GOT SOME FISH TO FRY Try these hot spots on Friday night
Milwaukee Journal - Thursday, March 24, 1994
Author: DENNIS R. GETTO Journal restaurant critic
Another theory contends that fried fish was an inexpensive giveaway used by bars to lure customers after the repeal of Prohibition. The popularity of fish fries on Friday night is testimony to the number of Roman Catholics in and around Milwaukee: Until the 1960s, Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays. Some Catholics still maintain the meatless Friday tradition during Lent.
Whatever their origin, one thing is for sure: Fish
fries are big business in Milwaukee. Beginning at 5 p.m., parking lots at hundreds of restaurants and taverns around town begin to fill with cars. By 7 p.m., waits of 45 minutes to an hour aren't that unusual.
Unless you're willing to go early, waiting is probably the hardest part of a Friday fish fry. Bars are usually packed with patrons, all waiting for the hostess to thread her way through the crowd and call their names.
Once your name is called, the payoff varies. Up until the 1940s, the most popular fish for a fish fry was lake perch, with walleye a close second. In the 1950s, shortages prompted many places to add ocean fish such as haddock and cod. These days, cod and haddock are the most common fish served.
One of the most interesting things I found in checking fish fries was that the basic fry usually beer-battered cod or haddock is almost always your best bet. I ordered walleye at several places and usually was disappointed the larger fish usually was pan-fried and lacked the crispness that deep-frying imparts.
Perch was good at a few places, boring at others. And shrimp is available most nights of the week, so I usually passed it up.
Fish fries of old featured a side dish that smacked of Milwaukee's German heritage potato pancakes served with applesauce. Some of the best fish fries still have them, but french fries have become the norm, though German potato salad makes an occasional appearance.
Two other ingredients go into the making of a Milwaukee fish fry cole slaw and tartar sauce. Again, Milwaukee's German traditions sometimes show up in a traditional sweet-sour slaw that's lightly flecked with the bright orange of carrots. More common is the American picnic variety of cole slaw, with a mayonnaise dressing and (if you're lucky) a little celery seed.
There are variations. Some spots feature both fish and chicken. Some places serve rolls rather than rye bread. The Five& Ten Tavern on Water St. substitutes toast triangles for rye bread. The only main common denominator is fried fish.
At prices of $6 to $8, it's a real bargain.
But there are some drawbacks.
First of all, there's usually a wait, and more often than not, it's in a smoky bar, elbow-to-elbow with fellow fish-fry fanciers. The best way to cope with the problem, it seems, is to bring friends along and plan to have a drink or two while you're waiting.
Next, service isn't what it might be on other nights of the week. In a year of checking out fish fries for this story, I have yet to see a waiter or waitress who didn't earn his or her keep working a fish fry.
One of the most important points of a good fish fry is that the fish be brought directly to your table as soon as it comes from the fryer. With the extra onslaught of people and the need to get their food to them right away, waiters and waitresses don't have a lot of extra time to refill water glasses or coffee cups. If the fish fry is all-you-can eat, however, they usually will respond to a request for mo re fish.
Finally, there's noise. Since many good fish fries are in bars, there's often a pretty steady din to be contended with. At some places, conversation is possible only by shouting or by pulling your conversation partner close to you and talking directly into his or her ear.
If you can put up with the minor drawbacks of the wait, sometimes spotty service and a good deal of noise, proceed to the list of what I consider the best fish fries I've tried around Milwaukee. I haven't been everywhere and will remain on the lookout for good spots. I hope to make this list an annual event.
I'm awarding fish instead of stars as follows: Four fish indicates excellent; three fish, good; two fish, average. I didn't list any place with less than two fish, though I visited several places that didn't make this list.
One final note: The ratings are solely for the fish fry. They offer no commentary on the restaurant's offerings the other nights of the week.
Three and a half fish Bavarian Inn, 700 W. Lexington Blvd., Glendale 964-0300.
Have a plate of beer-battered fish delivered to you and you might have a problem deciding which you like better the wonderfully crisp fish or the expertly made potato pancakes. Cole slaw is sweet, with carrot and a touch of dill, and much better than German potato salad.
If you want a more upscale approach and it's on the menu, try the pan-fried whiting ($7.50), done in a light egg wash, delicate and flaky.
