There’s a certain thing about a restaurant name that sets the tone for diner expectations. If you visit a restaurant called Whiskey Ranch, your expectations are set long before you pull into the gravel driveway. This particular restaurant occupies an old house at the intersection of Highways 14 and 11, just outside of Delavan and Darien. Across the street there’s a strip club, in case you’d like to wash away your whiskey sorrows with a dash of glitter. The parking lot at Whiskey Ranch is nearly always full, whether from patrons of the Ranch or patrons of the aforementioned club. Parking in the lot across the street feels like an awfully flimsy alibi.
When we caught a glimpse of the parking lot at Whiskey Ranch on Friday night it seemed as though we’d be finding somewhere else to dine. It was around 6:30 and the lot was absolutely slammed. I parked near the front door and entered the bar to ask how long of a wait I’d have to suffer through. Five minutes was all, so I found a permanent parking spot and we pulled up two chairs to a high top in the bar. There appears to be only two dining areas in this bar, both very bar like. The waitress and the host both told us often about the beer sampling that was taking place in the other room, which might be a more traditional dining room, but I couldn’t tell. The free beer would explain the abundance of cars in the lot.
The crowd here was a bit boisterous, celebrating the certain fact that they had made it through another work week. How I wish I could celebrate like that. I can barely celebrate New Years Eve, (it’ll be a new year no matter if I celebrate or not), or my birthday (big deal, lots of people have lived this long), or a large closing (Great, now I don’t have any deals pending). This was a group engineered to celebrate just making it, and there they were, enjoying the evening and the free beer and the fish fry. When the waitress was table side I asked about the fish, which, for the first time in this tour, actually required some explanation.
The Friday specials, the waitress explained, included a traditional fish fry (two pieces find cod), a Fried Walleye Dinner (two pieces), Pan Fried Walleye (two pieces), Baked Cod (two pieces), some fried shrimp dish, a grilled salmon dinner, and a fish fry sandwich, in case you were in a hurry. I appreciated the multiple options, and asked the waitress for her recommendation. Without pause, she said she liked the fried Walleye. So that’s what I ordered, ignoring the cod completely. If a restaurant serves Walleye (like the Waterfront at the Abbey), I must oblige their effort and order the Walleye with potato pancakes. My wife ordered the shrimp dish with fries.
One of my many poor eating habits involves the appetizer. As a child, I didn’t get to eat appetizers. I wasn’t really sure what they were. My dad would never consider pre-gaming a meal with a smaller meal, because who would spend $8.99 on something so unnecessary? I asked the waitress if any appetizer was important here, and she explained some sort of fried corn ball thing that sounded sort of appealing but sort of strange. I ordered the jalapeño poppers, which was a mistake. They were brought out first, and they were bland and pretty much terrible. I should have known better. This is my fault.
The fish dinner, on the other hand, was a beautiful plate of fried food. The Walleye filets were large, battered, as the menu said, to perfection. The potato pancakes (two) were thin, but well crisped. The plate had a small piece of cornbread, a tiny container of applesauce (too smooth, bland), and matching plastic containers of coleslaw and tartar sauce. There was also a small plastic container filled with some sort of maple syrup concoction. I’m not sure what it was or what I was supposed to do with it. A lemon wedge provided the only color. The cornbread was on the dry side, but flavorful. It could have used a nice smear of softened butter, but my only butter option was a foil packet from somewhere in Houston. For shame, Whisky Ranch. For deep and terrible shame.
The Walleye was delightful. Beer battered and fried to a wonderful golden hue, it was moist and tender, quite divine. I think the Waterfront’s (Abbey) fried Walleye might have been slightly better, but this Walleye was delicious. The potato pancakes were more traditional, one note, some potato and onion crisped on the flattop. I liked the fact that they didn’t try to church the potato up with some sort of add-in. There were only two pieces of fish and two pancakes, but that was plenty of food. My wife said her shrimp were pretty good, and I had to eat some her fries so I could properly report back on my findings. They were superlative.
Our waitress was friendly, but she let our water glasses go dry for what felt like most of my dinner, which wasn’t terrific. We waited for quite along while after our plates were cleared to be presented with the check, which did allow for a bit more people watching but was also slightly annoying. The hostess reminded us again of the free beer in the other room, and continued to be somewhat perplexed at our lack of enthusiasm. The Whiskey Ranch is a bar. It’s in an old house. The ceilings are low, the bar is loud. It feels like an up north bar, which is actually a good thing. Their Friday Fish Fry was above average, but not on par with the standouts I’ve so far discovered. If you’re in the mood for fish and want to hang out with some locals, give the Whiskey Ranch in Delavan a visit. It won’t let you down.
Whiskey Ranch 8/10
W9002 Highway 11, Delavan, WI
$14.99 Fried Walleye Dinner, $10.99 Fried Cod, $11.99, Pan Fried Walleye $14.99, Fish Fry Sandwich $8.99