Fish Fries

The Tao of fried fish. We attach meaning to our ritual beer batters and potato pancakes. We’re protective and loyal, even defensive of our fries. Our fries. We play favorites. In short, fish fries are an area where strangers to tradition should tread warily. That’s why we took an armed forces approach to capturing some citadels of the all-important fry. Like we did in March 1994, the last time we slogged through the hot grease, the whole editorial team joined the mission, trolling the city, the burbs and outlying areas. One thing you’ll notice as you retrace our steps here…

The Tao of fried fish. We attach meaning to our ritual beer batters and potato pancakes. We’re protective and loyal, even defensive of our fries. Our fries. We play favorites. In short, fish fries are an area where strangers to tradition should tread warily. That’s why we took an armed forces approach to capturing some citadels of the all-important fry. Like we did in March 1994, the last time we slogged through the hot grease, the whole editorial team joined the mission, trolling the city, the burbs and outlying areas. One thing you’ll notice as you retrace our steps here is that great fries have no rules. Rapturous potato pancakes, for example, are hash browns in one person’s book and mashed potato patties in another’s. The lesson: Be open. If your fry routine is getting stale or you’ve forgotten the thrill of hot breading between your teeth, you’ve got dinner plans starting, well, this very Friday.

American Serb Memorial Hall
“Cozy” could never be used to describe the fish fry at Serb Hall. But then, if it’s fellow Milwaukeeans you’re trying to avoid, you’d best stay away from deep fryers on a Friday night. With room for hundreds of people, the hall’s cavernous banquet room is surprisingly comforting, in a “we’re all in this together” sort of way. Table settings here are “family style,” with large bowls of coleslaw and bread (hygienically sealed in plastic wrap – just like Mom would do it). The fish offerings include Icelandic cod ($9.25), perch ($9.50) and all-you-can-eat Alaskan pollock ($8.50). Walleye or beer-battered cod specials are often available on Fridays as well. The perch, while a bit manufactured-looking, is my favorite. Potato-wise, you’re offered fries or (better yet) mashed potatoes with a nice hint of garlic. No time to break bread with the masses? Serb Hall has a drive-through window open Fridays and 3-8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Friday hours: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave., 545-6030. (Kevin J. Miyazaki)

Amici’s Italian Restorante
You might not expect to find a classy – dare we say romantic – eatery in a little town like Richfield. (Head out I-45 past Germantown, and once you exit at Holy Hill Road, you’ll be there in just a minute or two.) And there’s something else you might not expect – Sicilian breaded cod ($8.50) with marinara (instead of tartar) sauce and your choice of angelhair pasta, soup or potato. Traditionalists need not worry: You can also order breaded lake perch ($11.95) or breaded cod ($8.50) served with a basket of marble rye and a light homemade coleslaw. The coating on our fish was extra crispy (maybe a minute too long in the fryer?). The three medium-size pieces were just about right without being overfilling. Fri 5-10:30 p.m. 1872 State Road 175 (Appleton Avenue), Richfield, 262-628-9977. (Mindy Benham)

Bavarian Inn
Variety is what your $8.95 buys at this German dining hall. You’ll get all-you-can-eat breaded, battered and broiled cod (or broasted chicken). The meal starts with a trip to the salad bar, where you’ll find tossed salad and four types of pasta and potato salads. The soups are also serve yourself, with clam chowder a mainstay and chef’s choice for the second option (we had navy bean). Back at your table, you get a basket of warm homemade bread, including muffins – possibly chocolate chip or cranberry. Your dinner plate, aside from the fish or chicken, offers a choice of baked potato, fries, hashbrowny potato pancakes or a tennis ball-sized potato dumpling with gravy. The initial portions were none too generous (we received just one piece of breaded cod), so flag down your server for a second helping. Plenty of staff buzzed around but failed to notice our empty plates. Children’s fish fry and other options: $2.50-3.95. Fri 5-9:30 p.m. 700 W. Lexington Blvd., Glendale, 964-0300. (M.B.)

