Recently in Fish Fry Category

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.

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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.

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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. ;-)

Fish Fry Review: Babes Sports Grill

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I've been to Babes a bunch of times and generally enjoy it. They have a nice outdoor patio area, that despite being located near the beltline, is quite peaceful and comfortable.

I met a few coworkers for lunch today; one of them had lost a lunch bet and the other opted for fish fry at Babes as the payout. Since the weather was absolutely phenomenal, we chose to sit outside.

Our server was prompt, friendly, and fantastic. She immediately took our drink orders (2 iced teas, 1 Arnold Palmer) and told us about the specials. She returned within minutes, drinks in hand and ready to take our orders.

I opted for the fried lake perch, which included a choice of potato (I went with curly fries). One of my coworkers chose the fried cod (with curly fries). The other went with the blackened tilapia fish tacos, which included rice and beans on the side.

The food arrived in no time. Everything looked superb. The perch plate included six smallish fillets fish, each lightly breaded, and slightly curled from the frying. A trace amount of grease could be detected within the curled portions of the fish, but it was by no means greasy. A quick twist of lemon, and I was underway.

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The breading clung nicely and was just slightly salty. The fish had that trademark chewy mouthfeel. The flavor was mild for lake perch - not overly fishy. The curly fries were your typical catalog variety, but were crispy and delicious.

I sampled some of the cod; the fillets of cod weren't so much fillets as they were "cubes" - very thick, square loin cuts. Breading was thin, and like the perch breading, just slightly salty. The fish itself was tender yet firm, moist without being greasy, and very mild in flavor. The only downside? The breading slipped clean off with each cut or stab of the fork.

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The fish tacos looked excellent and were reported to be outstanding. The blackened tilapia looked tasty; it was wrapped in soft shell flour tacos and covered in slaw with some type of dressing.

Not a bad fish fry by any means, but it wasn't remarkable. If you're looking for a solid fish fry with great service and decent pricing, Babes will definitely suit your needs.

Fish Fry Review - Alchemy

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I've been spending more time on the east side of Madison and as a result am becoming more familiar with the hot (and not so hot) spots on that side of town. One of the places I've come to really appreciate is The Alchemy.

Astute readers (and some stalkers) will recall that I've already sampled the fish at Alchemy... way back around April of 2010. It received a decent review, although it only landed in 28th place. Hmm.

Luckily for everyone (but most of all moi), my tastebuds continue to evolve, and I've learned to appreciate quality, local food more than quantity and/or value. As such, some of my very favorite restaurants these days include The Alchemy, Forequarter, Graze, and the like.

So while I've been eating the heck out of Alchemy's "normal" menu (and loving every bit of it), I hadn't revisited the fish fry. That all changed on Friday, May 24, when I met up with my cousin Leanne and her husband Jeff at the Alchemy. I was first to arrive and put in our name for a table.

After a brief wait, we were seated at a 4-top table. A friendly waitress refreshed our drinks, and we placed an order for the "grilled bread" and the chips and salsa. Within minutes, drinks arrived, followed shortly by the appetizers.

The grilled bread is a treat - it features thick slices of locally made sourdough bread, slightly charred and lightly buttered. Accompanying the bread is a spread that varies on a regular basis. The spread for this evening consisted of a hummus made from wild mushrooms, walnut, bell pepper, and seasonings. It's like pate, but without the gamey taste (or the animal organs).

The chips and salsa were both house made, and both were fresh and delicious.

We then placed dinner orders - I had the fried cod (with wasabi green beans); Jeff went with the cod (with fries), and Leanne chose a grilled chicken salad.

The fish was outstanding. No photos, sorry. It looked exactly as it did from the previous review/visit - big, thick, meaty pieces of cod, expertly battered and fried to perfection. With nary a sign of grease, I greedily wolfed-down my cod and stared longingly at Jeff's and Leanne's plates...

The beans are a treat. Crispy, warm, and dusted with wasabi powder - they're a welcomed alternative to fries (and probably a bit more healthy). The slaw was a surprise - it had a slightly Asian-slaw taste, with hints of sweet and sour. Totally delicious.

