Sunday, November 30, 2008

Branding Iron - Wisconsin Rapids, WI

The Deal: The Branding Iron Supper Club just south of Wisconsin Rapids offers haddock, walleye and lake perch for between $9.50 and $11.50 for its fish fry. Meals include baked beans, coleslaw and choice of potato (fries, baked potato or garlic mashed potatoes). You can add a salad bar for $3.50. A word of caution - the food is served family style, even if you don't all order the same thing. That's right - you get a plate of a mixed fish and another plate of mixed potatoes. It's weird.

The Food: Well, to put in bluntly, the Branding Iron was branded "shitty" by our party. The "fried" fish looked like frozen fish from the grocery store simply baked in the oven. The baked haddock, on the other hand, looked like something whipped up by the lunch ladies of St. Vincent de Paul grade school on a day they decided that they just didn't like children anymore. It was gross - big, fleshy squares of fish. I had the walleye and it tasted okay, but was certainly nothing special and was certainly not actually made in the Branding Iron's kitchen.

The salad bar was okay. You'd enjoy it more if you're a big fan of prepared salads, which I'm not. We suspected that the french fries came from a bag in the freezer, but the garlic mashed potatoes were pretty tasty and not at all too garlicky.

The Flavor: In theory, the Branding Iron's shitty food would probably taste better if you had a few drinks in you. In reality, this will be a big problem since the waitstaff is incredibly slow and inattentive. Perhaps they know how bad the food is and they're dreading having to deal with irate and disappointed customers.

If you do manage to score a drink, there is a nice-sized beer list, a number of cheap, boozy cocktails and traditional ice cream drinks like Brandy Alexanders and grasshoppers. You may want to double fist and order two at a time. Just sayin'...

Second Opinions

Monday, November 17, 2008

Alchemy - Madison, WI

Thanks to my friend Jamie for this review. It's hard to review Wisconsin fish fries when I don't live in Wisconsin anymore!

We arrived at the Alchemy at about 6:30pm last Friday and all the tables were filled. We didn't have to wait too long for a table though. Judging from the way the place was packed on a Friday I was tempted to order the fish fry. I decided to stick with my tried-and-true portabella sandwich instead. My dinner date went with the fish. She received 4 pieces with coleslaw, tarter sauce and half a plate full of some of Madison's best fries. I sampled one piece of the fish. The batter was golden, light and crispy - that's right it was just perfect. Unfortunately the fish inside was a bit chewy for our taste. I'm guessing from the quality of the rest of their menu it may just have been an off night. I must give them props for serving a coleslaw without mayo. I won't touch a coleslaw unless it's dressed in vinaigrette, which makes a better counterweight to a fried dinner. Fish can be difficult so I would definitely give their Fish Fry another try sometime.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bridges on the Green - Madison, WI

The deal: The Bridges restaurant (attached to the golf course of the same name) offers a variety of fish fry choices including beer-battered cod and lake perch, jumbo shrimp, pan fried walleye and more. Prices ranged between $9 and $12 for most entrees, which come with choice of side (baked potato, chips, fries, hash browns or veggies), coleslaw and hot, crusty bread. You can add a trip to the salad bar or a soup for an additional $2.25.

The food: I ordered the lake perch with hash browns and added a salad to my meal. The base of the salad bar was a bunch what looked like store bought greens. While that wasn't very exciting, it tasted fresh. Toppings were plentiful and included peppers, cucumbers, cheeses, eggs, broccoli, tomatoes and the like. A simple pasta salad was quite delicious and the random addition of canned peaches made it feel like I was back in a typical central Wisconsin supper club.

The Bridges' bread was actually one of the highlights of the meal, and I don't mean that as an insult. Our quarter loaf was perfect, with or without the dollop of sweet butter it was served with. Mmmm...

Both me and my dining companion ordered the lake perch, which meant that we were quickly confronted with five huge pieces of fish. The batter was a little greasy and flavorless, but the fish itself was tasty without being too, uh, fishy.

Due to my tragic addiction to carbs, I was a little disappointed in the ratio of fish to sides. I would have preferred one less piece of fish and a little more hash browns. My dining companion ordered a baked potato, which was also kind of small and not quite soft enough. The folks at the table next to us ordered chips, which looked like huge, homemade pieces of bliss. You gotta love homemade chips.

