It’s something that I still get asked about, and with some meaningful frequency. Where’s the best fish fry in Walworth County? The problem with the question is the answer. The answer, as I discovered publicly on these pages, is that it depends on the day and the week and the month and the mood of the chef and the date of the Sysco delivery. Lake Geneva’s restaurant scene is plagued by inconsistency, and so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that a great fish fry one week can be followed by a terrible fish fry the next. I’d go so far as to say I could have a great fish fry at table 8 while you are suffering through a piece of dried out cod at the same moment at table 11. This is the state of things at the lake.
I stopped writing food reviews on this blog when covid made things rather miserable for restaurants. The last review I wrote was that of a ribeye that I had at Cafe Calamari in March of 2020. That would prove to be the last meal I had inside a restaurant for a few months. Even after the initial hysteria calmed, it seemed inappropriate to judge a restaurant during a period where labor was so difficult to find. And so I waited. Last night, after a day of hearing from clients about a person who appears intent on sewing confusion about a property I listed and sold, I was bored and hungry, and so it was time. Welcome to The Fish Fry Reviews, 2023.
Fire2Fork is the newish restaurant that occupies the old Millie’s Pancake House on County O. Whether you think of it as being South of Delavan or North of Walworth depends on your geographic bias. I think of it as being near my house, and so without much consideration my wife and I drove the couple miles north to the restaurant. It was 5 pm when we walked in. I should add that I don’t view eating early as a sign of weakness. In the same way, I don’t view eating rare meat or drinking black coffee as a sign of strength. I like to eat early, because I also like to go to bed early, because anything happening late at night is something I’ve already seen anyway and I’d rather just get on with tomorrow. The restaurant had just opened at 5, and so it was empty as we made our reservation-less way to the hostess station.
The hostess was pleasant and informed us that she hadn’t a single table. I noticed all of the tables were empty, and there was little doubt that we’d be done eating and out the door before the tables were filled, but when offered a seat at the bar in the front room we agreed. There’s a primary bar overlooking the open kitchen, which would have been preferred, but instead we were ushered to the street side room which was rather dull. I did have a view of the wood-fired kitchen through a little window, so that was nice. We ordered waters and a fried calamari appetizer that was on special. I like my fried calamari with cocktail sauce rather than the spicy remoulade and they obliged by adding that to our order. The waitress was accommodating and efficient without being particularly friendly. We ordered at 5:05 and at 5:13 the calamari was delivered. At that time we ordered the fish fry: baked for my wife and fried for me, so we could sample both. As a surprise, french fries were the only potato option, albeit fries fried in duck fat. Since instagram has made me aware of linoleic acid, I was glad for the duck fat. Spoiler: the fish is probably fried in some variety of seed-oil, which is further proof that my dietary concerns are held without much conviction.
The calamari was beer battered in the same batter they use on the fish. The exterior was crunchy, the remoulade spicy, the cocktail sauce muted. Sadly, the squid itself had the texture of a tiny bicycle tire, and so the calamari ($17) was not a success. I wondered if the grilled option would have been better. At 5:23 the waitress was back with our fish. Both orders ($21) featured two pieces of fish atop a bed of french fries. Ramekins of ketchup, tartar sauce, and coleslaw alongside two lemon wedges and a piece of rye toast filled out the rather large plate. I smelled the rye first and it was very ryey. I feel like I’m the only person who knows that rye bread was created by the Germans only because their wheat crop failed and they still wanted to make some bread. Guess what? We have wheat now, so rye should be left alone. My uneaten rye bread, death, and taxes, the only things you can count on in this life.
I took a bite of my wife’s baked fish first. It was overcooked and under seasoned. No matter, I thought. I still have my fried pieces. The beer batter was nicely crunchy and the fish was properly cooked, though it lacked the sweetness that is inherent in a really nice piece of cod. The duck fat fries appeared to be hand cut, which is a nice touch but ends with lots of smaller little nubby pieces. The duck fat is a luxurious detail that I like, but admittedly the fries were rather saturated by it. My wife said the coleslaw was fine, though not memorable or worth special attention. I ate my fish, nibbled on my fries, stared at my piece of rye bread with animosity, and waited for the check while the restaurant slowly filled.
I like Fire2Fork. The restaurant was well staffed and lively. I respect open-fire cooking, and love that this kitchen is on display. The menu is smart, the preparation thoughtful and skilled, the service efficient and present. They care about their ingredients and source them locally whenever possible. I’m glad this place is here and I appreciate all of their effort. Unfortunately, the fish fry last night wasn’t up to their typical standard. I think next time I visit I’ll order a few of their stellar small plates and a pizza, and I know that will be a delightful outcome.
2484 County Road O, Delavan, WI
$21 Cod, fried or baked with french fries