Service remained excellent throughout the night. And while the place is still cash only, the bill was more than reasonable - with drinks, appetizers, entrees, and drinks, we came in at just around $80 (for four people).

Alchemy = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 3.5 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (still a super cool vibe/feel/look)

I can see them moving up quite a bit in the ranks... 11th sounds about right.

Fish Fry Review: 5100 - McFarland

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Hey McFarland, what gives? You've got some really solid fish fry spots in your little south-of-the-Madison-area-borough. I mean that in all sincerity - Toby's, Green Lantern, and now, the 5100 - one can't go wrong when seeking fish along highway 51.

A couple of us fish fanatics were in the mood for a fish fry and were looking for a new place to try. A quick search of Yelp showed several options, and after a short debate, we settled on the 5100. I know what you're thinking, because we thought the same thing... "what a bizarre name - is it a dance club?"

And the answer is well, no. But sort of yes. 5100 occupies the building that once served as the Park Ponderosa, a semi-famous McFarland icon/banquet hall/dance hall that entertained locals for 40-years. The folks in charge of 5100 rejuvenated the building and gave it an open, sorta-northwoodsy look that works really well. It's surprisingly comfortable in the place.

We grabbed a table in the bar area near one of many large windows that look out toward McFarland. A server quickly appeared, iPad in hand, and shared the evening's specials. 5100 offers a nice variety of taps, including plenty of craft offerings. Prices were more than fair - $3 for happy hour pints.

With our drink orders converted to bits-and-bytes by the iPad, our server suggested we try the house-made cheese curds. Now, I realize there's a sucker born every minute, but if I had a nickel for every place that claims to sell "hand made" or "home-made" curds, I'd be rich. However, she specifically said, "house-made," so I pressed for more info.

She told us about how the 5100 curds start as fresh curds, sourced from local dairies. They're then introduced to a batter that consists of Spotted Cow beer, select spices, and a light batter mix. Ok - that sounded legit, so we took a chance and placed an order. With a few taps of the iPad screen, she smiled, turned and went to grab our beverages.

Within minutes, our drinks and curds arrived, and upon first glance the curds appeared to indeed be house-made. One taste of the delicate dairy delights and I was convinced - these were the real deal, and they were phenomenal. I took this picture after we had devoured nearly half of the plate:

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The batter was really tasty; it featured a hefty dose of black pepper, a hint of salt, and the definite flavor of Spotted Cow. The breading was perfectly applied - not too thick, not too thin, and it clung to each curd. The curds themselves were top notch - soft, gooey, and nary a sign of grease. I would rank these among the top 1-2 curds in our fair city - just behind Middleton Sport Bowl's curds. Get them. Trust me.

5100 offers just three types of Friday fish options: deep fried cod, baked cod, or smelt. No perch, no walleye, no bluegill; no worries. Get the deep fried cod. We all did. And speaking of options - your fish plate will come with fries, like it or not.

Our fish plates arrived just after we had polished off the order of curds. 5100 serves up 4 generous chunks of cod; an All You Can Eat (AYCE) option is available for $3 more, but you won't need it.

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The look and feel of that dark batter instantly took me back to my childhood, when we'd fire-up the oven and unload a box of frozen Vande Kemp fish fillets onto a cookie sheet, bake 'em and call it a dinner.

Fortunately for the 5100, aside from looks, this batter has nothing in common to the aforementioned blue box batter. Similar to the curds, the fish batter was slightly salty with heavy beer and batter taste. There wasn't any hint of pepper in the batter, but I wouldn't be surprised if the mix contained a touch of it. And just like the curds, this batter was expertly applied and perfectly fried - it clung to the fish like superglue sticks to fingers.

The cod was some quality stuff - firm, flaky, snow-white, and super fresh tasting. What a difference it makes when restaurants pony-up for the good stuff and then take some care to prepare it. We all scarfed-down the fish faster than you could say "gangnam style."

I'm told the slaw was decent and that the tartar was excellent. I'm not a fan of either, so I can't comment directly. But I can say that the fries were capital-DEEEEE-licious. Slightly thicker than traditional fries, they were piping hot, crispy and tasty.

