What's that old saying about "distance makes the heart grow fond?"
I take exception to this rule, simply because one of my favorite places to meet-up with friends, watch a game, have a delicious dinner, or enjoy a beverage or two is located just a few blocks from my "home" in Madison - The MidTown Pub.
Followers of the blog will recall that I've been to the MidTown Pub ("MTP") for a fish fry before, and while the fish was good, they were too busy to keep up with the all-you-can-eat part of the deal.
Don't get me wrong - the MTP is an absolutely stellar place - I just seemed to have a bad run of luck when I tried the fish back in August of 09. Every other time I've ever gone to the MTP, the service has been absolutely incredible. In fact, it's largely because of the wonderful service that I'm such a huge fan of the MTP - the bartenders, the cooks, and the owner (Joel) are great, great people. It only took a second visit before they recognized me as a repeat customer - they really make you feel at home.
So, with March Madness underway and a good week of work behind me, I decided to revisit the MTP for some fish, some beverages, and a little basketball.
I forgot that the Badgers were playing in the tournament, so I was a bit shocked to discover the MTP was absolutely packed at 4:00pm on Friday. Everyone was glued to one of the many flatscreen televisions; when the Badgers would score, the place erupted. Luckily, I was able to find a spot at the bar (one lone stool, wedged between two intense basketball fans), and I placed my order for the beer battered cod - all you can eat, please.
The friendly bartenders took my order, asked me how work had been going, and wondered if I might be interested in a beverage - it was happy hour, after all. I obliged, and welcomed the fresh-popped popcorn offering as well.
I watched as the cooks took plain fillets of cod, carefully battered them, and dropped them into the hot oil (sitting at the bar has its advantages - you can watch the cooks work, you can see all of the televisions, and you can converse with the staff). I started to salivate with anticipation.
Next, I saw my fries go into the oil, followed by a nice thick slice of garlic bread hitting the griddle. I was getting anxious.
Perfectly orchestrated, the fish, fries, and bread were finished, plated, and brought out to me, served with a side of lemon and the usual accoutrements: tartar and coleslaw. Here's what my gorgeous plate of fish looked like:
A dash of malt vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, and I was ready to tear into the fish - and I'm glad I did. As I recall, the fish from my previous visit was excellent, but slightly over-battered. I'm pleased to report that today's fish was absolutely perfect. The batter was light, crispy, nicely seasoned, and expertly applied. It stuck to the meaty, fresh, moist, and flaky cod fillets - this was some seriously good fish.
The fries were decent as well, but the real star was the fish (as it should be). I wolfed down my first four pieces and put in an order for a few more - the staff seemed somewhat surprised, but as I said, "don't let my gangly appearance fool you - I can pack away fish."
Within minutes, a second plate arrived and it was every bit as good, if not better than, the first plate. I could've eaten another 5-6 pieces of fish quite easily, but I didn't want to make a scene, so I called it quits on the 'ole fry. Oh - the garlic bread - stellar as well. There's something about a "griddled" piece of bread that's just wonderful.
The all you can eat cod is served from 3:00pm - 7:00pm and costs $12.95. I'd recommend you go early and try to sit at the bar; otherwise they also have a myriad of other fish options, including a baked cod that's supposed to be exceptional (I'll try it during a future visit).
So - where does this leave things? To reiterate - I love the MTP. I really enjoy hanging out there, and I'm serious when I say they have the best atmosphere, the most friendly staff, and the nicest patrons. Their food is top notch (I've yet to order anything unsatisfactory from the normal menu, and I really crave their burgers and sweet potato fries). The prices are inexpensive. The fish fry was excellent.
MidTown Pub = WIN
Service = 5 stars (the best around)
Food = 4 stars (fish was incredible)
Value = 4 stars ($12.95 for AYCE? No brainer)
Misc = 5 stars (best local bar for miles and miles and miles + great jukebox)
Summary: While I don't think the MTP beats some of the holy grails of fish frys, it is a very excellent fish fry - based on this visit, I'd place it near the top 8. Go there if for no other reason than to enjoy some of the best and most friendly/genuine service you'll ever experience, nosh on some incredible food, and leave feeling happy you stopped by. Well done, folks!