Many men who are the same age as my father shipped off to war at the same time my dad drove off to college. While many of those good men didn’t come home, my dad’s cousins who served, did. If you ask my dad about that war, he’ll now admit that there is a part of him that wished he had participated. Not for the violence or the pain or the suffering, but for the camaraderie. Those men who served share a bond that my father has to view from the outside and he feels a tinge of sorrow for that connection that he missed. This is how I felt when I walked into Mars Resort last Friday afternoon at 3:55 pm.
Sure it was early, but while I don’t eat at Mars with any variety of regularity, I know the drill here. If you arrive early, you’ll be mocked on social media for your elderly habit. If you arrive at 6 pm you’ll sit around for 45 minutes waiting for a table. Armed with that knowledge I made a decision Friday afternoon, and that decision had me opening the door into the darkish interior of this well known establishment on the southern shore of Lake Como. Mock me all you wish, but the only way to eat a second dinner at 9 pm is to eat first dinner at 4.
Even though it was early, the interior of Mars was full. The outdoor patio was full, too, because it was warm and sunny and very un-April like. The hostess told me she’d have a spot for me in 15 minutes. I contemplated standing in this place where I don’t belong, staring at my phone or my shoes, hoping I wasn’t sticking out as badly as I knew I would be. Upon checking, she decided she could seat me right away, albeit at an outdoor bar that’s really just a 2×10 propped up on a few posts. I pulled up my bar stool and stared out at the brown expanse that is my second least favorite lake in the entire world, Lake Como. Around me the locals and the out of towners who have made this their preferred hang out commiserated and laughed and ate and pulled in that smoke from their cigarettes, while I sat alone like a real loser, wondering if my decision to not spend my life in bars was somehow a grave mistake. The sun was bright and hot, the cigarette smoke perfumed the air, and Morgan Wallen pushed through the speakers. It was a nice night, err, afternoon.
The fish fry here is not uncomplicated. They serve it on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on that day I could have opted for bluegill, walleye, cod, or flounder. The flounder might have been local, because Lord only knows what lurks beneath the surface of that brown soup at the end of the Mars beach. The waitress said the walleye was her favorite, but when I asked if it was possibly full of bones she gave me a knowing nod. I opted for the cod, because I am not about to choke to death with Lake Como in view. Imagine if I died in such a manner, how ironic. Don’t you think?
The fish was out within 15 minutes. It looked pretty good. I ordered the large dinner, which came with two pieces of fried and two pieces of baked, alongside potato pancakes and the standard accoutrements. The baked was fine, but it was a touch dry and it wasn’t especially well seasoned. I wouldn’t order the baked again, because what am I, a Baked Fish Eater (BFE)? The fried was breaded, not battered, and it was better. The exterior was crunchy, much crunchier than the breaded fish at Pier 290. But after a few bites I realized this crunchy exterior came at the expense of a slightly overcooked interior. It was a near miss. The potato pancake was unlike any I’ve had on this tour, and that’s not a great thing. The consistency was more like a McDonald’s breakfast hash brown, which is fine if eaten in the morning on a road trip but not ideal with a fish fry. I didn’t care for it much. I tried to save it by adding some applesauce, but the applesauce was so cinnamon forward that it didn’t work for me. The tartar sauce was fine, but not uniquely good.
Mars was a nice place to be last Friday afternoon. I was glad to have gone. Sure I felt alone in a crowd of locals, but I enjoyed my visit very much. The fish dinner was not memorable by any stretch. However, Mars still deserves your attention. My only bit of advice is about the timing of your visit. Don’t show up late. Or on time. Show up early and wear dark sunglasses. You show up early to get a seat, you wear the sunglasses to avoid noticing the taupe nature of Lake Como.
W4098 South Shore Drive, Lake Geneva (Lake Como, north of Highway 50)
$16.50 for the large fish fry, cod