Our server was excellent, checking-in on a regular basis and taking really good care of our table. We stayed for an additional beverage or two, genuinely enjoying the atmosphere of the place.

5100 = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 4 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars

A great fish fry, for sure. While Toby's may be more popular, 5100 is no slouch. It's not as jam-packed as Toby's, the curds are better, the drink selections are better, and the service is better. I'd happily visit 5100 for fish any time. Heck, I'd visit it just for the fun of it.

Great job, 5100 - kudos!

A few months back, I crowned a new champion in the fish fry ranks. Back in June, Buck and Honey's in Sun Prairie wowed us with their superb offerings of pan fried walleye and deep fried cod. Fast forward four months and two more visits, and Buck and Honey's is still sitting atop the fish fry fight club - the number one spot is firmly cemented.

Not much has changed from the first visit - expect a long wait, and don't expect to find a seat in the gorgeous bar area... those seats fill-up fast. Despite the lack of adequate seating, the bar tenders are attentive and responsive; even when the bar is backed-up 3-deep, you'll never wait more than a few minutes for a beverage.

Our visits of 10/12 and 10/19 both carried a wait of more than an hour. Once seated, service was excellent - the servers refreshed our drinks, delivered appetizers and food at the perfect intervals, followed-up, and took very good care of us.

The meal won't be cheap... on the 10/19 visit, I bought two appetizers, an entree of lake perch, a slice of pumpkin cheese cake (house made, by the way), and four beverages. The total, pre-tip was $76. But, if it's truly stellar fish you seek, search no further - this is the place to go.

Buck & Honey's = WIN
Food = 4.25 stars
Service = 4.25 stars
Value = 3 stars
MISC = 4 stars

This is still one of the best fish frys you'll find in the area, so if it's a delicious pescatarian meal you desire, give Buck & Honey's a try.

Here are a few pictures from the past two visits.

Deep fried cod with cheesy potatoes, coleslaw and a roll:

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Pan fried tilapia with lemon butter and capers sauce, with bacon wrapped shrimp, cheesy potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms and onions:

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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.

A (potential) new Number One...

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I know that many of you like reading about the fish frys... I also realize that many of you don't appreciate that I've been slacking with my reviews - I've not been indulging in the fish fry with any regularity, and for that, I apologize. As much as I wish I could review several fish frys per week, my waistline simply won't accommodate it.

And so it makes for a tricky "ratings" system. You see, the fish fry is a fickle event. I might visit an establishment on the 1st, sample the fish, and report that it was absolutely excellent. In turn, you might visit on the 7th, sample the fish, and report that it was absolute rubbish. This has been the case many the time...

There are simply too many variables at play - the fish monger may not be consistent. The batter might vary from week-to-week. A fryer might not be holding temperature as consistently as one would expect. A new cook might have been responsible for preparing the meal. A server may have left your plate in the kitchen a bit too long. And so on.

As such, ranking fish frys in numerical order isn't really fair. I've heard from several folks that places such as Dexter's Pub (currently ranked 17th and 18th) was "the best they've ever had" - yet on my four (4) visits (I've only reported on 2), the fish has been "off."

I've heard that the Avenue Bar fish fry is suffering these days (I currently have it at #3 overall, based on visits from 2009). Christy's Landing (currently #8) also delivers mixed reports from folks.

Long story short, a single visit shouldn't really be used to qualify or rank an establishment. I realize this. But, I am just one man, and I don't put a lot of priority on stuffing my gullet with grease-laden fish on a weekly basis (not that I don't enjoy it). So, I hesitate to announce this, but I believe I may have found a restaurant to bump The Schaumburg Dinner Club from its number one rating.

Take this review with a dash of malt vinegar; give it a try for yourself and let me know your thoughts and experiences...

I contacted my cousin and her husband to inquire about a possible fish fry for Friday, June 22, and thankfully, they were available and interested in joining me. So, I loaded my carcass into the Prius and made the drive out to Buck and Honey's Restaurant in beautiful Sun Prairie.

The weather was absolutely perfect, as evidenced by the massive hordes of people dining in the outdoor patios. That's right - I said patios with an "S" - Buck and Honey's has two (2) patios to select from.