Beer Belly’s
The sign outside Beer Belly’s boasts 11 kinds of fish, and it’s true. The restaurant, a mere runway stretch from Mitchell International, flies high with a slate of Friday specials that may include mahi mahi or grilled swordfish. But we visited with only two kinds in mind: fried walleye pike and cod. We weren’t disappointed. After a surprisingly brief wait at the crowded bar, we were served in the small back room. The beer-battered walleye pike ($7.95) sported a light, well-seasoned coating. The cod fry ($6.95) had the proper crunch to the three adequate pieces. The French fries were sizzling hot – perfect. Unfortunately, the other sides didn’t fare as well. The potato pancakes were greasy, and the applesauce, tartar sauce and coleslaw strictly tourist class. Beer Belly’s is a casual place; the barmaid didn’t offer a glass when she brought my friend an ice-cold longneck, and you can forget about the courtesy of a paper placemat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 512 W. Layton Ave., 481-5520. (Charlene Mills)

Bertrand’s Point Comfort Place
Don’t wait until Friday to head in for a fish fry here. On Wednesday night (5-9 p.m.), the chef makes his special double-dipped beer-battered cod. The fussy two-step coating process is reserved for mid-week. Friday’s offering, a $9.95 cornmeal-coated fried cod was good, but the breading was heavier and not as tasty. Wednesday’s cod is similarly priced and golden brown, served all-you-can-eat with generous lemon wedges, fries, mayo potato salad and a vinegar-based coleslaw speckled with celery seed. One bite through the light, crunchy coating revealed a tasty moist filet, served three at a time, even when we ordered seconds. Fri 4-10 p.m. N52 W35002 Lake Dr., Okauchee, 262-569-9700. (MVN)

Clifford’s Fine Dining
A steady stream of value-conscious fish lovers pours into Clifford’s every Friday night. And with good reason: Its fish menu offers the extras that turn a simple fry into a semi-fancy dinner. For starters, out comes a fresh relish plate and bread basket, then salad and choice of soup (a good New England-style clam chowder). My companion ordered lake perch ($12.95), I the Icelandic cod ($9.95), and we agreed the cod rocked. Four good-size fillets were swathed in a crunchy, light coating complementing the faint sweetness of the fish. The overly generous side of French fries was lightly salted and winsomely hot. The only downside was the service: Both the hostess and our waitress missed the critical seven-minute window to greet us. Be assertive. Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11-12 a.m.; Sun 3-9 p.m. 10418 W. Forest Home Ave., Hales Corners, 425-6226. (CM)

The Copper Dock
Tim Loeffler owned Sussex’s Killarney’s Corner for six years before he got into “more serious fine dining” last June by taking over Anderson’s on Friess Lake and renaming it The Copper Dock, in favor of the sunset’s copper glow. Since then, Loeffler has put on one heck of a fine fish fry, with first-rate service. There’s lake perch and walleye pike ($13.95 each), but cod is the real star here (all-you-can-eat, $9.95), both in the beer batter coating Anderson’s made famous and in a lighter seasoned cornmeal breading that doesn’t go on the fish until it’s been marinated in beer, Tabasco, paprika and Worcestershire sauce. “There’s something about beer that cuts any fishy flavor,” says Loeffler. It really works.
Both types of cod were so good – moist, flaky and golden brown – we couldn’t choose a favorite. Order a combination plate and decide for yourself. There were fresh rolls, extra-creamy coleslaw and choice of fries, garlic mashed or baked potatoes or potato pancakes, which were so fabulous you need to save room for them. The product of a three-step cooking process spread over two days, they’re three-quarters of an inch thick, crispy outside but cooked through with an onion and potato flavor that’s enhanced by the applesauce and maple syrup served with them. Had the syrup been served warm, we’d have given this fish fry five stars. Fri 4-10 p.m. 1477 E. Friess Lake Dr., Hubertus, 262-628-3718. (Mary Van de Kamp Nohl)

The Country Squire Supper Club
This is a classic supper club, complete with Dean Martin crooning on the speakers and the faint odor of cigarette smoke wafting from the bar. The hostesses wear long, sparkly formal dresses, and diners are salt-of-the-earth folks from the area. Two fried choices are available: lake perch ($11.95) and cod ($8.95). The better choice was cod – three pieces wrapped in a crunchy breading. Besides the soft rye bread and applesauce, all of the accompanying sides are homemade – tasty (but greasy) shredded potato pancakes; fresh-tasting, sweet (but wet) coleslaw; and pickle tartar sauce with a hint of dill. Kid’s fish meal: two large pieces of cod, $4.95. Fri 4:30-10 p.m. S72 W16373 Janesville Rd., Muskego, 422-0140. (S.K.N.)

