There’s an old saying that says, “Sometimes if you want to feel young you should eat fish fry around 5 pm at the Big Foot Inn.” Considering my 2023 has been somewhat stressful, I decided to follow that classic adage and pulled into the Big Foot Inn parking lot at 5:24 pm a couple of Fridays ago. In case you don’t know where the Big Foot Inn is located, it’s in the middle of what locals call Big Foot Prairie, which is something the Chicago agent who thinks they work in Lake Geneva would call “some farm fields somewhere around the lake-ish”. The Big Foot Inn is also in a town called Big Foot, though the town comes and goes with little more than a singular sign on the side of Highway 14 and the map might say it’s actually in Harvard. Alas, it was Friday night and I was ready to Fish Fry.
There was a modest line forming in the foyer of this old timey establishment, and it was obvious to me that everything knew everyone. The hostess knew the family in front of me and the family in front of me knew the couple behind me. There was a guy seating people, and I assumed he might be the owner, but he also might not have been. This is what happens when you go to a place where nobody knows your name. The restaurant is broken into three seating options, one being the large dining room on the south side of the restaurant, one being the sun-room on the west side, and one being the bar. I chose the bar, not because I wanted to drink, but because it felt the most comfortable to me. My wife and I were seated at a hightop and were quickly served warm bread rolls with a crunchy exterior. The butter was cold. If the butter had been warm I would have declared this the finest bread and butter combo in this part of Big Foot, but the ice cold butter made that an impossible title to bestow.
Our pleasant waitress was busy flittering about the bar and sunny dining room, but not so busy that she didn’t pay us the proper attention. When she suggested I consider the clam chowder I took the bait. I also ordered the fried fish dinner, while my wife opted for the baked. The clam chowder was out quickly and it was rather delightful. Clam chowder tends to get gobby and thick, but this one was pleasantly thin and flavorful. The fish was out 24 minutes after we ordered it, which I thought was a bit too long. I feel uncomfortable when the fish is brought out too quickly or too slowly, and this teetered on the side of too slowly. My fried fish consisted of four pieces, cut very square, which makes sense but is, nonetheless, odd. It felt like I was in my fifth grade cafeteria, with Mrs. Loyd leaning over my shoulder asking that I calm down. It was battered, not breaded, though the batter was quite thin. It was also heavily seasoned with onion flavor, which I found surprising given the slightly older clientele. But perhaps this clientele is like my onion hating father, who only hates onions if he can see them. The fish was good enough. It wasn’t amazing, but it was good. The baked was also good, though it lacked salt.
The potatoes were traditional, this time with a finer shred and a hint of raw potato flavor. In case you haven’t been reading the labels on things, no one boasts about Raw Potato Flavor. Imagine such a world where this would be something we aspired to. Now With More RPF! The potatoes were decent, though far from a standout. The coleslaw was fine, according to my wife, and the tartar sauce was pleasant. On the side we were served a bowl of vinegar forward warmed potato salad, which was rather good.
This was a lot of food, but since it’s bulking season for the 100th straight season, I decided to ask the waitress if any desserts were especially stellar. Without hesitation she asked if I liked cheesecake, which made me feel rather self conscious, because of course she knew I liked cheesecake. She said it was amazing, so I did what I had to do and obliged. My wife looked at me with typical disgust as I forked into the dessert. It was mostly frozen. And it was in the shape of a cheesecake bar, not a cheesecake pie, which I didn’t like. It felt like the dessert you’d be served in the basement of your grandmother’s Lutheran Church, and I wasn’t impressed.
I like the Big Foot Inn. It’s old fashioned and there’s something special about a place that operates without apologies for what it is. This is a rural Wisconsin supper club, of sorts, and I think it’s worth a visit. You’d be wise to sit in the bar or in the parking lot facing sunroom. On this night, the piano was in action and I found the whole scene rather comforting. If you’re at the lake this summer and want to try something very old that might be new to you, visit the Big Foot Inn. It’s located in the Big Foot Prairie, just south of Walworth, which, to the new agents trying to figure things out, is just south of Fontana, which is West of Williams Bay, which is West of Lake Geneva, which is West of Kenosha, which is North of Chicago.
Big Foot Inn
11508 N US Highway 14, Harvard, IL
$19.95 for the Fried or Baked Cod