We put in our names for a table and grabbed a perch at the bar. The inside of Buck and Honey's is quite nice - lots of brick and heavy timbers. The bar is large and accommodating, and the service was prompt and attentive. While waiting for our table, we put in for an order of homemade cheese curds.

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The curds were solid. Not quite as good as those from Middleton Sport Bowl, but a very good effort, nonetheless. They were perfectly prepared - there weren't any blow-outs or undercooked curds. The breading was just thick enough to appreciate without overwhelming the curd. The ranch was zesty; the marinara a tad watery.

After approximately an hour's wait, we were escorted to an outdoor table on the front patio. Our server immediately introduced himself, presented menus and specials, and offered to refresh our beverages.

The fish offerings were many - Atlantic Cod (fried or baked), pan seared Walleye, pecan-crusted Tilapia, or the Sampler (Swordfish, Crab Cakes, Scallops). We opted for two orders of fried cod and one order of the Walleye. We also sampled the soups - options were French Onion or Clam Chowder.

Our server departed, orders in hand, and we set about enjoying the wonderful weather. Within a few minutes, our soups arrived. I went with the French Onion, which was absolutely delightful:

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The broth was bursting with caramelized onion flavor, with just a hint of a salty finish. There were two large pieces of dark bread and a heavy draping of cheese. I would've liked to have seen less cheese, but it was a great bowl. I'm told the chowder was "the best ever" - that's a bold statement.

We had no sooner finished the soups when our server arrived with the entrees. Jeff and Leanne went with the cod plates, which came with cheesy hashbrowns, coleslaw, and a roll.

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They were kind enough to allow me a sample of the cod, and wow - it was absolutely spectacular. While the fish appears to be "fish stick-like" in the photo, it was actually quite substantial and delicious. The breading was superb - it clung to the fish like a burdock on a Spaniel. The fish itself was light and flaky. Not a sign of grease anywhere. A perfect fish fry if ever there was.

My walleye came with grilled asparagus and homemade baked macaroni and cheese. I couldn't wait to tear into this:

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I started with the asparagus - while not as thick as I would prefer, it was nicely grilled and featured a very light hint of garlic and black pepper - just the way I like it (and make it when at home). Next up was the mac and cheese, and again, it was superb. The cheese sauce was smooth, with just a hint of bite. The shells were al dente - just perfectly done.

The walleye was insanely delicious. The breading was similar to that of the cod - there was just the right amount of crunchy goodness enveloping the delicate walleye. I mowed through it in no time - picture the cookie monster going through the Keebler Elves tree...

I'm venturing a guess that you would be hard pressed to find a better fish fry in the area. Buck and Honey's was perfect, from beginning to end. As such, I'm awarding it a conditional number one slot; give it a try and let me know your thoughts.

Buck and Honey's Restaurant = WIN

Food = 4.75 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 3 stars (walleye was $19; cod $13)
MISC = 4.25 stars (great atmosphere and seating options)

Once again, I was drawn to the Dorf Haus. The sweet siren's song of silky smooth cod, bountiful fries, and an excellent selection of German brews was simply too much to resist.

Our small group of four diners made the 15-minute trek north to Roxbury, put-in our names for a table, and bode our time at the Dorf Haus' excellent bar. Spaten Optimator, Oktoberfest, and Pilsners were ordered and consumed. Dishes of the cheesy bar mix (pretzels, Cheetos, Doritos, and rye chips) were demolished. Fun conversations filled the air.

After waiting for nearly two-hours, our names were called and we were led by the hostess to the infamous "banquet hall" area, where a fireside table awaited us. A friendly waitress stopped by to inform us of the special - snapping turtle - and to inquire as to whether or not we required refills.

Intrigued by the turtle, we placed an order for a plate, along with two rounds of AYCE (All You Can Eat) cod, a chicken sandwich, and an order of broasted chicken (we had two non-fish aficionados with us). Our waitress trotted off with our order, and returned with the Dorf Haus's notorious "easter egg" (a term used by video game fans that discover hidden gems within a game) - the pre-dinner fritters.