Doyle’s Milwaukee Inn
When owner Tom Doyle opened shop 10 years ago, he decided his menu would not include a fish fry. Instead, his Friday night diners could choose from fresh fish selections – salmon, sea bass, marlin. Sacrilege? Some who heard the choices and walked out apparently thought so. Doyle’s response was to keep the fresh fish choices while also giving Milwaukeeans what they want. When it comes to fish, however, Doyle frowns on the deep fryer (the kitchen doesn’t even have one), so he decided to offer a “1940s-style fish fry” – the way things were done before baskets of fish touched hot oil. The results are retro-licious. Pan-fried Canadian whitefish, lightly coated in corn flour is served over crispy potato pancakes. You won’t go hungry at Doyle’s. Along with the fish comes a basket of warm bread, creamy “Waldorf-style” slaw salad, soup of the day and Bavarian red cabbage. After all that – and good service, too – our $15 price tag went down like warm applesauce (also included with the meal). Fri 5-10 p.m. 1101 S. 60th St., 456-1000. (K.J.M.)

Edge of Town
Come early or late if you don’t want to wait in line at this popular 33-year-old family-run restaurant on the edge of Mequon and Cedarburg. With plenty of variety – haddock ($7.50, four pieces), walleye pike (two to three pieces), lake perch (five to six pieces) and blue gill (five to six pieces), all $9.95 – no wonder the two small dining rooms are packed every Friday night. To sample everything, we chose combo plates of haddock and perch ($9.75) and pike and blue gill ($9.75). Coated with a crunchy, homemade seasoned batter, there wasn’t a bad option, though we liked the flaky, flavorful perch and blue gill best. Three tasty silver dollar-size potato pancakes were beautifully spiced, crunchy outside and soft in the center. The amply spiced German potato salad; coleslaw with a light, sweet vinaigrette; and flavorful tartar sauce – all homemade – plus the $3 cocktails are the touches that keep people lining up week after week. Tues 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. 14015 N. Cedarburg Rd., Mequon, 262-375-0911. (John Fennell)

Erv’s Mug
This bar/restaurant is busy-busy, both the décor and the turning of tables. The fish fry isn’t printed on the menu, but you only need to know two words: battered cod. Our order included five huge pieces with a puffy yet crispy beer batter shell. The mild cod broke away in bite-size chunks that even had the non-fish eater at our table reaching for extra bites. The intention at Erv’s is to give you 14 to 16 ounces (for $7.95), so there’s plenty to share. They also pan-fry a lightly breaded perch ($9.95 lunch, $10.95 evenings), but if you’re going for fried, go all the way – i.e., the cod. French fries, buttered rye and plastic cups of coleslaw and tartar sauce fill out your plate. Wed, Fri 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 130 W. Ryan Rd., Oak Creek, 762-5010. (M.B.)

Golden Mast Inn
An old-world ambience, a view of Okauchee Lake and the best walleye fish fry we’ve had in ages. The $12.50 walleye filet was a generous size, moist and lightly breaded – a better choice than the popular all-you-can-eat cod ($11.50), which had a slightly fishy taste and heavy batter. Weissgerber’s homemade potato pancakes were another five-star feature – golden sautéed grated potatoes closer to hash browns served with applesauce. There were the usual accoutrements, too: cold potato salad, rye bread and homemade coleslaw. Don’t worry that you’ll still be hungry if you don’t opt for the all-you-can-eat option; we left feeling well fed. Fri 5-10 p.m. W349 N5253 Lacy Ln., Okauchee, 262-567-7047. (M.V.N.)

