Whether fried, baked, beer battered or broiled, fish fries are the Friday night food default for most Wisconsin residents.
The popularity of fish fries was propelled by the influence of the Catholic Church when it urged its members to eschew meat on Fridays during Lent as part of religious observance. Meat came from warm-blooded animals who gave their lives for humans, while fish are coldblooded according to Michael Foley, author of Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday.
Restaurant owners were the beneficiaries when they added fish to their menus. Little did they know that the trend would transcend.
The typical Lake Country fish fry consists of fish accompanied by coleslaw, French fries, baked potato or German style potato pancakes and rye bread and butter. Sides include tartar sauce and often a lemon wedge.
Potato pancakes are what they seem – grated or ground potato, flour and egg. They’re often flavored with spices and occasionally served with applesauce or maple syrup.
Cod or haddock are generally the go-to fish on a traditional fish fry, but some restaurants augment the cod with perch, bluegill, walleye, pollock, even salmon. Bluegill used to be the featured fish until their numbers sank because of popularity.
Lake Country area restaurants not only serve the traditional; many have put a new twist on the tried-and-true.
Here are a few examples:
At Angelina’s Ristorante in Delafield, customers can order deep-fried cod, perch and walleye. For those looking for something lighter the menu includes baked and Italian style cod. For the Italian style, cod loins are baked in olive oil with oregano and lemon wedges. All meals come with Krinkle cut French fries or potato pancakes, a piece of marble rye bread and coleslaw.
The Golden Mast in Okauchee serves traditional baked or fried cod. “Our pieces are thick, big pieces of fish with a thin bread crumb breading,” said Lisa Marks, a member of the Weissgerber family that owns the restaurant. “We’re more about the fish than the breading.” Customers can also choose from breaded pike or perch. While the cod is all-you-can-eat, pike and perch are limited to the initial serving.
Accompanying the fish are sides of potato salad, a vinegar-based coleslaw, French fries or potato pancakes and rye bread.
The Golden Mast serves a lot of fish – from 300 to 400 meals during the dark nights of January to just under 800 plates on a sunny summer evening. For “winter birds” who don’t head to a sunny climate during the cold winter months, the restaurant offers a discount on the fish fry. “All those people who can’t go south, we give them a reason to be happy,” said Marks.
Customers at Tom & Di’s Rustic Inn in Oconomowoc have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fish choices. They can choose from deep fried and baked cod along with deep fried perch and walleye, pan fried bluegill, baked tilapia, baked cod stuff with crab meat. The Rustic Inn also serves Sicilian baked cod, which is baked in butter and topped with marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese.
If your tastebuds seek a little heat, try the Cajun-style crawfish tails. There’s also deep-fried shrimp for those who want more traditional fare. All meals come with French fries or potato pancakes, coleslaw and rye bread. The Rustic Inn serves their seafood menu from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays.
Michael’s House of Prime isn’t just for carnivores. They offer baked and lightly fried cod on Friday nights along with walleye, perch and bluegill that have kissed the frying pan. Broiled salmon is also on the menu.
For those having difficulty choosing, Michael’s also serves a fried shrimp and cod combo. Along with potato pancakes or French fries, customers are served potato salad and coleslaw as well as rye rolls with their order.
Despite being under new ownership, little is expected to change, said Rick Buckley, who along with his brother David, bought the Pewaukee supper club from long-time owners Ray and Dorothy Anderson. Nor will they change the name of the restaurant which was originally named for the Anderson’s son, Michael, who worked as a chef for many years.
For a cozy, laid-back, no-frills fish fry, try Gina’s Sports Dock on Pewaukee Lake. Customers have their choice of lightly battered cod served with French fries, potato salad, coleslaw and bread and butter and not just on Friday nights. The fish fry and a fish sandwich is available whenever the restaurant is open.