Sunday, December 30, 2007

Brocach - Madison, WI

The deal: While not exactly a fish fry, Brocach, on Madison's Capitol Square does offer a fish and chips. For $11.95 you get beer (Harp) battered haddock, fries, slaw & tartar sauce. In what seems to be a disturbing trend, there are no side or salad options. Boo!

Brocach is busy, but again, as is the custom here in Wisconsin, the bar is a fun place to wait until your table is ready.

The food: Brocach's fish had the most flavor of any fish fry I've had lately. So many fish fries serve up food that either tastes too fishy or tastes like nothing. What I liked about Brocach is that the fish had a distinct delicious flavor and the batter had a different distinct and delicious flavor ( That said, the batter wasn't very crispy which spoiled otherwise nearly perfect pieces of fish. The fries were just fries and nothing special. My dining companions ate the slaw, so I can only assume it was pretty good.

One great thing about Brocach, at least in the winter, is that they have Madison's best selection of hot toddies. Although it's pretty much required to order a Harp or Guinness at a place like this, it's worth it to check out the back of the menu and have them serve you up an amazing drink like a Spanish Coffee or the Cinnamon Stick - which is full of rum and cinnamony goodness. Mmmm...

The flavor: Brocach is Gaelic for "badger den" and is designed like a traditional Irish Pub. It's full of little nooks and different rooms, so it's fun to just stroll in, look around and take it all in. The rest of the patrons may not appreciate it, but little kids would love to run around and find a great hiding place.

If you come to Madison during the Farmer's Market, you may find yourself drawn to Brocach by a bagpiper. Heed his siren song, but beware that bagpipers are fun for about 5 minutes. After that, you realize you can't hear anything above the din (although if said piper has nice legs that might make up for some it ;-)

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Great Dane Pub - Madison, WI

The deal: Fish fry at the downtown Great Dane is the Friday "special" and costs a hefty $13.50, which gets you some beer-battered perch, fries and coleslaw. That's right - no salad, no side choices.

Expect a long wait, especially if you try to eat later in the evening. Luckily, there's a huge bar area to keep you comfortable and occupied.

The food: I normally love the Dane's food and I can't recommend the chicken pot pie, prime rib wrap, Capitol falafel or Big 10 burrito enough. Unfortunately, the fish fry was not up to par. My beer-battered perch was utterly tasteless. The batter wasn't cooked through enough and didn't have a hint of beer to it. I expected for more flavor in a place that brews its own beer. The fries were fine, but you don't order fish fry for the french fries.

Given that this entree was nearly double the cost of most items on the menu, I expected more, both in terms of taste and in sides.

The Dane's beer is always great. I had two Scone of Stone Scotch Ales, which were dark and sweet and full of the kind of flavor that was sadly missing from my fish. I did miss some of the great beers the Dane offered this summer, like the Belgian Ale and the absolutely wonderful Pepper Pilsner.

The flavor: The downtown Dane is hot spot with the "not-in-college anymore" crowd. The restaurant area is noisy and packed. This isn't the place for an intimate dinner (of course, let's be honest here - intimate dinners and "fish fry" just don't go together). This is a place to gather up some friends, play pool, shuffleboard or Big Buck Hunter and order anything but the fish.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quivey's Grove Stable Grill - Madison, WI

The deal: Located on Madison's far southwest side, Quivey's Grove Stable Grill is an extraordinary popular fish fry site. Be prepared to wait for you table. Luckily, the bar area, while small, is lively.

The fish fry is the Friday night special (of course) and consists of beer battered cod and fries or parmesan potatoes, coleslaw and bread. For $1 extra, it's all you can eat. If your eyes tend to be bigger than your stomach, don't worry. You can choose this option while you're eating.

The food: The fish is good, but batter heavy. The real story here is the parmesan potatoes. Whatever you do - be sure to get the potatoes, not the fries. They are full of creamy deliciousness.

Fish fry at Quivey's Grove also means you'll have access to one of the better beer selections in Madison. This isn't surprising given that Quivey's hosts a huge Beer Fest every year. Be sure to give one of the local brews a taste (or two or three ;-)

The flavor: Quivey's owes a lot of its popularity to the atmosphere and beauty of the restaurant. The Stable Grill literally used to be a stable and now it's on the National Register or Historic Places. The wood rafters and stone walls give the restaurant an authentically rustic feel, especially in winter when it's a toasty escape from the harsh Wisconsin winter.

Located on Madison's border with Fitchburg and Verona, Quivey's is in one of the fastest growing parts of the area. The crowds tend to be younger and even a little rambunctious. In summer, Quivey's hosts a fish fry outdoors under the big tent. While I heartily approve of eating and drinking outdoors in the summer, expect that these "paddock parties" will be dominated by young families with little kids running all over the place. Beware.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Echo Tap and Grill - Madison, WI

The deal: The Echo's fish fry isn't on the menu, but rest assured that it's available come Friday night. This is a strictly no nonsense affair. Place your order with the bartender, find a stool and get a drink while you wait.