Historic Turner Restaurant
The high ceilings and warped wooden floors of this big historic dining hall make for a loud and loose meal. And that’s the fun of it. As babies bounce in their chairs and grandmas grouse about all the commotion, a team of waitresses brings on the fish. On the menu: breaded fried perch ($12.95) and beer-battered fried cod ($9.95), all you can eat. Combos of the two are also served ($12.95), if you ask politely. The fish arrived hot and fresh. But while the perch is usually preferred, it was a bit bland, the breading without flavor. The cod was much tastier, its flaky coating spicy and delicate. The coleslaw was made with a sweet and sour vinaigrette, simple and unadorned. And though absent the applesauce, the potato pancakes were deliciously crispy and thin, the best I’ve eaten. Unfortunately, diners are treated to only two pancakes; second helpings cost 95 cents apiece. If pancakes aren’t your thing, the French fries were unusually peppery. Chow! Fri 11-12 a.m. 1034 N. Fourth St., 276-4844. (Kurt Chandler)

Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn
Linen tablecloths and Tiffany lamps suggest refinement. And for decades, Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn has maintained an elegant yet homey atmosphere. Photos of the restaurant’s history hang on the walls and waitresses greet customers like old friends.
Pandl’s offers three choices of fish: lake perch, cod and whitefish. The whitefish ($12.95) is uncommon among fish fries (this is Whitefish Bay, after all) and was the tastiest of the three. The perch ($13.95) was fresh and light, the cod ($12.95) tender but not as flavorful. Though none of the fish was greasy or overcooked, the egg white batter was starchy, not as spicy as other fries we visited. And missing was an all-you-can-eat deal. The side orders were standouts. The marbled rye was scrumptious. Potato pancakes, sans applesauce, were heavily seasoned, thick and billowy, the consistency of mashed potatoes rather than the usual hash brown style. For the money, the highlight was the slaw. Doused with a tart vinaigrette, the crunchy cabbage and carrots disappeared all too fast from the shallow bowl. Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. 1319 E. Henry Clay St., 964-3800 (K.C.)

Johnny Manhattan’s
The fish fry ($8.95) is fish fry in the traditional Wisconsin sense: all-you-can-eat fried cod with the classic accompaniments. The curtain opened with fresh mayo-based coleslaw and pasta salad with tuna, red onion and celery. Then warm, moist rye bread. The fish came with choice of fries; sugar-dashed potato pancakes with applesauce; or warm German potato salad. The fish made a bee-line from the oil to our table courtesy of our outgoing, accommodating server. The flaky, mild cod was coated in a tasty batter that kept its crunch straight through to the moist fish. Our conversation tapered to monosyllables of agreement as we worked through our (second) plates. Note: JM’s popularity had our party of three spending close to an hour at the bar (reservations accepted for eight or more). Fri 4-10 p.m. 3718 Hubertus Rd., Hubertus, 262-628-7700. (Mario Quadracci)

Legacy Fine Dining
With a backroom banquet hall that accommodates diners by the dozen, Legacy serves a family-style fish fry. Waitresses deliver help-yourself bowls and platters for the entire table. The coleslaw was homemade, sweet, but a bit on the wet side. The crust of the marbled rye was perfectly salted, but the French fries were too crispy. The requisite potato pancakes, slathered with all the applesauce you want, were thin and spicy, chock-full of onions.
The main attraction, of course, is the fish. And while there are other fish entrées on the menu, Legacy offers just one that’s deep-fried: North Atlantic cod ($8.95; $4.50 for kids under 8). It’s all that was needed. The breading was a flour-and-egg batter, delicate and flaky, nearly translucent, so that the white cod shined through, moist and firm – very flavorful, even without tartar sauce. And when you ask for more, all of the above is brought to your table with the promptness and speed of relay team runners. Fri 4-10 p.m. 14955 W. National Ave., New Berlin, 262-786-3720 (K.C.)

