Fish Fry Review: The Wayside Inn, Jefferson, WI

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I'm not quite sure why or how this happens, but it seems as if some of the best fish frys we've ranked come from "out-of-the-way" little places in tiny, unincorporated towns. Case in point: Schaumburg's Supper Club and today's entry, The Wayside Inn.

The Wayside Inn was brought to our attention by my manager from work, Russ. Russ lived near the Wayside Inn and became a fan of both their fish and (gasp) potato pancakes. He confessed to not having dined inside the restaurant very often due to its smokey nature, but said he did carry-out fish quite regularly.

For those not in the know, fish fry does not often "travel" well. I have a theory behind fish fry's poor traveling capabilities - a quality fish fry is served fresh from the fryer, and as such packs a lot of heat and moisture. Dump that piping hot fish into a container, seal it up, and what's bound to happen? If you answered "soggy fish," you're on the right track.

So, when Russ said the Wayside's fish traveled well, I knew we were in for a real treat. We gathered a small group of folks and made the hour-plus drive to the far eastern edge of Jefferson, WI where the Wayside Inn awaited our arrival.

The Wayside Inn is a tiny little "supper club" (it feels more like a bar with a couple of add-on dining areas) that's situated on Highway 18, near the intersection with Highway Y.

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We made our way in to the restaurant and immediately liked what we saw - dark paneling, a long bar, party lighting, and an older crowd that was quite obviously composed of local loyalists. Tap selections were limited, and Mark's first old fashioned sour was most likely some random cocktail (we're still not sure what it was), but the first round of drinks totaled $8.

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After sitting and socializing for a few minutes, I noticed an expansive whiteboard of fish options and decided to take a look at the evening's offerings. The Wayside Inn was serious about its fish - check out this "menu" for Friday night:

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While browsing the menu, "Bruce" (I assume he may be the owner) led us to a small table in the back dining area. A waitress emerged, handed us menus, filled our water glasses, took a second round of drink orders, and disappeared. When she returned with our drinks, she also brought a small loaf of incredibly delicious rye bread that was loaded with caraway seeds. It was absolutely superb - still warm, and wonderfully soft and chewy.

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She took our orders - I went with the traditional cod. Mark opted for the lake perch. Diane chose the baked cod. Russ went with bluegill. Everyone chose potato pancakes as their side, with the exception of yours truly - I opted for the baked potato. Other side options included fries, american fries, and cheesy hashbrowns.

We also ordered cheese curds; I'm sad to report that they were the "Sysco standard" curds - nothing fancy by any means. But, we did appreciate the small cast iron skillet that they were served in, and we all thought the curds were properly cooked.

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We had just finished the curds when our fish arrived. I could tell right away that this was going to be a notable fish fry - everything looked great (the baked fish looked a little buttery/greasy, but everything else looked fantastic).

My "small" cod plate featured three lightly battered pieces of deep fried cod and the baked potato. The batter was enhanced with a hint of spice (salt, pepper, and perhaps a touch of paprika?), was light and crisp, didn't show any signs of grease or sogginess, and was perfectly applied and fried.

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The fish itself was fresh and tasty. Extremely light and flaky; moist and tender, with that perfect fresh cod flavor. The three pieces hit the spot like nobody's business - I could've easily eaten 30 pieces. The baked potato wasn't anything exciting, but come to think of it, baked potatoes are rarely exciting, so all was good.

Mark's lake perch was mounded high and was absolutely phenomenal. I was lucky enough to sample a piece and quickly wished I had ordered the lake perch as well. Here's his plate of lake perch:

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Diane's baked fish was reported to be excellent as well; I think it looked a touch greasy, but it received high marks, nonetheless. Here's the baked cod:

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And finally, the highlight of the meal, and a rare treat when you can find it: the bluegill. Russ wisely chose this delicate fresh water lake fish, and happily offered us a sample. Bluegill is traditionally pan-fried by dedicated fisherman who catch dozens of the small fish, painstakingly clean them, and prepare them in their own kitchens. To find it at a restaurant is rare; to find a mile-high pile of it like Russ had is even more unusual.

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Those lightly breaded, thinly cut filets of bluegill were absolutely incredible. Bluegill features a texture that's similar to perch, with a much more delicate flavor. How tiny little places like the Wayside Inn can offer so many fish selections and do them all so well is beyond me. My head was about to explode - I wished I had more cod, more perch, and more bluegill...

And then there were the potato pancakes. They're more rare than bluegill at a fish fry, and they're almost impossible to do perfectly. Most offerings are usually overcooked or don't feature the correct onion/potato balance. The Wayside made a solid showing with its potato pancakes; granted, The Nite Cap in Palmyra still easily holds the title of "best potato pancakes ever," but The Wayside's were no slouch.

Our bills arrived, we paid at the bar (which was now packed and becoming quite smokey), and then headed to Lake Mills for a final beverage at the Tyranena Brewery. My meal, complete with buying the cheese curds, was $15.25. Very reasonable, especially given the high quality fish.

The Wayside Inn = WIN

Service = 2 stars (slower, but the place was quite busy)
Food = 4.75 stars (some of the best fish ever; solid potato pancakes)
Value = 4.5 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (great "local" place - lots of character)

Summary: Very few places get their fish "right." The Wayside Inn got all of its fish "right" - there wasn't a bad choice in the bunch. If you ever find yourself east of Madison on a Friday night, do your tastebuds a favor and check out The Wayside Inn. This is one fish fry that you shouldn't miss. Easily a top-ten finish.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on April 24, 2010 9:37 PM.

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