Those golden-fried puffs of airy dough are simply delicious, especially when dressed in a shot of local honey.

After a brief wait, our food arrived, and things looked as stellar as usual. The AYCE code plate featured several large pieces of delicious fish:

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I immediately tore into the plate and in doing so nearly melted the skin from my fingertips. That fish was fresh from the fryer! The Dorf Haus uses one of the best batters in the biz - it's light, clingy, crispy, and flavorful. There's just a hint of salt, and it's backed-up by wafts of corn and beer. It's so good.

The batter surrounds some of the area's best cod; the fish is creamy white, firm, flaky, moist, and robust. There's never a soggy piece; there's never a chewy piece - it's perfect every time. Exactly what you'd hope to find in a quality fish fry.

The accompanying fries were excellent as well; they have that "steakhouse" flavor, and are fried to a perfect golden brown. I don't imagine they're homemade, but it doesn't matter. They're excellent, nonetheless.

Our surprise guest (the snapping turtle) looked extremely interesting... it didn't resemble turtle so much as it did a beef pot-roast:

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And the flavor matched the looks; it honestly tasted almost identical to a beef pot roast. The only discernible difference came by way of a bunch of unexpected bones. The dice-sized bones were a complete surprise... but they didn't affect the overall experience - I'd order turtle again.

Our waitress stopped-by several times throughout the meal to refresh water glasses and plates of fish - and each additional plate of cod was better than the last. How they can maintain such high quality while serving what has to be thousands of plates of fish is beyond me.

Dorf Haus = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 5 stars
Value = 4 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (atmosphere, brews, fritters)

The Dorf Haus continues to maintain it's strong showing in the ranks here at Geekysteve's Wisconsin Fish Fry Reviews. :-)

The only downside? The long wait, but that's not really so bad, especially when it's so enjoyable to spend time at this place.

Go. Order the fish, and don't be afraid to try the turtle if it's on the menu. Seriously.

I was on a terror last week - I ate bad nearly every day, and I barely did any running or riding... so, when Friday rolled around, the only thing on my mind was fish. My friend Chris (from work) suggested we hit RP Adler's for their fish fry, and truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive... my last visit to RP's wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Little did I know that RP's fish has really come a long way since the last visit some two years ago.

We arrived to Adler's at around 5:00pm on a Friday night and quickly scored a table in the bar area. A very friendly waitress stopped by to take our drink orders - a New Glarus Cabin Fever for me, and a Spotted Cow for Chris. She also dropped a pair of menus and informed us that the happy hour would end in a few minutes.

We browsed the menu, but not for entree options - Chris was in the mood for an appetizer, and who was I to resist? He went with the bruschetta; I opted for nothing.

Within a few minutes the bruschetta arrived, and I must say that upon first glance it didn't inspire confidence... the bread was bleach-white, barely toasted, and uninspiring. I had envisioned a golden brown, nicely toasted, cut-on-the-bias loaf of french bread, rubbed with garlic.

The accompanying tomato/basil/mozzarella mix looked pale and drab as well. But despite the appearance, the bruschetta was tasty - I sampled a piece and was surprised by how flavorful the dish was.

We nibbled on the Italian appetizer while enjoying our microbrews, and before I knew it, an hour-and-a-half had gone by. The place had filled-up; it was literally standing room only. At the next opportunity, we placed our dinner orders - I opted for the bluegill, Chris the lake perch. Our waitress hit the kitchen, order in hand.

When the fish arrived, I was thrilled with what I saw. The bluegill plate featured several pieces of the petite, freshwater fish. The lake perch plate boasted thick, meaty cuts of fish, covered in a delicious looking batter. My salivary glands went immediately into code red status - man the battle stations!

Here's what the bluegill plate looked like:

bluegill.jpg

Friends, that is a heaping helping of bluegill! And I'm happy to report the quality surpassed the quantity - the bluegill had an incredibly delicate flavor that received a slight boost from the breading. The breading appeared to be made from a cornmeal base, and featured a salty and slightly peppery accent. The fish was firm, perfectly chewy, and simply delectable.