The flavor: Like many fish fry places, if you're in your 30s and want to feel young, go to the Bridges. You'll have at least 20 years on most of the patrons. That said, it's not a musty, old supper club. Situated right on the golf course, it's actually quite light and lively. The waitstaff was young and efficient. I tried to eat there earlier this summer and it was a bit too crowded and disorganized, but going later in the evening made for a much mellower and enjoyable experience.

Second opinions:
Eating in Madison A to Z
Madison Fish Fry

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Orpheum Lobby Restaurant - Madison, WI

The deal: $14 at the Orpheum gets you all-you-can-eat breaded & fried bluegill, fries and coleslaw. I know it's all-you-can-eat, but for $14 I'd also expect my choice of soup or salad.

The food: Both me and my dining companion opted (with the helpful suggestion of our waitress) to substitute a green salad for our fries. So, we both received heaping plates of fish and salad. The salad was a delicious combination of greens, carrots, onions and warm chevre with a perfectly light lemon balsamic vinaigrette.

The dressing was an ideal complement to the lemon juice I squeezed over the fish. The fish itself was, for the most part, excellent. The breading was exceptionally crispy and the fish was tasty without being overly fishy. My only complaint was that the breading was bland. The Orpheum would do well to a little beer and possibly even some lemon juice to the batter.

The flavor: The Orpheum's fish fry is worlds away from the typical Wisconsin supper club experience. While you may miss the traditions, it does have advantages, like a great wine and drink menu. My grapefruit-infused mojito, for example, hit the spot on a hot summer night.

The restaurant itself is a little bizarre. It's referred to as the "Lobby Restaurant" for a reason. It's literally in the lobby of the theatre. This means that it's noisy and busy, but does provide ample opportunities for people watching. For even more people watching, you could get a table outside and see all of the State Street crazies up close and personal.

Second opinions:
Fish Fry Madison
Madison Fish Fry

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nau-Ti-Gal Restaurant - Waunakee, WI

I haven't been able to make it to many fish fries lately. Luckily, my friend Kaya has picked up my slack, yet again.

The deal: At Nau-Ti-Gal, the bastard stepchild of Mariner's Inn, you can enjoy views of piers and $9.99 cod fish fry served with curly fries, coleslaw and (sometimes) dinner rolls. There is also a baby walleye option for $12.99.

The food: As a huge fan of Mariner’s Inn (also owned by von Rutenberg Ventures), I always leave the Nau-Ti-Gal wishing I had spent the extra $30 or so dollars and gone to Mariner’s Inn. On my past few visits (most recently last Friday) the fish cod has been rubbery on the inside, I’ve received no rolls and the soup/appetizers have come the same time as the fish fry. The curly fries were limp and greasy and the coleslaw was bathed in mayonnaise. The one bright spot of the meal is their signature clam chowder. Perfectly seasoned with just a hint of nutmeg and topped with croutons, lovingly and incompetently served with a teaspoon.

The flavor: Casual dining atmosphere located on the water in Westport. Pretty views, kitschy nautical décor and Friday night karaoke. If you show up to dine late, you’ll be swinging to the sweet sounds of Poison, Warrant, Def Leppard and the like. Friendly but not always competent staff. Smoking is still allowed in Westport, so try to get a table in the far dining room if you are a non-smoker.

Second opinions

Madison Fish Fry

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Old Fashioned – Madison, WI

Here's another review from my friend Kaya, of Madison Brunch. The lucky woman got to go to the Old Fashioned for Good Friday Fish Fry. Yum.

The deal: Beer-battered cod, walleye or flour dusted perch with poppy seed coleslaw, a large portion of matchstick fries, lemon caper tartar sauce and toasted rye bread. Prices range from $9.95 for 2 pieces of cod to $12.95 for a large piece of walleye. A classic cocktail will run you around $5-$8 and a craft cheese tray to share is $10.

