Fish Fry Review: Cahoots Bar, Verona

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My friend from Arkansas, Nat, was in town this weekend and wanted to sample a Wisconsin staple - the infamous fish fry. Truth be told, he has had a fish fry before (by way of The Esquire Club in 2008) when he and Karl joined me for a Packers game weekend. So, we set about trying to determine where to get our fill of fish.

We considered several places, from The Owl's Nest to Fitz's on the Lake to Norm's Hideaway, but most of these candidates were located a bit too far away. We'd spent the day in New Glarus and didn't want to spend another hour-plus driving to and from a fish fry, so we decided to try Cahoots Bar in Verona. We programmed the GPS and hit the road.


First things first - this place wasn't real easy to find. It's on "Railroad Ave," of which there are two in Verona. We even called for directions and still had to struggle to find the place. When we did, we immediately liked the look - it had a "riverboat" feel to it, with a large, two-story fascia, double decks, and loads of rectangular windows.

Upon entry, we were immediately "greeted" by a rowdy and rambunctious local crowd. It was loud, brash, and a bit surly in the place - full of overweight cougars screaming innuendoes and suggestive comments over a blaring jukebox. A crowd of drunks surrounded the bar, each telling the other, "you're too drunk to drive - you can't drive after a dirty martini!" Ugh. Oh well, we were committed to try the place at this point.

We grabbed a table near the edge of the bar, only to discover that it was located directly in front of a window that wouldn't close (primarily because it was missing the actual window pane). With the temperature dropping, we decided to brave the bar, so we bellied-up and ordered a few beverages, along with an order of cheese curds.

We inquired about the fish options, and were told our choices were: fried cod, fried perch, or fried walleye. We asked which was the crowd favorite and were told that the "cod is the best around." The waitress pointed to a recent newspaper review that boasted the headline, "Cahoots serves a really good fish fry." Ok, we were sold.

The crowd quickly thinned (thankfully), and things quieted down considerably. As we chit-chatted, the bartender kept a close eye on our drinks, as did the other employees - I think we were checked-on no fewer than three times before our food arrived.

Which is where problem #1 came in - the curds were ordered as an appetizer, but they arrived at the same time as the fish plates. No big deal, really, but worth noting. I went to move a piece of the fish aside and literally burned my fingers - this stuff was piping hot. I can't recall receiving a hotter plate of fish, and hot fish is usually a good sign.

I decided to let the fish cool for a minute, so I eagerly reached for one of the cheese curds, which appeared to be battered. I could tell from their appearance that they weren't homemade, but they looked to be cooked really well - no signs of oozing cheese. I said to Nat, "I've got a good feeling about this place."


I dipped one of the curds into the ranch sauce and took a bite. I immediately recoiled - twice. Once from the ranch, which was awful, as it had a strong vinegar flavor and was incredibly watery, and again from the actual curd, which was cold in the middle and actually "crunchy" as I chewed on it. I hesitantly tried a second curd and it was more of the same... for some reason, the curds were "crunchy" and the "batter" actually tasted like and felt like a breading. It was the oddest experience ever. I ate a few more, but didn't enjoy a single one of them.

And now it was time to sample the fish:


The fish was still steaming hot as I doused it with lemon and cut into it with my fork and knife. A huge poof of steam arose from the fish, and I salivated with anticipation. The batter looked to be expertly applied, and it was clinging perfectly to the flaky white cod. A quick scan of the plate showed no signs of grease. So far, so good.

I took a bite of the fish and... nothing. Nothing as in: no flavor, no "yum," no "wow," nothing. Sure, it was a nice piece of fish, and it wasn't greasy, but it was so "ordinary." Nat commented that he'd had more exciting fish at Long John Silvers. I couldn't believe it - that awesome looking batter may have well been wax paper. And the perfectly cooked fish could've been milquetoast - it was so dull and drab.

So, hoping for some salvation, I turned to the matchstick thin fries. Disappointment once again - despite being served at about 8-billion degrees Fahrenheit, the fries were somehow limp, soggy, and lifeless. I suspect they were "suffocated" by the fish which was perched on top of them. The fries also lacked any flavor - I tried salting and peppering them, but the net result was a soggy flavorless starchy thing that tasted like salt and pepper.

Remember my earlier comment about the "good feeling" that I shared with Nat? By the end of the meal I was apologizing profusely and beating myself-up for the choice.

Our server, the cook, and the manager/owner all stopped by to check on our meals - we said it was "ok," but after leaving more than half of our food behind, you'd think they would've thought something may have been awry. We paid our tab, hit the local Culver's for a scoop of ice cream, and drove back to Madison.

Cahoots = FAIL

Food = 1.75 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 2.5 stars ($11.50 for the cod - 3 pieces)
MISC = 1 star (I generally don't mind bars, but this one was annoying and "skeevy")

Summary: If you're going to drive for fish, do yourself a favor and drive a little farther to a known performer. Sorry, Cahoots - your service was stellar, the fish was of high quality, but it lacked any sign of life or flavor.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on October 17, 2010 4:17 PM.

Fish Fry Review: Revisiting The Nite Cap Inn was the previous entry in this blog.

What a weekend - I think I need a vacation! And a bigger belt... is the next entry in this blog.

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