Fish Fry Review - Owl's Nest, revisited

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After delcaring Buck and Honey's as the new number one-rated fish fry, we decided to visit our former champion, the Owl's Nest, so that we could perform a back-to-back, head-to-head comparison.

And I'm sad to report that the Owl's Nest appears to have slipped a bit - or at least it did on the night we visited. As mentioned in the Buck and Honey's review, fish frys are fickle. You really are at the mercy of several variables.

We arrived to the Owl's Nest after a short 40-ish minute drive from Madison, and found the place completely packed. We struggled to make our way to the small hostess station; once there, we requested a table for five. The hostess informed us the wait would be around an hour.

After signing-on for a table, we pushed/rubbed/shimmied our way over to the bar for a beverage. With the outside temperature still loitering in the triple-digit range, the idea of an Old Fashioned didn't sound the least bit refreshing, so a few brews were requisitioned.

We stood around, trying not to get in the way of folks while trying to cool off. The Nest's air conditioning was struggling on this early July evening...

After approximately 45-minutes of waiting, we were summoned to our table - a small, four-top table located dead center in the dining room. Hmmm. This was going to be a tight fit... five people sitting at a very small four-top table. Oh well, we'd make due.

Our young waiter arrived and asked if he could refresh our drinks. Absolutely, we proclaimed, beads of sweat streaming steadily down our foreheads. He took our drink and appetizer orders, then sped away. A friendly young lady arrived with water glasses; we slugged those away and she promptly refilled us.

After approximately 10 minutes of waiting, I flagged-down our waiter to inquire about the drinks. He looked slightly stunned, then said he'd be right back with our appetizers. Hmm...

Sure enough; within 2 minutes, our onion strings arrived, while drinks and mushrooms remained AWOL.

The Owl's Nest know a thing or two about onion stings. They finely slice a heap of yellow onions, bathe them in a perfectly made beer batter that features a hint of salt and fry them to a blissfully crunchy state. I'm convinced you will not find a better onion string... these things are pure heaven - our group of five ordered a half-order, and it was more than sufficient.

Our drinks arrived, followed by the mushrooms, and just like the onion strings, the Owl's Nest's mushrooms are second to none. They're made from whole button mushrooms and feature the same salty beer batter as the onion strings. Forget everything you thought you knew about breaded mushrooms... the Owl's Nest blows them all away.

While waiting for our fish, several huge bowls of baked beans, coleslaw, and tartar sauce appeared. And when I say huge, I mean H-U-G-E. I'm not sure why we received such massive bowls of the stuff... there had to be nearly a gallon each of beans and slaw, and a quart of tartar - and that's no exaggeration.

Our little table was now overfilled with the bowls of beans/slaw/tartar, drinks, bread basket, condiments, mushrooms, onion straws, and our plates. And it was about to get worse, because our waiter soon appeared with two massive plates - one of beer battered cod, and one of crinkle-cut fries. The Owl's Nest serves their fish family style; it's not "all you can eat," but there's definitely plenty to eat - I'd say our plate had at least 20 pieces of beer battered cod on it.

We exchanged our nearly empty plates of strings and 'shrooms for the fish and fries, and set about digging-in to the piping-hot plate of fish.

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I grabbed 3 pieces of the battered cod and a healthy helping of french fries. The fish was so hot that I could barely hold on to it. A quick cut revealed a nice, white piece of cod. I allowed a few seconds for it to cool, before taking a bite.

...and... I was completely underwhelmed. While the fish was hot, it wasn't fresh from the fryer hot. Our fish appears to have been taken from some type of uber-warming vessel, because while the temperature was rocket hot, the batter wasn't crispy fresh.

Adding insult to injury, the fish wasn't nearly as flavorful or quality-tasting as the fish we remembered from our previous visit. And it definitely paled in comparison to Buck and Honey's fish.

While eating at Buck and Honey's, I didn't see anyone reach for tartar sauce; tonight, I saw everyone grabbing for it. The batter was flavorful - it had that familiar salty and beer-laden flavor, but the fish was incredibly bland and unexciting. Combined with the "it's been sitting in a warmer for a while," and heaps of tartar, lemon, and pepper were necessary.

We dug through the plate, looking for better pieces of cod, but none could be found.

Now, don't get me wrong... this is still a soild fish fry, and will best most competitors. But our visit of July 6th wasn't up to a first place performance. Based on this visit, I'd place the Owl's Nest in the top 10, but not in the top 5.

We finished our meal, ordered a legendary grasshopper sundae for dessert, paid our $70 tab ($13.95/person for the cod), and adjourned to the air conditioned confines of our cars.

Perhaps the Owl's Nest was overwhelmed by the volume of people, or maybe the heat threw off their normal game. Whatever it was, things weren't as "on" as they have been in the past. As mentioned, this is still a good fish fry... but the strings and the 'shrooms were the stars tonight, and as good as they were/are, it wasn't enough to keep the Owl's Nest in the number one seat.

Owl's Nest (7/6/12 visit) = WIN

Food = 3.25 stars (great appetizers, pedestrian fish)
Service = 2.5 stars (slow, distracted, semi-inattentive)
Value = 3 stars
MISC = 2.5 stars (A/C struggled; cramped table - don't seat 5 people at a small 4 top)

We'll be back, and we'll hope that things return to normal with the next visit. Oh - we should also mention that if you're looking for the quintessential Supper Club experience, this would be one of your best bets, even if the fish isn't frying at a perfect "10." The paneling, the carpet, the accouterments - it all screams "Supper Club." And we like that.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve published on July 15, 2012 1:23 AM.

Summer's in full effect... (aka: time to sweat) was the previous entry in this blog.

Reducing the variables is the next entry in this blog.

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