The food: Until my last visit I had only eaten the macaroni and cheese here, which had yielded mixed results on two visits. The fish fry is where The Old Fashioned shines with a dark, crispy beer batter, golden matchstick fries and the most perfect coleslaw I’ve ever eaten. Usually an afterthought, this coleslaw is fresh with flavorful thin-cut cabbage and carrots and poppy seeds. I opted for the walleye, which seemed extremely fresh and came served as a generous piece. I am generally ambivalent about walleye, but this was the best I’ve had at a fish fry. My husband and our dining partners chose the cod. The consensus was the flavor of the cod was good, but that the slightly overcooked beer batter overpowered the fish. I think this darker color and taste is pretty common with this type of batter, but those expecting a light, golden brown crust may be disappointed. The only real neutral item was the limp, slightly smoky flavored rye toast, but there was so much good food on the plate, I didn't mind.

In addition to the fish fry, we chose a cheese tray to start with gouda, blue and sharp cheddar. The trays come with walnuts, honey and a short stack of water crackers. The tray is presented family style with hunks of cheese, which can be a bit messy. It would have been perfection if the cheese was pre-sliced and a few more crackers were added to the tray. I also tried a bite of the chocolate brownie dessert with crème de menthe ice cream. The brownie was a bit hard for my liking, but the overall flavor was good.

It would be impossible to go The Old Fashioned and not talk about their cocktails. We sampled the Maker’s Mark and Applejack old fashioneds, which are expertly mixed and garnished. Our companions enjoyed the $2 Point Einbock and Razzmatazz. As a former bartender, I highly appreciate the perfect mix, proper garnishing and immaculate bar. I can’t count the times I’ve been served an old fashioned or manhattan with cherries at other establishments and have been on the receiving end of dirty straws and buggy drinks.

The flavor: Upscale Wisconsin-themed tavern and restaurant on the Capitol Square. There’s a large, comfy bar and a cavernous room with a few cushy booths that seat 6-8 and table seating. The owners have an impressive background with Madison favorites such as L’Etoile, Harvest and Lombardino’s under their belts. They don’t take reservations, so if you want to eat at prime time, you may want to show up around 5:30 or 6 and enjoy a few old fashioneds while you wait. Note: the ambient noise level in this place is off the charts, so if you’re hoping for a quiet evening, this is not the place for you.

Second opinions:

Madison Fish Fry
Trip Advisor

Monday, March 17, 2008

Deli Delicious - Westport, WI

My friend Kaya, of Madison Brunch is stepping in to write a review this week. Enjoy!

The deal: Small, family-run deli featuring homestyle cooking and takeout fish fry. The fish fry ranges from $6-$10 depending on how many pieces your order and includes coleslaw, baked bean, tartar sauce and choice of fries or baked potato.

The food: This is definately a no-frills operation, you get your fish in a takeaway container with waxed paper separated various sides and no lemon wedges. The fish has a pleasantly light flavor and a generous and crispy batter, which is a big hit with the husband and me. The fries are crinkle-cut and always crispy, the baked potato is served uncut in foil, with sour cream (hallelujah) and butter on the side. The coleslaw is crisp and fresh, but a little heavy on the mayonnaise. The baked beans are mildly flavored and inoffensive, but definately not anything to write home about. The only real dissappointment are the lackluster white rolls, which are a bit hard and not warmed. Overall, I think this is a great value and allows for portion control since you can order fish by the piece.

The flavor: Friendly service and inexpensive, fast fare. The perfect solution for a couple who wants to enjoy a fish fry at home, without the guilt of owning a deep fryer.

Second opinions:

Eating in Madison A to Z

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lucky's Bar & Grille - Madison, WI

The deal: Lucky's Bar & Grille offers a Friday night fish fry featuring cod, walleye or perch. The specials range from $8.95-$9.95 and include fish, fries, bread, coleslaw and a choice of soup or salad.

The food: I ordered the walleye and upgraded to a side of onion rings with a salad. The salad was okay, but was more croutons than anything else. While croutons taste good, that's not exactly what I want when I order salad knowing I'm going to be stuffing my face with a bunch of deep fried goodness.

Well, maybe deep fried "okay-ness". The walleye was HUGE (see the picture below), but frankly pretty tasteless. I appreciated that the breading was nice and crunchy, but neither it nor the fish itself had any taste. The onion rings, on the other hand, were delightful and actually tasted like onions rather than the deep fryer.

The meal was also served with perhaps the saddest looking bread in the history of the bread basket. Limp white bread. How appetizing. Blech!