Fish fries at the Bavarian Inn have another distinctively Teutonic touch: Accordion music is featured.
Fish fry hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prices: Broiled, beer-battered or breaded cod, $5.95 for lunch, $7.25 for dinner. 3 1/2 fish
Three and a half fish Ron's Cozy Corner, N54- W35994 W. Lake Drive, Oconomowoc, 567-9625.
If you're headed out to this spacious bar in Oconomowoc, either go early or plan to wait. Fish fry fever is so serious an affliction that cars are lined up for half a mile in all directions on a busy Friday night. Haddock, lake perch and chicken are all delightfully done and served with a bacon-heavy German potato salad, soft rye bread and a cole slaw that's covered with a thick, sweet dressing that has a little kick of horseradish. The best bet is a combination fish and chicken fry.
Fish fry hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Prices: Haddock family style, with two-piece reorder, $5.50. Fish and chicken $6.50. Lake perch $6.75. Walleye $7.75. 3 1/2 fish
Alpine Retreat, 1380 Freiss Road, Hubertus, 628-1909.
The beer batter surrounding the fish at the Alpine Retreat is a bit thicker than most, but it's golden and rich with flavor. The potato pancakes are marvelous. If you're there in the daylight hours, you may have a drink under the watchful eye of Ira, the restaurant's pet goose, who wanders about outside and peeks through the windows of the bar.
But be warned: The Alpine Retreat is one of the few places that accepts fish fry reservations. Don't make the drive to Hubertus without them.
Fish fry hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Prices: $6.95 all-you-can-eat. 3 1/2 fish
Schwabenhof Lounge & Hall, N56-W14750 Silver Spring Road, Menomonee Falls, 252-4100.
There's a tough decision to be made here whether you want the fish and chicken fry or the perch. You can't go wrong
all three are so good. Best of all, all three are offered with marvelous potato pancakes. I can't imagine anyone ordering french fries.
no hours available Prices: Fish and chicken $5.95. Deep fried perch $7.95. 3 1/2 fish
three fish Ritter's Inn, 12525 W. North Ave., Brookfield. 789-8250.
Fans of this fish fry may remember when Ritter's was on 37th and Lisbon ; the restaurant moved out to Brookfield a few years ago.
The basic fish fry is the best here; a crunchy cornmeal crust surrounds each piece of fish, and sweet-and-sour cole slaw with carrot and scallion is served beside it. French or American fries are good; potato pancakes are huge, but cost $4.80 extra.
Fish fry hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prices: Deep fried, baked, broiled or pan-fried, walleye, lake perch, haddock, sauger pike, catfish $5.95 to $9.55. 3 fish
Blue Heron Supper Club, Highways U and F, Big Bend, 662-9985.
An incredibly busy place on a Friday night, this supper club specializes in a three-entree special crunchy batter-fried cod, moist baked cod and fried chicken served family style. The cole slaw is sweet and sour; the rye bread is soft and chewy. French fries round out the platters.
Prices: Combination fish fry and chicken $8.95. 3 fish
3 fish with next item
The Hunter's Nest, S80- W14401 Schultz Lane, Muskego, 422-9510.
This is about as close to Up North as you're going to get without leaving southeastern Wisconsin. As its name implies, the place looks more like a hunting lodge than a restaurant.
Both cod and walleye are good, served with creamy cole slaw and plenty of rye bread, and the casual atmosphere makes for a great spot to unwind after a hard week.
Fish fry hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Prices: Cod, all you can eat, $5.95. 3 fish
Clifford's Supper Club, 10418 W. Forest Home Ave., Hales Corners, 425-6226.
Fish fries are so serious a business at this popular Hales Corners restaurant that you have to decide what you're having before you go in the door. If someone in your party wants to order off the menu, head for the main dining room.
But if it's crunchy battered fish you're after, go in the side entrance and have a seat at one of the long tables. The fish is served family style, with fries, rye bread and creamy cole slaw.
Fish fry hours: 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Prices: Haddock family style, all you can eat, $6.95. 3 fish
Benno's, 7413 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, 453-9094.
You've got to be a fish fanatic for this one, because on a busy night, Benno's is a full-contact fish fry. You've got to elbow your way through a raucous crowd to get on the waiting list, then find a corner of the busy bar to wait until your name is called.
