Well, it's been 2 months since my last entry... how about that?
Over the past few months I've been busy with more sound gigs for Kiki, wrapping-up a large project at work, playing the guitar a ton, and hanging out with friends.
One of my friends, Mark, is a fisherman who operates his own 80-foot fishing boat in the Bering Sea (by Alaska), where he catches wild salmon (King, Sockeye, Coho, Keta), cod, sablefish, and halibut. He processes all of the fish while still on the boat; from the minute the fish comes out of the ocean (most of it is also line caught), it's cleaned, cut into portions, vacuum sealed, and flash frozen. You cannot find a better fish than his stuff.
Mark returns to Madison every so often, and when he does, he offers this wonderful fish to friends at wholesale prices. I have 10-lbs of wild sockeye in my freezer at all times, and it's amazing stuff. If you're interested in buying from him, you can contact him via his website and tell him that I sent you his way. He'll take great care of you!
Anyway... Mark supplies several Madison businesses with fish. You can find his product at Whole Foods, Willy Street Co-op, Miller & Sons, Seafood Center, and several restaurants. As such, he's always interested in trying fish frys that don't feature his fish, just so that he can keep tabs on his competition. He asked me to supply a few options, and we've since gone to visit them together.
Up first: Baldwin Street Grille, Madison, WI
This place used to be known as "Friendly's Tavern" way back in the day. I recall stopping-in while I still worked at Marquip back in the mid 1990s, and at that time, Friendly's was a fairly seedy place. A lot has changed since then... it's been under new management for quite some time, changed its name, and cleaned-up quite a bit.
The kitchen in this tiny little dive bar produces some truly stellar food. I've been there countless times for dinner with friends, and everything has been outstanding. Their sweet potato fries and tater tots cannot be beat - they're unreal.
But, we were here for fish on Friday, September 26, as were dozens of other people, resulting in a nearly full bar. The Baldwin Street Grill (or "BSG" as many call it) typically has only one or two folks working behind the bar at any given time, regardless of how busy they are, and that can make for a frustrating visit. This proved true for us, but given the quality of the food, the frustration is easily forgotten.
Options include fried or baked cod, and fried lake perch. Our table ordered a little of each fish, along with a slew of appetizers. There were: cheese curds, which were house-made and delicious; fried mushrooms; fried pickles; tater tots, and sweet potato fries. Each came with a different type of unique aioli; the Sriracha and garlic aioli was divine.
Our plates arrived after about 30-minutes, and we immediately dug in. The fried cod was outstanding, and featured two huge cod loins, cloaked in a mildly seasoned (salt and pepper) beer batter, and fried to perfection. I couldn't have been any happier with my fish; Mark raved about the quality of the cod and then commented that he couldn't supply the kind of volume they would need to serve cod loin on a regular basis.
The lake perch was OK; a bit chewy, as is to be expected, and a tad greasy. The baked cod consisted also of loins, which were lightly dusted with paprika and baked to a deliciously delicate finish.
I didn't snap any pictures, but trust me when I say that it was truly great. If you're looking for awesome fish in an unassuming venue on East Washington, look no further.
Mickey's Tavern, Madison, WI
Friday, October 3 found us at Mickey's Tavern on Williamson Street. Potential fish fry fanatics be warned: Mickey's doesn't always have fried fish on their Friday menu, so it may pay to call ahead to see if they have it.
We arrived at around 6:30pm and found the bar to be quite full, as is the norm for Mickey's. A few fabulous Pabst Blue Ribbons were ordered, and our requests for fried cod were submitted. Seats eventually opened at the bar, which were quickly snagged by us.
The fish arrived rather quickly, and it looked incredible.
Look at those beauties. Once again, cod loins were the base. An incredible dark beer batter wrapped those delicate loins and was fried to absolute perfection. Nary a sign of grease could be found anywhere on the plate, even as the fish sat while we chatted about the awesome quality of the meal. The fries were nicely salted, crisp, and delicious.
As mentioned, Mickey's doesn't have fried cod every Friday. But when they do have it, be sure to make an attempt to get there for it. I'd say this was a top-five contender in the fish fry rankings, no questions asked.
Oh - also, Mickey's is cash only, so be prepared.
Avenue Bar, Madison, WI
There are a couple of things you need to know about the Avenue. It's under new-ish management; Food Fight took over the establishment in 2013 and has changed a few things, most for the better. It still has that classic look and feel, but you can tell that there are infrastructure improvements that have taken place over the past year or so.
You should also know that this place remains absolutely slammed-busy on Friday nights; the legend of this fish fry travels far and wide. That said, we visited on Wednesday, October 8 at around 8:00pm and found the place nearly empty. You can get their infamous fish fry seven days a week, so if you don't like the idea of a 2-hour wait on a Friday night, just swing on in any other night of the week.
We grabbed a corner booth, ordered some cheese curds and artichoke dip, and continued to browse the menu. The curds were solid - quite nice, with their delicate, crumbly batter. The artichoke dip was loaded with cheese, which was a bit too heavy for my preferences, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it.
Fish options included fried cod, baked cod, fried lake perch, and fried walleye. Once again, we ordered one of each option, and before we knew it, the fish had arrived.
The fried cod looked exactly as I remembered it from my last documented visit of 2009. And, it tasted quite good. The thick, square chunks of cod were slightly watery, yet the slightly-chewy batter clung nicely. A few hints of grease collected as time went on, but nothing outrageous.
The perch was less successful; it was extremely greasy and chewy. I took a bite and swear I felt it "squish" as I chewed. The walleye plate consisted of two massive fillets (think plate-length), a nice bubbly batter, and some quality, delicately flavored walleye. Given the option again, I'd probably go with the walleye over the cod.
While I like the Avenue, it's not a top-10 place, in my humble opinion. It's not horrible, but you can definitely do better when in the area.
So, there you have it. Three fish fry reviews in one post. That should keep you happy for a bit. ;-)