The flavor: We experienced Lucky's on a busy night during the boys' state basketball tournament. So, the place was packed and we ended up eating right at the bar in the midst of a bunch of folks who had clearly been drinking since at least noon. The whole experience felt hectic and uncomfortable, which is exactly what I don't want after a hard weeks' work.

Second opinions:

Badger Herald
Fish Fry Madison
Madison Fish Fry

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dexter's Pub - Madison, WI

The deal: Dexter's Pub, formerly The Sandlot, fish fry offers a variety of choices including beer battered cod, walleye and bluegill. The fish fry ranges from $7.75-$10 and includes soup or salad, rolls, tartar sauce and choice of potatoes.

The food: For a bar, the salad was quite good and included a bunch of baby greens, tomatoes and cucumbers. I had a balsamic dressing that hit the perfect balance between sweet and cloying. The french fries were good, but nothing special. My cod, on the other hand, was just excellent. Three big, flaky pieces of fish covered with a perfectly crispy crust. For the price, it was absolutely fantastic.

My dining companion had clam chowder, which looked filled to the brim with bacon. Mmmm...bacon. They opted for some broiled lemon pepper walleye which was good, but apparently needed salt.

Dexter's has a well thoughout out beer menu and includes options from Guinness to offerings from Lake Louie.

The flavor: Although I still fondly recall Stevens, which The Sandlot replaced, I was very impressed with Dexter's Pub. The atmosphere is nothing special, especially when the restaurant is less than crowded but I suspect that when word gets out about how good the food is, there will be far fewer empty tables and many more happy, full diners.

Second opinions:


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Angelos - Monona, WI

The deal: Fish fry is the Friday night special at Angelos, which is better known for its Italian food. They do, however, have plenty of fish choices, including good 'ole beer battered cod, walleye, bluegill, perch and even tilapia and ale battered shrimp. Meals start at $9.99 and include a choice of potato, coleslaw and dinner rolls. What's up with restaurants not offering soup or salad anymore?

The food: I opted for the beer battered cod with cheesy hash browns. I got three pieces of thinly battered fish. It was good, but was a little too perfectly formed so I suspect it's delivered frozen to the restaurant. The cheesy hash browns were great, because how can you not like the classic combo of cheese and hash browns. That said, they were overwrought - too much cheese, too much crust, etc.

One of my dining companions had the bluegill and it was markedly better than the cod. Each piece was a tiny, tasty delight. I definitely recommend it over the cod.

The flavor: Our large group was seated around the horseshoe bar in Angelo's basement, so it was hard to get a real good feel for the rest of the place. It's definitely a supper club, but not in a typical Wisconsin sense - I suspect it's more like a traditional Italian family restaurant.

The servers were all friendly and familiar and definitely added to the atmosphere. I hope that restaurant owners realize how much good (or bad) staff personalities can bring to an otherwise undistinguished place.

Second opinions:

Eating in Madison A to Z
Madison Fish Fry

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mariner's Inn - Waunakee, WI

The deal: As a seafood restaurant on the north shore of Lake Mendota, the Mariner's Inn has a good selection of Friday night fish specials. The traditional fish fry is simply cod with french fries, but you can also opt for lake perch or broiled walleye. These options are a little pricier, but include soup or salad, dinner rolls and a choice of potato. If you opt for the regular fish fry, you can upgrade to to better sides and add a salad for a small charge.

The food: Our server gave the walleye a rave review, and as a Central Wisconsin girl, I had to try it (let's hear it for Nekoosa's Walleye Days!). It was simply the best fish I've had since starting this site. The fish was flaky and yet a little crispy around the edges with a slightly spicy lemon pepper flavor. I had a part of my companion's beer battered cod and it too was absolutely delicious. It was crispy without being greasy. I have no idea how the kitchen accomplished this miracle, but I'd like to thank them for it!

If you go to the Mariner's Inn, I must insist that you get their hash browns with your meal. They're served family style and are so good that a formerly loving family will fight like hell for the last spoonful. They're creamy and crispy and every other good adjective that starts with "cr".

The salads were okay, nothing bad, but nothing special while the rolls were sweet and dark and (gasp!) served warm. The fish here was so good that to be honest, I didn't even care about the salad, slaw and rolls. The Mariner's Inn wasn't exactly grasping for bonus points, you know?

