I was a bit nervous about having to write this review. It reminded me of the time I decided to go visit Harbor Country for the first time, just to see what it was all about. I booked my hotel and drove East, down that terrible route and across Indiana, the Fireworks and Strip Club signs lighting my way. Once I was done driving East, I drove North, up and along that shore, worried that what I would find would be so wonderful that I’d have no means to ever compete with it. When I pulled into the town a deep sense of relief gently washed over me. This place wasn’t great at all. I had worried about this competition for no reason, for no reason at all. This place was lame, and I was relieved.
I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to sit in the VC meeting where Culver’s first pitched its business plan. The Culvers’ brothers on one side of the table, with their attorney, me and my VC cohorts on the other side. I’d lead off by asking what this new plan was that brought them to my office. “It’s a burger joint”, one Culver would respond. I’d say, so what’s the catch? There’s a lot of burger joints, obviously. How do you plan to attract customers? What’s your angle? Will you serve the food like super fast? “No, we’ll take the order and then give people and little plastic number and make them wait in their cars for a while, maybe like five or seven minutes, then we’ll bring them out their food”.
Ok. So is the food like super cheap and affordable? “No, it’ll be very nearly the same cost as a sit down meal might be at a regular restaurant where they have waitresses and metal silverware”. Ok. So, you’re going to create a fast food restaurant that will be quite expensive and you’ll make people wait in their cars for an extraordinarily long amount of time before you serve them some burgers and crinkle cut fries? “Yes, that’s right”. That’s when I’d pass on the deal and that’s why the Culver’s family is super rich and I’m typing fish fry reviews.
Last Friday called for a short road trip, which means there was no time for the traditional Friday Fish Fry. But alas, the trip was through Wisconsin, and so we decided there would be no better time to test the waters at Culver’s. The fast food chain has become a ubiquitous Wisconsin staple, and their television commercials spend considerable effort touting their fish fry. I have little doubt that their fish is among the best in the fast food world, but how does it stand up to the typical Wisconsin dinner?
The Cross Plains Culver’s is in an awkward location. It’s right off of Highway 14, but the drive-thru is wonky and the parking lot is small. The display screen doesn’t show any particular fish fry option, though it does offer an Atlantic Cod Sandwich, which is presumably the same fish that is served as a fish fry. Wild caught from the Barents Sea, apparently. I asked the fella on the other side of the screen if there was a fish fry. There was. Two or three pieces, served with two sides. The price wasn’t listed, but I came to find out when the total was announced that it was $12.99. That’s in line with any sit down establishment where you don’t have to eat with one knee on the steering wheel.
I ordered three pieces with fries. Then I paid the enormous tab of $36 (my son had a fish sandwich, my wife chicken tenders with no fries, my daughter a kid’s meal, no ice cream, no sides, no extra drinks) and pulled around to my designated waiting spot. Several minutes later a nice girl brought out a large brown bag with our dinner. After disbursing the contents, we noticed we were short a couple of items, so my wife had to run in to ask for what was left off our order. This is pretty lame, but it’s Culver’s, so nothing fast should be expected.
My fish dinner was served in a plastic plate with matching plastic lid. Three pieces of cod, all nice size filets, with a lemon wedge, fries, and a small dinner roll. The roll was a nice touch, but if ever I would have given a pass for serving foiled, cold butter, this was it. Yet no butter was included. Perhaps it was left behind, like the rest of our order. With no potato pancake to judge, I’ll just say that the fries were fine but in no way should Culver’s be proud of their crinkle cut fries. Their custard is praise worthy, but their potato is not.
The cod was fine. The battered exterior was crunchy, the fish was respectable but in no way memorable. It was a touch dry, bland, and not worth the $12.99 ransom. I ate it as I drove West, one hand on the fish, the other on the wheel. Nothing about the dinner was good. Nothing about it was memorable. Nothing about it is worthy of your fish fry time. If you’re running late on a Friday night and feel like a fast food fish fry might be a convenient substitute for a sit-down fish fry, don’t do it. Just skip it and wait for the next Friday to roll around.
$12.99 Three Piece Fried Cod