner. I didn’t like the scene. I didn’t like anything, really. And so it goes, another night in Walworth County on the hunt for a great, or even good, fish fry, and another fail. It’s not that I don’t understand that it’s difficult to run a restaurant, it’s just that great restaurants do exist and it’s time Lake Geneva tried harder.
The Waterfront Restaurant at the Abbey Hotel DQ (no score for bone endangerment)
269 Fontana Boulevard, Fontana, WI
Fried cod or walleye (unfortunately my receipt didn’t show the price, and the website doesn’t reveal it, either).