Nite Cap Inn
Palmyra’s Nite Cap Inn is nothing fancy, but a place doesn’t have to be if the food is good. And for our purposes, Nite Cap serves a tasty all-you-can-eat fry. Cod ($8.85) stands alone here – lightly breaded, fresh and flavorful (but the tartar sauce is too dill-y for my taste). The potato pancakes were grease-free, with crunchy edges and soft-potatoey center – the way a pancake should be. The coarse-chopped coleslaw was lightly dressed, with a peppery kick. Chunky applesauce laced with cinnamon was perfect slathered on the pancakes. And for once (we’ve had bread issues at our other fries), the light and dark rye was fresh and moist. Wed 5-9 p.m.; Fri 4-10 p.m. 227 S. Third St., Palmyra. 262-495-2659. (Dawn M. Behr)

On Fridays, the owners of Polonez have all of their old-world bases covered. Aleksandra Burzynski greets guests with the smile of a long-lost aunt. Her husband, George, has spent the morning preparing for his adopted hometown’s weekly ritual, his big Polish hands delicately breading mountains of fish fillets. Such tender care results in a lovely, if a bit pricey, fish fry. After leaving the kitchen and landing on our table, the perch fillet dinner includes rolls, soup or salad and choice of potato ($11.25 lunch; $13.75 dinner). Better than perch were the thick pieces of cod ($8.50 lunch; $9.75 dinner). Dark, crisp batter surrounded the fresh, flaky fish. The potato pancakes were a tad thin but tasty (other options: French fries, mashed potatoes and Tater Tots). You’re well cared for at Polonez: Service is friendly and you’re not likely to go hungry. The Burzynskis wouldn’t have it any other way. Fri 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. 4016 S. Packard Ave., 482-0080. (K.J.M.)

Red Rock Café
Deep-fried battered cod ($8.95), walleye ($12.95) and breaded lake perch ($12.95) are served golden and piping hot every day. It makes sense since Red Rock is also a fish market where you can buy gigantic fresh filets of tuna, blue marlin, grouper, sea bass and whole red snapper. The cod and walleye were two very large white and flaky filets. They were good, but the perch was a personal fave – four full filets, sweet and tender. The fresh fish flavor was dominant and not overpowered by the breading. The fish came in a basket with tartar sauce and a mayo/vinegar coleslaw with very good, ungreasy waffle fries. Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m. 4022 N. Oakland Ave., 962-4545. (Sharon K. Nelson)

River Lane Inn
Apparently, we’re not the only ones who think River Lane serves a tasty fry. We spotted Supreme Court Justice (now President George W. Bush’s federal bench nominee) Diane Sykes, Circuit Court Judge Elsa Lamelas and WISN talk radio host Mark Belling with lobbyist Moira Fitzgerald and attorney Franklyn Gimbel and his wife, Ann. And we can understand the attraction: Our $13.95 lake perch, a generous six-piece serving, wore a light beer batter and was moist and flaky, not fishy. Skip the leaden fries, saturated with grease, and go for the carrot-laced creamy coleslaw and crusty rye rolls dotted with chunks of salt. Fri 5-10 p.m. 4313 W. River Ln., 354-1995. (M.V.N.)

Ron’s Cozy Corner
When people talk fish fries “out west,” Ron’s Cozy Corner is often mentioned. It’s your been-there-forever Lake Country bar (19 years in business) – a good thing in this case since Ron’s serves a better-than-average family-style fish fry, evidenced by a packed parking lot and the constant influx of people crowding into the bar area to wait for a table. There’s walleye, perch and haddock – lightly beer-battered, fresh and flavorful, not greasy, served hot. Alongside were a decent peppery coleslaw; tangy, just-warm German potato salad; and crunchy golden steak fries. Drawback: If you need room to breathe, this may not be your place – the dining area is tight and real close to the smoky bar. Perch $8.95; walleye $9; haddock $7.75. Tues 5-9 p.m.; Fri 4-10 p.m. N54 W35994 Lake Dr., Ocon-omowoc, 262-567-9625. (D.M.B.)

