When a new restaurant opens there is much excitement surrounding the event. Yay! The internet screams. But opening a new restaurant is at once fun and exciting and yet, still, scary. If you open and you’re not ready, things will generally go badly for you. If you open and you must make excuses as to why this isn’t quite right and that isn’t any good, then your opening is less a coronation and more a dirge. With that in mind, I went to the newly opened Hazel’s Restaurant inside the Baker House Hotel in Lake Geneva.
I first learned of this new restaurant opening earlier in the week after a friend posted a picture of what appeared to be a rather delicious breakfast. He was enthusiastic. It was wonderful, it seemed. I called Friday morning to ask if they served a fish fry, which they did. I asked if they took reservations, which they did. I’m a huge fan of reservations, and since the restaurant was new to Lake Geneva and in a desirable lakefront location I figured a reservation would be necessary. The evening was beautiful, the sun high, the lake sparkly, the parking lot open.
I walked in with my wife and kids at 6:30 Friday evening and we sat down to wait for our friends who were joining us. Our table was an eight seater off the main foyer, without a view of the lake. It was close to a piano where a woman sang the hits from my grandmother’s childhood, and while piano music is nice I found it all to be rather loud and distracting. I think the scene in the Baker house is supposed to be a lively old timey thing, but I personally found it to be less than ideal. Thankfully, no one at my table put on any of the signature hats that line the walls.
Our waters were filled quickly and routinely, which was a nice touch. The menu featured several fish fry options, but I narrowed in on the fried or baked cod, offered with a side of potato and soup or salad. I was happy to have the option of a soup or salad and chose the clam chowder. The cod was one piece of fish, so no combo ordering was available. I ordered the baked, my friend ordered the fried, and we split up our single pieces so we could experience both methods. The fish was labeled Cod on the menu but my receipt labeled the fish Haddock. This is a strange inconsistency, but the night would have plenty more.
It should be noted that there was no kid’s menu available. That’s a huge mistake for a restaurant here. My son ordered the fish fry ($17) and my daughter the chicken tenders ($14), while our friends’ son ordered the ribs ($22ish). If you wish to become a destination in a family oriented resort location, you’re going to need to cater to your audience.
We ordered at 6:50 pm.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then, we added in some waiting. The piano blared. The sun set. Without good company I would have been incredibly irritable by the time our food arrived, at 7:50 pm, one hour after we ordered. The clam chowder was very good. Salty, like I prefer my clam chowder. But the portion was tiny and the soup spoon was more like a teaspoon, perhaps so that I’d feel like it was the late 1800s. But no steamers were on fire down at the piers and no one at the table had measles so the attempt to take me back in time failed. The fish was presented a bit later.
The single piece of cod was quite large. So large that we wondered what sort of cod this was. Perhaps this was a whale shark filet, we figured. The fried cod was heavily battered and a bit soggy. It also smelled strongly of beer, which is okay for some I suppose, but it was too strong. The outer shell fell off of the large fish piece and sogged onto the plate. It wasn’t good. The baked portion was better, but only marginally so. It needed salt. It was a bit undercooked. The texture was a bit off. The potato pancakes were fine, much like breakfast hash browns, but acceptable. The applesauce was served in an out-of-place plastic container, and it was warm. Why was it warm? Because it likely sat under the heat lamps for a while, just long enough to sog the cod and warm the applesauce.
There was no coleslaw. The tartar sauce was pretty good, according to my dinner mates. But my friend’s fish fry came with green beans and mine didn’t. My fish fry came with applesauce and my sons didn’t. There was no table bread, no butter. No crackers. Nothing, at all, really. Nothing except those abnormally large fish pieces and that heavy shroud of soggy batter. We finished our dinners and left Hazel’s, a restaurant I will more than likely never visit again. I understand the wait, while a kitchen works through some opening Friday night jitters, but the inconsistencies in plating are inexcusable.
People say you should give a pass to new restaurants. I say no. If you open, you should be ready. Have a soft opening for a couple of weeks to work out the kinks, if you know there are some. Don’t open until you’re ready. But Hazel’s is open and on that Friday night at my table it wasn’t ready. The wait was too long. The service was slow. The fish unremarkable. The piano was too loud. The scene, while certainly authentic to a period I know nothing about, was not my tiny cup of chowder. Nothing felt right on this night, and for that, I was sad. I had begun the evening full of hopeful enthusiasm and left wishing I had just gone to Gino’s East for a pizza.
Visit Hazel’s this summer. You might like it. It’s a new location here for an existing Illinois based restaurant. But maybe give them a few weeks to work out the issues that they probably should have worked out before last Friday night.
Hazel’s Baker House 3/10
327 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva
$17 one piece fried or baked cod