Friday was a busy day for me, but it wasn’t so busy that I didn’t find the time to eat some fried fish. My wife generally doesn’t love some of the places on my fish fry review circuit, mostly because many of the places aren’t particularly attractive or otherwise interesting to her. While I full understand the distinct appeal of a dive bar that serves fried things, I also understand my wife’s opinion of said places. With that in mind, I met up with her and my son (who was home from college) Friday evening at Pier 290.
It wasn’t without some trepidation that I decided to do another Pier 290 review. My last review in 2018 ($13 for the fish fry back then) didn’t go so well, and even though I wrote about how much I appreciate Pier 290 for its rare and upscale aesthetic, I was a bit concerned as we were ushered past the bar and into the outdoor dining area. If the fish fry was terrible, I’d have no choice but to report on its terribleness. My dedication to honesty would require it. We were seated nearest the lake in the covered outdoor space, the thin layer of clear vinyl separating us from the elements. While it was a touch chilly, the overhead heaters did a nice job to keep us warm enough, and if given the choice between being too hot and too cold, the Norwegian in me will always choose the latter.
The Fish Fry on the menu was identified as being either pollack or bluegill. The pollack might be fried of baked, but the blue gill is always fried. No one wants baked bluegill, I imagined. The waitress was table side within a few minutes and when I asked about the fish fry she told me she the pollack had been replaced with cod. I was glad to hear that, because no one ever asks for pollack. You might as well ask for baked blue gill if you were thinking of asking for pollack. I ordered the cod, fried. My son ordered the bluegill. My wife ordered the baked cod. The potato pancake would accompany my fried cod. I was reasonably excited for the dinner, but also concerned. It was 6:29 when we ordered.
I’ve often claimed I could recognize the time of year by only looking at the water. No shoreline, no boats, nothing else. Just a shot of the water would give me enough to tell you roughly what season it was. Friday night the water was obviously that of early April. It looked like water that wanted to be warmer than it was. It looked cold, but less cold than it once was. I could tell it was April, and when our dinners arrived less than 14 minutes later I had spent so much time thinking about the color of the water that I wasn’t particularly concerned about the fish.
My fried cod ($21.95) was served in three pieces, each nicely shaped and somewhat resembling fancy fish sticks. The cuts were breaded, not battered, and had the obvious golden hue of a corn meal based breading. The potato pancake was very well done, which you might consider to be a negative, but I appreciate the crunch and crackle of a potato that was taken to its limits. The first bite of cod provided me with considerable relief. It was very good. The fish was moist and flavorful, boasting that easy sweetness that comes from a good piece of cod. I grabbed a piece of my son’s bluegill ($24.95), which was breaded like the cod, and it, too, was good. My son claimed me didn’t like it very much, but that seemed more like a him problem. Or perhaps it was a me problem, as I didn’t raise my son in the way that my elders raised me: eating fried fish caught from the lake. My catch and release stance robbed him of such a childhood.
My wife’s baked cod, on the other hand, was not good. It was dry and had an overall unpleasant flavor. I think maybe this is the fate that the baked cod eaters deserve, as there’s no Friday menu in Wisconsin that boasts “FRIDAY FISH BAKE”. And if there is, that place should be closed by the authorities. Thankfully I had the crispy potato pancake to wash the flavor of the baked cod out of my mouth. The pancake was a bit dry, but it had rather remarkable flavor, and I would suggest that if the pancake was a bit thicker (it was quite thin), it would have been a standout. The tartar sauce was delicious, the apple sauce impossibly chunky, and my wife claimed the coleslaw was quite good.
This Friday evening was a success, and Pier 290 deserves a round of applause for my fried cod dinner. At $21.95 for the cod and $24.95 for the bluegill, it is the most expensive fish fry I’ve had on this tour, but I dare say it was well worth the price of admission. Pier 290 is the most beautiful restaurant we have here. It’s a stellar scene, in general. If the food is as good as it was on Friday night, then I’ll easily pay a modest premium for that rare combination. Be sure to visit Pier 290 this summer and have the fish fry. Just remember, that it’s a fish fry and not a fish bake, and order accordingly.
1 Liechty Drive, Williams Bay
$21.95 Three Piece Fried (or baked) Cod
$24.95 Fried Bluegill