Silver Spring House
At 4:30 every Friday, a special menu rolls out and this place is all about fish: orange roughy, yellowfin tuna, grilled Cajun tuna steaks, poor man’s lobster (baked cod with melted butter). But this story is about fish fries. The breaded-then-fried offerings include cod ($8.25), lake perch ($10.95) and pike ($9.25). On our visit, the perch was a bit chewy, the cod was best described as fluffy, but the pike was just right. Three medium-size pieces were served with a heaping mound of fries (baked potato and vegetable rice are also options) and the standard marble rye, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Fri 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. 6655 N. Green Bay Ave., 352-3920. (M.B.)

The Tracks
You don’t expect a five-course meal at this Riverwest tavern (and outdoor volleyball venue), but you can expect a great fish fry. Long, crunchy, half-of-the-skin-on fries, a small cup of coleslaw and a rye roll accompany the generous portions (doled out by weight, the server tells us) of Icelandic cod, this time three pieces. The light breading had a subtle seasoning to it; the coleslaw, though run-of-the-mill, was crunchy and not overly dressed; and the roll came warm. The whole meal (and whole it is – enough to take some home) came neatly packaged on top of wax paper in a red plastic box for $6.50. Don’t let the lack of formality fool you. This is what the casual Wisconsin fish fry is all about. Wed, Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m. 1020 E. Locust St., 562-2020. (Natalie Dorman)

Water Street Brewery
This busy corner restaurant/brew pub is full of hustle and bustle, so be prepared to raise your voice for dinner conversation and rub elbows with your neighbor. But chances are you’ll be more engaged with eating than talking. Either offering of perch ($10.95) or cod ($8.95) in a generous but not overly portioned fish fry meal is just right to satisfy the pre-theater crowd and early Water Street revelers. Moist, flaky chunks of cod came in a battered crust, while thin pieces of perch were covered in a crunchy breading. The coleslaw was vinaigrette, with just a little punch. There were no potato pancakes, but the traditional crunchy, stick-style fries made up for it. Throw in a crusty-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside roll and this fry measures up with the best. Fri 11-12 a.m. 1101 N. Water St., 272-1195. (N.D.)

Wegner’s St. Martins Inn
You think you’re smart when you get here by 4 p.m. until you realize that other people had the same idea – enough people to fill the bar and dining room. On Fridays, fish is all that Wegner’s serves, and the sign at the end of the bar tells carryout diners where to stand while smelling their food making its way to the Styrofoam containers and the safety of their arms. Imagine what the joint’ll look like in two hours. The fry is basic – fish (haddock or lake perch), choice of potato, coleslaw, marble rye bread, tartar sauce and lemon wedge. Eat fast because a fish fry has a 10-minute shelf life – once it cools down, it’s toast. Two details make Wegner’s memorable: breaded perch ($10.95) and German potato salad. While the haddock’s thick beer batter was weighty casement for its three filets ($7.50), the breading reserved for the perch, also three generous pieces, was like the first pixie-dust snowfall of winter. The exterior was crisp, the white flesh inside moist yet firm. The tangy, bacon-laced potato salad trounced the resident overbattered potato “patties.” Fish fry fans, there’s no shame in establishing likes and dislikes at one place. Fri 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9:30 p.m. 11318 W. St. Martins Rd., Franklin, 425-9971. (Ann Christenson)

Zilli’s Grandview Inn
Zilli’s takes the fry experience up a notch with candlelit tables, cloth napkins and tablecloths and attentive, professional waitstaff. While Zilli’s also offers deep-fried cod ($10.45), we preferred the fresh-tasting breaded lake perch ($10.95). Both are all-you-can-eat, and the homemade extras alone were worth the trip – pumpernickel rye rolls dotted with golden raisins, fresh-baked muffins, the best coleslaw I’ve tasted and oniony/garlic potato pancakes (or steak fries). Other unusual extras were the hot German potato salad made with red new potatoes and a fragrant cinnamon/clove chunky applesauce served with the pancakes. Fri 4:30-10 p.m. 613 N. Grandview Blvd., Waukesha, 262-549-3824. (S.K.N.)