I’ve purposefully avoided reviewing Daddy Maxwell’s. The reasoning for this avoidance was complicated, I suppose. Daddy Maxwell’s has been a staple in Williams Bay for as long as I can remember, and I hated the thought of delivering an honest review in the event that something went less than perfect. I love all things Williams Bay, and will defend all things Williams Bay, but I cannot effectively defend against my own honesty. My father and his father and my great uncle were regulars at Daddy’s for decades, and I always felt that I, too, might someday make it to that status (I haven’t yet). To make matters more curious, my son works there, dutifully washing dishes and bussing tables throughout the summer. When I sat down at my table last Friday night I was fearful of the fish to come.
We went early. 5 pm, on the dot, early. It felt early, but other patrons were already finishing their fish when we were seated in that front, circular dining room. There’s just two spaces here, one room with booths that open towards the diner’s bar, and the other room with tables on the East side, where we were. There was a large middle table in that space that soon filled with a happy family and one shrieking child. Fish doesn’t taste as good when your ears are under assault, but it was too late to back out now.
Daddy Maxwell’s isn’t open for dinner excepting for this Friday night fish fry. That shows keen awareness by the owner, and the menu reflects a willingness to modify what other restaurants often see as a very strict menu offering. This fish fry featured Haddock, Cod, Perch, Shrimp, and some other fish that’s served blackened with jerk seasoning. There are potato pancakes and the usual sides, each served in a small plastic tub. The menu, in case you haven’t ever been, has small bits of inside jokes and innuendo that I’m sure many people understand but I do not. The deep fried perch comes with three pieces and a question, “Maybe retired old men eat out too often”...
The waitress was polite but firm, and responded with little hesitation when I asked what she recommended. The battered cod was good, she said. The grilled lemon pepper haddock is another favorite. I obeyed her and ordered the Tavern Battered Cod Plate ($10.75 for four pieces) with the potato pancakes and a single extra piece of lemon pepper grilled haddock, just to check it out. My wife opted for the Sizzlin Fish Tacos, (marinated, chopped haddock)…“Que Bueno”. My daughter left the reservation completely and ordered a burger. We nursed our waters and tried to ignore the eardrum shattering screams coming from the neighboring table.
The fish was out in short order, and looked good enough. The dinner was served with two slices of untoasted rye, along side a tiny packet of to-go butter. I’ll avoid comment, because I’m certain my opinion on this is already known. The fried cod looked more like fish-sticks than the larger, chunk pieces of cod most of our market serves. The small chunk of grilled haddock looked nice, so I tried that first. It was extremely subtle on the lemon pepper flavor, but the fish was delicately cooked and flavorful. I enjoyed it very much. The cod was crunchy with a thick batter, and the fish inside was pretty good. It wasn’t my favorite batter or fish on this tour, but it was in line with the average.
The potato pancakes (two) were thin and looked more like actual pancakes than most of the potato pancakes I’ve had. But they were very nicely seasoned and cooked perfectly. The interior was moist and creamy, the exterior just a bit crisped. They were a nice break from my unfortunate run of disappointing potato pancakes. The applesauce is only served with the potato pancakes, so if you opt for fries don’t expect any applesauce. But I am not the sort that slathers applesauce on potato pancakes, which must be something that one learns either at a very young age or never at all, so I eat my applesauce separate. And this was delicious applesauce. Huge chunks of apple, nicely sweetened. A winner on the applesauce scene.
When the dust settled I was satisfied with my meal. I wasn’t amazed by it, or enthralled with it, but I left satisfied that I had just eaten a proper Wisconsin Fish Fry, and my Friday night was still young. I made the most of that early dinner by going home to mow my lawn before returning to the restaurant to wait for my son to finish washing the pots and pans from dinner service. I’m pleased to report that Daddy Maxwell’s didn’t let me down. I was told later that I should have ordered the butterflied perch, but such is life. Is Daddy Maxwell’s in my top five fish fish fry joints? No, it isn’t. But is it a nice, local joint to find a varied fish fry served with careful effort? Yes, it most definitely is.
Daddy Maxwell’s Fish Fry 6.5/10
150 Elkhorn Road, Williams Bay
Cod, Haddock, Shrimp, Perch, from $8.25 to $16.50