The food: Okay, I don't even know what kind of fish the Echo serves. It's deep fried, if that helps ;-) Personally, I really like the Echo's fish because of its thick batter. Those of you that want less batter and more fish may not enjoy it as much.

Besides the mystery fish, you'll get a lemon slice and french fries. This a bar food version of a fish fry, so it's a little heavy and a little greasy. It tastes great, but it's definitely not less filling. You'll probably still feel sluggish for hours after your meal.

The flavor: The Echo is the most "Wisconsin" of any of Madison's downtown bars. It's a little rougher and a little more blue collar than the rest (just check out the picture at the link above for an example). Because it doesn't cater to the transient student population, there's a sense that it's a place where everybody knows your name. It's easy to become a regular - the fish just makes it even easier.

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Esquire Club - Madison, WI

The deal: Fish fry at the Esquire on Madison's east side is an integral part of a classic Wisconsin supper club experience. Depending on how your party orders, your fish is either served family style (and is all you can eat) or comes as a standalone entree.

The food: The Esquire Club specializes in fish with a thin, crispy batter. The ocean perch is tasty, not fishy and not greasy. The sides are nothing special - fries or potato and coleslaw. The meal doesn't come with salad, but you can add a surprisingly fresh garden salad for just $3.95. It's actually worth it.

The Esquire gets extra bonus points for bringing a nice sized bowl full of lemon slices to the table before you ask for it. Many fish fry aficionados won't touch their cod, perch or walleye before they squeeze the lemon.

Like any good supper club, you can make your meal even better (and unfortunately worse for you) with the addition of a Grasshopper. Mmmm. Grasshoppers make me feel like a little kid. They're like wonderful, boozy Shamrock Shakes!

The flavor: You can tell from the packed gravel parking lot that the Esquire has an excellent reputation. You'll almost always have to wait for a table for 10-15 minutes, but the wait is made easier with a large bar, good beer on tap (Guinness, Spotted Cow, etc.) and friendly bartenders.

With several different dining areas, it never feels that crowded once you're seated. While seated, please note the red candleholders. They've gotta be vintage 1962 models.

The crowd swings more toward 50 and 60-somethings out for a night of good fish and getting their drink on than it does to families. Feel free to loudly bitch about the Packers, Brewers or Badgers. You won't be alone ;-)

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East Side Club - Madison, WI

The deal: Pre-pay for your meal as you enter the East Side Club's dining room. Once inside, waitresses will take your drink order (non-alcoholic drinks are included in the price - you have to order boozy drinks at the adjacent bar). After that, you can hit the three buffet lines for your food.

The food: The main buffet included fried cod and perch, baked cod and crunchy baked scrod. You can also get unusual fare like spinach & goat cheese lasagna and minestrone. The fish either had good flavor but wasn't crunchy enough or, in the case of the scrod, the crunchiness was the only good thing about it. The sides were better - either perfectly salty french fries or baked red potatoes with parmesan cheese.

The salad bar has a surprisingly good selection of vegetables, including cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. The dessert bar isn't much - just some cookies (sugar, butterscotch, chocolate chip) and pudding, but at least they were really good cookies.

A note of caution - like many places in Wisconsin, our bartender thinks that "Captain & diet" is synonymous with "rum & coke". It's not.

The flavor: While the food at the East Side Club is nothing special, it's still worth a trip for the atmosphere alone. Set on the shore of beautiful Lake Monona, stepping into the dining room is like stepping back in time. You'll eat your dinner on card tables and folding chairs that are probably still warm from the latest game of Euchre or Sheepshead. The waitresses are salty, middle-aged Wisconsin women who are just as likely to hug you as to scold you for not dressing warmly enough. It's a slice of small town Wisconsin in the middle of crazy Madison. Awesome!

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River Jacks - LaCrosse, WI

The deal: At River Jacks, you order your fish and starch from a waitress and head to the buffet for the rest of your salad and sides.

The food: Although walleye was on the menu (always a bonus in my book), the fish was merely average and not especially crispy. The potato pancakes were the worst I've had in a long time - too thin and ultimately tasteless. The buffet was big, but by far the most distinguishing thing on it was applesauce. You gotta have applesauce for the potato pancakes!

The drink menu had a few fun cocktails and a good beer selection, as should be expected in LaCrosse.

The flavor: Rivers Jacks' location on the Black River is beautiful. Inside, I got the impression that the restaurant is something of a tourist trap and it makes me eager to find out where locals go for truly good fish.