The flavor: Although the restaurant is huge, we had to wait for a table for a long time. Unlike many fish fry joints, the Mariner's Inn's bar is a little more classy and quiet than it is fun. Oh don't get me wrong, the staff is nice, but the bar is just a little dull.

The crowd leans a little on the old side, as do some of the waitstaff. I felt like maybe we could all trade stories about the Ice Bowl. Well, maybe we could have if I was enjoying one of the Early Bird Specials ;-)

Second opinions:

Madison Fish Fry
Yahoo! Local

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Big Ten Pub - Madison, WI

The deal: The first thing to do when you step inside the Jordan's Big Ten Pub is check out the chalkboard behind the bar. That's where you'll see the huge variety of available fish as well as the catch of the day. On my visit, the options included lemon pepper grilled walleye, lightly breaded bluegill or perch, a variety of fish sandwiches as well as good old-fashioned beer battered cod. The catch of the day was intriguing: jerk swordfish over pineapple rice. The cod was $9.95, while most of the other choices were $11.50 or so. All of that includes soup or a salad, roll and choice of potato. What's exciting about the Big Ten Pub is that it's to my knowledge the only place in Madison that offers potato pancakes with applesauce. Why hasn't that caught on around here?

The food: Although I was curious about the swordfish, for authenticity's sake, I went with the cod. I got two big pieces of fish. They were a little of the greasy side, but they were still pretty crispy. The flavor was good, but not great. My dining companions had the bluegill and perch. Both plates were full of lightly breaded fish. I thought the bluegill was a little flavorless. The perch was more successful and a little crispier, but not as good as the cod. What was incredibly good were the potato pancakes. These were no flimsy sides! The pancakes were dense and complex with a crust fried to dark golden brown perfection. Add a little applesauce and you've got a meal.

No one at my table opted for soup, but we all agreed that the salads were better than you'd expect in a bar - not a piece of iceberg lettuce in the bunch (although, to be honest, I really like iceberg lettuce).

If you dine after 8, you can also take advantage of some good drink specials, like 2 for 1 Long Island Ice Teas. Oh sure, it's not an Old Fashioned, but it'll sure do the trick.

The flavor: During football season, the Big Ten hosts one of Madison's liveliest beer garden scenes. Let's be honest, the fish fry isn't that exciting. No one's gonna take her top off (although those pancakes are damn good...). But, it's still a sports bar and on many a winter Friday night the place is packed with fans getting in some fish and a beer before a Badger hockey game. It's loud and crowded, but the staff is fast and friendly enough to make it an enjoyable experience.

Second opinions

Badger Herald
Fish Fry Madison
Eating in Madison A to Z
Beer Advocate
Madison Fish Fry

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Glass Nickel Pizza - Madison, WI

The deal: Sometimes you don't feel like leaving home and braving crowds to get your fish fry on. On nights like that, Glass Nickel Pizza is a good option. For just $7.90 you can get four pieces of beer battered cod and fries delivered hot and tasty to your door. In addition, Glass Nickel has a number of appetizer options and really excellent salads - you can even build your own for a reasonable price ($3.50 for an individual size salad and $6.50 for family size).

The food: Just by virtue of the fact that it's delivery, Glass Nickel fish isn't going to be as crispy as a restaurant's cod. However, the fish is tasty, never overly fishy and the batter has a decent beer flavor. The Nickel's fries are just so-so, but some of the other appetizers, like the toasted ravioli and fried mac 'n cheese (yes, it's true - Wisconsinites now fry mac 'n cheese) are superb. The salads are all excellent, bigger than you'd expect and aren't 90% lettuce. The dressings are prepackaged, but they still taste good and there's over a dozen choices.

The flavor: I guess this depends on what your house is like, doesn't it? ;-) But seriously, Friday night fish fries aren't just about the fish, they're about socializing and enjoying a meal together with your family and friends. It's nice that with Glass Nickel you can do that without the hassle of leaving home. It really is a great option for snowy nights, families with little kids, and if you want to get your drink on without spending a lot of money in a bar.

Second opinions
Eating in Madison A to Z
Madison Fish Fry