Fish Fry Review: Monk's Retreat - Cross Plains, WI

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After taking some time away from the fish fry reviews, I finally caved-in to the cravings and set about finding a location by which to partake in some deep-fried fishy goodness. Out came the list of recommended locations and after about 45 minutes worth of scouring, I settled on The Monk's Retreat in Cross Plains.

I fired-up the Prius, made the short drive to Cross Plains, found a place to park, and made my way into the establishment, my belly rumbling with anticipation.

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I've driven past Monk's countless times and have always wanted to stop-in to sample their goods. The all brick building looks inviting; the name intriguing; the location convenient; but for reasons unknown, I never made the stop. So, I was pretty excited to give this place a try tonight. My excitement was further bolstered when I saw how crowded the location was - I entered the joint at around 6:30 on Friday night and it was literally a "standing room only" affair.

Now, make no mistake - the place is tiny, so that played a big role in the crowded feel. The bar might seat 10-12 people and the two dining rooms might seat 20 people each, if you're lucky (and don't mind sitting on top of people). Monk's appears to have been a house at one time but has since been converted to a bar and restaurant. There's plenty of charm and character, no doubt.

After walking in, I managed to locate a hostess/waitress, and put in my name for a table. She invited me to grab a drink and settle-in; the wait would be about 30-45 minutes. No problem - the night was young, the crowd seemed friendly, and with fish just around the corner, I was happy to wait as long as necessary. Just as I had finished giving the hostess my name, a single seat opened at the bar, so I quickly grabbed it.

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The tap selection was dismal - there were a handful of brews available: Lite, Essers Best, Sam Adams, and Island Wheat. Judging from the small selection of other liquor bottles, the mixed drink selections didn't look much more diverse. Monk's appears to maintain a simple drink list, which is fine, especially if the clientele doesn't mind (and it didn't appear as though anyone did).

I considered an Old Fashioned, but after watching the bartender make a few (no muddling, no cherries, no Squirt), I decided to try an Essers Best. It was a local brew (made in Cross Plains), and while it wasn't terrible, it wasn't anything spectacular. The Essers tap cost $3.25, which was fair; I sipped away on the malty beverage and listened to the various conversations that were taking place.

My table was ready within 15 minutes, so I made my way to be "back" dining area and was seated at a quaint four-top that featured some unique chairs. A large staircase dominates the back dining area; the walls are covered in various monk-themed murals.

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I browsed the menu, primarily searching for an appetizer option, as I knew what the main course would consist of. The waitress stopped by to take my order: hush puppies to start with, deep fried fish with fries, a salad, and a Diet Pepsi, please.

I inquired about the "deep fried fish" - there wasn't any description as to what type of fish it was. I asked if it was cod, halibut, walleye, perch, or something else, and she wasn't sure. She said it was "deep fried." Um, ok. I tried to clarify my question but all I got was a blank stare and a, "we sell a lot of it and it's really good." So, that was that...

My soda came out a few minutes later and this is where things started to go bad. I took a drink of the soda and it was obvious that I had received regular Pepsi. I could feel the sugar/syrup coating my teeth, and the ridiculously sweet flavor indicated that this wasn't diet by any means.

I flagged-down the waitress and asked her for a Diet Pepsi; they had given me a regular. She took the glass and returned about a minute later. I took another drink: regular again. Hmm. She didn't return until the hush puppies were ready - I apologized for the hassle as I told her it looked like I had received regular Pepsi again. She took the glass, spun quickly and left. She plopped down another soda on the table and left.

I took a final drink - guess what? Regular. No kidding. I'm not sure if the lines were crossed or if I had crossed her (or the bartender), but it was obvious I wasn't going to be getting a Diet Pepsi tonight. So, I suffered through it - I'm not a fan of regular soda at all. I'm not sure what it is, but I absolutely cannot drink the stuff - it makes me ill - I can feel my heart skyrocket, my teeth hurt, I get a headache, and I just feel miserable from it.

The hush puppies looked good, if not a bit plain:

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While I'm almost quite certain they came from a catalog of sorts, they were fried really well and had a nice onion flavor. The cornmeal texture was obvious as well, so the hush puppies were a win. They could've used some type of dipping sauce on the side, but they were pretty darn scrumptious on their own. Definitely worth the $3.

A salad and dinner roll arrived shortly after the hush puppies; nothing too out of the ordinary - an iceberg lettuce salad with a single slice of cucumber and a lone cherry tomato, and an "out of the box" dinner roll that had been thoughtfully warmed.

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By now, I had finished about half of my Pepsi and was really starting to feel it. My stomach was churning, my heart was starting to race, and my head felt like a big, red hot balloon. Oh boy - not good.

The fish plate made its way to the table just as I was finishing my salad, and it looked awesome. Four nicely sized pieces of blistering hot fish and a nice mound of crinkle-cut fries. I was asked if I needed tartar sauce, and I responded with a "no thanks, I'm good."

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I grabbed one of the fish fillets and immediately recoiled - these babies were h-o-t HOT. Talk about a good sign! I carefully repositioned the fish on my plate and sampled a few of the fries while reorganizing things - the fries were excellent. I grabbed a few more...

My fork went to cut the first fish fillet and disappointment settled in once again - a huge pool of grease oozed from the fish. How could that be? The fish was literally "fire hot," which usually means you won't find any grease.

I dabbed away the grease and took a bite. A wave of confusion hit me. I took a look at the plate to confirm that I had ordered fish; all I could taste was something unusual - was it charcoal? Smoke? Steak? I carefully chewed the scalding piece of fish and sampled another piece. Same thing - smoke or grille flavor - definitely not mild fish flavor.

It was the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced. I sampled all four pieces of fish; the batter was light and crispy, the fish had a nice texture, but for some reason, it didn't really taste like fish. I can't accurately describe what was going on; I swear that my tastebuds told me "hamburger" or "steak" as I gnashed away on the fish. I wondered if they added some smoke flavor to their batter, or if the fish had sat near a grille, or if the fish had been smoked at some point - but it wasn't what I had been expecting.

I tried to finish a few pieces, but ultimately I ate what amounted to one or one-and-a-half pieces of fish. I ate a few more fries, but the bigger problem was that darned Pepsi - it was quickly doing me in. I paid my tab ($12.75), walked to the car and raced home, where I spent the rest of the night writhing in pain and agony. I went for a walk to try and shake-off the Pepsi, but to no avail. I was done.

The Monk's Retreat = FAIL

Service = 1 stars (not really too helpful; wrong drink 3-times; nothing to write home about)
Food = 1.5 star (the fish was so confusing; fries and hush puppies were excellent)
Value = 4 stars (fair price - $8.50 for a fish dinner)
MISC = 4 stars (quaint and cool atmosphere)

Summary: I'm not sure what was going on with the fish - everything else was good, and I'd go back to try a burger, but I don't think I'll be giving the fish a try again. From the lack of an identifier to the odd smokey flavor, I wasn't sure what was happening. It may have been Pollock fish? I'm still not sure... the smoke flavor threw me for a massive loop. I know some folks have raved about this fish fry, but it just didn't work for me tonight. Sorry, Monks.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on September 11, 2010 7:40 AM.

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