I last reviewed Popeye’s March 5th, 2018. While that feels like it was a couple of years ago, I’m alarmed to realize that it was, as a point of fact, five years ago. In those five years I’ve changed. My kids have changed, my wife has changed, you’ve changed. But Popeye’s hasn’t changed, and that’s something that would have been true a decade ago and might be true a decade from now. Popeye’s is a constant. Death, Taxes, My Uneaten Piece Of Rye Bread, and Popeye’s.
While it’s popular to mock Popeye’s for being the tourist populated mega-restaurant that it is, I find several parts of Popeye’s to be redeeming. Their fish fry, back in 2018, was one of those. The fish I had back then was $14.99 for all I could eat, served on a large family style platter propped up in the center of the table. That fish fry earned an 8/10 review, largely on the strength of the stellar potato pancake, which was at once crispy and creamy, and the fried cod, which had the sweetness that I crave in a nice piece of cod. I saw a video the other day where the woman chef was making cod, and she referred to it as codfish, which I know might be a thing, but does it need to be? I know it’s fish. I guess some people say PerchFish and BassFish, but of course I’m joking because no one says that.
Last Friday night Faith Christian School had a playoff game at 7 pm, so a touch later than is custom, I pulled in to the private Popeye’s parking lot at 5:45. My wife and I were meeting friends, and even though they groaned when I suggested Popeye’s for dinner, I knew they would like the fish. The Fish Fry at Popeye’s is no longer all you can eat, instead it costs $18.99 for a platter of fish that can be baked, fried, or mixed. I opted for the mixed. The sun was setting low over Geneva Bay’s western shore and I thought how nice this spot is. Love this place or hate it, the view from our four-top near the window was delightful and that should mean something. As we waited for our dinners, I noticed the restaurant wasn’t as full as I had expected it to be at 6 pm on a pleasant Friday night.
My fish dinner was out rather quickly (my table mates all chose to order something other than fish). A large plate was covered in various fried bits. Two pieces of fried cod, two pieces of baked, two potato pancakes, a handful of french fries, two hushpuppies, a lemon wedge or two, and small plastic containers (with lids) of tartar sauce, clarified butter, coleslaw, and applesauce. As with the 2018 dinner, no bread is included. I don’t need it, I know, but I still would like it. Everything else on this plate was bad for me, so why not some bread, too? I nibbled on the fries while I looked at my phone to see that a new listing had come on at 6 pm on a Friday night and I remembered how there is a time coming in the future when I won’t care about that…
I’ve been to Popeye’s at least once or twice a year since 2018 for their fish fry, so this dinner is no stranger to me. The potato pancakes, once the standout of the plate, were acceptable, but dry. The baked cod was cut into tiny little rectangles and sported a blood line of sorts running horizontally through the chunks, which in my unscientific opinion, meant these pieces likely came from the tail section of the filet. The baked wasn’t very good, and it was a touch dry. The fried, previously the standout, was similarly dry. One piece was a touch rubbery, and if you’re new to the game of reading about fish, dry and rubbery are not adjectives that are used as flattery. Not to be outdone, the hushpuppies were also a bit dry. The coleslaw was fine, according to my wife, the tartar sauce better than average, and the applesauce chunky like I like it.
I went to Popeye’s in spite of many recommendations to try new places, largely because I wanted to recalibrate my rating system against a stalwart in this space. Unfortunately, on this night, it was rather obvious what happened. Everything was just overcooked. That’s the fickle nature of fish fry, and that’s why it’s so difficult to be consistent in this space. I’m guessing I’ll return to Popeye’s at least once this summer for another fish fry, and I hope you’ll do the same because at the end of the day, the view does matter.
811 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva
$18.99 Cod, baked or broiled.