But there's a good reason why the place is so busy: Beer-battered cod is great and served with potato pancakes that have enough onion to make them memorable. At $6.95, a plate of 12 deep-fried shrimp is a real bargain, too.
Fish fry hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner, 4 to 11 p.m. Prices: Beer-battered and baked cod and pike, breaded lake perch, baked catfish $5.95 to $8.95. 3 fish
Serb Memorial Hall, 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave., 545-6030.
Just how popular is the fish fry at venerable Serb Hall? Consider this statistic: On an average Friday night, the hall, which also offers fish fries through its drive- through window, cooks and serves a ton of fish.
The best offered is Icelandic cod, either deep-fried or baked Serbian style, with tomatoes and a touch of fennel. The rye bread is fresh and soft commercial, and the slaw has a distinctly Serbian touch in its sweet-and-sour dressing. Fries round out the platters.
Fish fry hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Prices: Cod, Serbian, baked, fried $6.95. Pollack, all you can eat, $5.95. 3 fish
Aud-Mar Supper Club, S79- W15851 Aud-Mar Drive, Muskego, 422-9956.
Feel like taking a drive in the country? That's what you're in for as you head out to the Aud- Mar, a beautiful lakeside lodge with a huge stone fireplace in Muskego.
The Friday night offerings include a lot of fancy dinners, but your best bet is basic deep-fried cod served with potato pancakes. A perch plate includes nine filets, lightly floured and deep fried. Beside slaw, there's a basket of rye bread and fresh white and whole wheat rolls.
The Aud-Mar is one of the most scenic spots for a fish fry that you'll find.
Fish fry hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner, 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Prices: Deep-fried cod $5.95 for lunch, $6.95 for dinner. 3 fish
Berger's Templeton Inn, N63-W23197 W. Main
St., Sussex, 246-6123.
The sprawling and historic Templeton Inn becomes a hub of activity at lunch and dinner on Friday when the weekly fish fry draws droves of admirers.
The best bet is basic cod, beer battered and served with potato pancakes, sweet slaw and rye bread.
Fish fry hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Prices: Cod, all you can eat, $6.95. 3 fish
Milrose Inn, 5831 W. Vliet St., 774-1322.
There's nothing fancy about this popular West Side tavern that lists its menu on the wall and fills up fast for fish fries at lunch and dinner. The shag rug is worn and the wooden chairs are weathered, but the beer-battered cod is crunchy and good. Slaw is dressed in traditional German sweet-sour dressing; fries and rye bread round out the plate, which is one of the better fish fry bargains in town.
Fish fry hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Prices: Haddock $4.75; junior order (one piece of fish) $3.75. 3 fish
Five & Ten Tavern , 1850 N. Water St., 272-1599.
There's only one kind of fish served at this popular fish fry lake perch, and it's good. The fries and toast that come with five fillets are pretty ordinary, but the slaw is brightened by shredded carrots and covered with a sweet-and-sour dressing.
hours not available Prices: Perch $5.95. 2.5 fish
Glendale Lanes, 2411 W. Silver Spring Drive, 228-9710.
The dining room of this small bowling alley on Silver Spring Drive isn't big, but it is interesting, with historic newspapers recounting events from the sinking of the Lusitania in 1916 to Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon in 1969. The cod is beer- battered, the slaw is sweet and the potato pancakes are chewy. Fine-textured french bread fills out the plate.
Fish fry hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinner, 5 to 9 p.m. Prices: Icelandic cod $6.95. 2.5 fish
Fritz's Pub, 3086 S. 20th St., 643-6995.
Best known for its Serbian delights, Fritz's is also a popular place on Fridays, when the main dish is cod dipped in a slightly sweet batter and served with sourdough rye, zesty cole slaw and seasoned potato wedges. If it's not too busy, you might also ask for one of the pub's great desserts.
Fish fry hours: 2 p.m. to midnight. Prices: Cod $6.95 (large order), $4.95 (small order). 2.5 fish
If you know of a good fish fry and want to leave a message, call Dennis Getto at 224-2368 or write him at: The Milwaukee Journal, Box 661, Milwaukee, Wis. 53201