I didn’t grow up in the church of the Friday Fish Fry. Sure, I went once in a while, but it was never a pattern. Once a year, twice maybe. In the summer when relatives were in town, we’d fish fry. But we never made a habit of it. As an adult, I too would fish fry. But only every so often. There was never any particular need. With plenty of other things to eat on a Friday, why fish?
With that in mind, I must tell you what happens later. If you’re a fish fryer, then you already know, and even if it’s never discussed, it’s always understood. If you’re not a fish fryer, this might come as some strange surprise to you. But when you start going to fish fry, the habit that might become a pattern sneaks up on you. Eat fish on a Friday, feel fine about it. Eat no fish for the next six days, feel fine about it. Friday afternoon, when the work day is dwindling off towards another weekend, that’s when it grabs you. Where are we going to eat fish tonight? The habit becomes a pattern and the pattern, at least for those in Wisconsin, tends to become a religion.
Last Friday it was intolerably hot. Much like the weekend that followed. Because of this heat I needed to eat somewhere that I thought might have a modern air conditioning system, something adequate to ward off this heat and humidity. Last Friday, more than any Friday before, I wasn’t so keen on discovering something new. I wanted to go somewhere known. I wanted to go to Abbey Springs, to use my dining membership for the second time in several months. To Anthony’s, where I know exactly what to expect. But alas, I soldiered on in the attempt to weed out the pretenders in this Friday Fish game. My son and I pulled into the Waterfront’s parking lot at 5:45 pm last Friday. It was hot out.
This restaurant is on Highway 50 in the Delavan inlet. It was built new several years ago, or so I recall. I went there to eat a few times after it first opened, but as with most restaurants here, if the menu doesn’t resonate and the scene doesn’t inspire, I often don’t go back. The Waterfront is a nice enough space, new, with icy cold air conditioning. There’s a front porch (too hot), a main dining area focused around a large bar, and a side dining space on the East side of the building. That’s where we were seated, in a booth with wood top and cracked vinyl covering the bench seats.
The waitress was chipper and quick to our table, and without delay I asked of the fish fry. It was presented several different ways, one with some sort of creamy concoction, one might have been Walleye, and the others baked and fried cod. It was all you can eat, which I always enjoy on account of my terminal obesity. Given the options, I asked the waitress what she preferred. The fried cod was good, she said, and so I ordered half and half with a side of potato pancakes.
The wait was short. Like insanely short. I suppose that’s good, but the wait to receive our food was so short it almost caught us off guard. But the plate was large and filled to the edges with food, and so we didn’t complain. The baked cod was served three pieces in a small dish, much like you’d use to plate shrimp scampi. The baked was dry. It lacked salt. I exhausted my lemon wedge onto the pieces and my son lathered tartar sauce on his, but they could not be saved. Time Of Death: Approximately two minutes before the cod was removed from the oven.
The fried cod was much better, as the waitress promised. The batter was crunchy, the interior flaky and white. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. The thing that can put a fried cod piece over the top is usually some sort of combination of salt and slightly flavored batter. This lacked both, so while it was good enough, it wasn’t a standout on this tour. The coleslaw and tartar sauce were both okay, according to my son, who declined to elaborate except to say the coleslaw had some seeds in it that he didn’t appreciate. There was also a piece of marbled rye bread, or perhaps pumpernickel, which though I despise, I nibbled as a form of self-punishment. The bread was buttered, but there was no table butter.
The potato pancake was served two to an order, though they were small. They were also curious looking, like they were hand formed in the way you’d hand form a sugar cookie before pressing it with the palm of your hand to flatten a bit. The reason they were slightly off-looking is because they were not a typical pancake. Instead of shredded potato, as God intended, these were some sort of mashed-potato creation, lacking any tooth to the bite and overall leaving me with a feeling of deep and thorough disappointment. I understand that chefs often take liberties, but if you’re in Wisconsin and you’re serving Friday Fish Fry, please don’t waiver from the standard. Shred your potatoes. Rinse them. Squeeze out the starchy water. Mix with some classic ingredients, and fry on a flat top or, if you must, in your fryer.
In spite of these issues, the dinner was nearly saved by a most amazing applesauce. It was served in a plastic tub, which is terrible, but the side itself was delightfully cold, immensely flavorful, and delightfully chunky. The latter of which is how my grandmother would compliment me when describing me to her friends. Applesauce cannot save a dinner that was destined for obscurity, but it does show a nice attention to detail. Unfortunately, the detail was skipped on those mashed potato disks and just missed on the fried cod. I liked the Waterfront for its convenient location, ample parking, hefty portion size, and refreshingly cold AC. But as for the items that matter most, the Waterfront missed the mark.
The Waterfront 5/10
408 State Road 50, Delavan, WI
$13.99 All you can eat fried or baked cod (optional creamy cod dish and possibly walleye, but I wasn’t paying attention)