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Just where did the fish fry come from, anyway?

One story about the origins of the Wisconsin fish fry is that it started in Appleton as a result of Prohibition. Taverns needed a, er, hook to lure in business, and besides the Catholic tradition of meatless Fridays during Lent, Friday was also the day men got their paychecks.

And yet fish fries continued even when Prohibition ended, and in heavily Germanic Sheboygan, the fry and all its accoutrements were the epitome of Gemütlichkeit, not to mention affordable. Plus, fishermen could easily get fresh perch from nearby Lake Michigan.

Now, in addition to perch (no longer fished locally), cod and walleye are also staples. It’s still a budget dinner out, and there are plenty of great places to choose from.

Founded in 1912, Schwarz Fish Co. supplied fish to local restaurants and taverns. It still operates a small fish counter near the lake, where locals line up on Fridays for a Styrofoam container of some of the lightest, delicately crisp perch in town.

Other good perch fries: Rupp’s (where sliced marble rye comes buttered) and Al & Al’s, a German bar on Sheboygan’s south side, with a terrific fry that includes salad bar, soups and great homemade spaetzle and German potato pancakes.


‘Eat Like a Wisconsinite’ appears in the March 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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