The boiled baby reds were a nice option, and were served in a perfect quantity. Preceding the fish was RP's customary pretzel roll, which really hit the spot as we waited for the fish to arrive.

I cannot recommend the RP Adler's bluegill enough - it was superb.

Here's what the lake perch looked like:

perch.jpg

Just like the bluegill plate, the perch plate was packed with fish. The batter was obviously beer-based and it clung to the perch with a pit bull-like tenacity. The batter was crispy, delicious, and perfectly proportioned. The perch was absolutely top-notch - perfectly chewy and just enough fish flavor to remind you that you were enjoying a quality plate of fish.

Chris reported the slaw had an unusual flavor; I'm not so certain he enjoyed it.

By 7:00, our meals were complete, and we asked for the check. The price was more than reasonable; the monster plate of bluegill rang-in at $16.95; the perch $15.95. Quite fair, given the huge portions and the complete quality.

RP Adler's = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars
Value = 4 stars
Service = 4 stars
MISC = 3 stars (I like the bar area, but the dining room leaves much to be desired)

Summary:
I really need to get out and revisit some of the original top-10 places on our list... I believe RP just stole the #10 slot from the Draft House...

Fish Fry Review: St. Peters Ashton Church

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My, how quickly time flies... it seems like only yesterday when I was at St. Peters in Ashton, enjoying their wonderful fish fry... looking back, it wasn't "yesterday" - it was nearly two years ago!

Yikes!

I had the chance to revisit this fish fry a few weeks ago, and I'm proud to report that little has changed from the last visit. The fish is still awesome, the venue is still the same, it still only cost $11, and you will still require some patience...

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When we arrived a few Fridays ago, we were greeted by a looooong line - so long, in fact, that we were required to begin our wait OUTSIDE of the church:

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Thankfully, it was tolerable outside - the weatherman said it was something like 30F, and the winds were manageable...

Once inside, we purchased tickets and settled-in for our long wait by purchasing several $2 adult beverages. It floors me that you can buy cans of Miller Lite, Bud Light, and MGD while standing in a church... when we purchased our tickets for the fish, the kind gentleman who took our cash suggested that tonight's line was a "4-5 beer line" - that told us we should probably "stock-up" for the wait. In addition to the adult varietals, we purchased a few sodas and waters to help balance things out.

Here's a picture of the line... at this point, we had already waited for a solid hour:

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As mentioned, the Ashton church fish fry will set you back about $11 per person... but be prepared to wait for your turn at the table. To say that this fry is popular would be like saying that Michael Jordan knows a thing or two about basketball... it's an absolutely crazy event. It doesn't help that the church only offers the fish fry on a handful of dates; it starts in late October, and averages one-per-month through April.

To help pass the time, there are numerous excellent art-exhibits, compliments of the students. You may or may not enjoy this art as much as we did:

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Standing in line for nearly 2 hours will do strange things to a person. As we approached the dining area, I began to feel delirious - was it the excitement of knowing that succulent fish was waiting for me? Was it the influence of several beverages? Or was it the fact that everyone, including the numerous pictures and statues were giving me "the eye"?

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Ok... so, that may not win me any favors with "the big man," but oh well. It's all in good fun.

Soon after taking that photo, we could see the dining area... this place knows how to pack-em-in... these are tables full of lucky souls, all enjoying the wonderful deep-fried cod from St. Peter:

ff_diningroom.jpg

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, we were lead to our table, where we were seated with 8-9 complete strangers. Waiting for us at the table were plates of fresh-fried cod, piping-hot fries, warmed green beans, and homemade bread.

By luck of the draw, we were seated with a complete fish-fry-animal... this "gentleman" looked like something from a ZZ Top video and was obviously there to inhale as much fish as humanly possible. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he honestly took 8-9 pieces of fish from the first plate, and that he lunged at people who dared take a piece for themselves.

As such, my fist plate looked like this:

ff_plate.jpg

...and that would be the theme for most of the meal... the hostesses would bring out a fresh plate of steaming-hot fish, and Mr. ZZ Top would promptly commandeer the plate, take 6-7 pieces for himself, and then begrudgingly relinquish the plate to the rest of us...

The fish itself was decent. Certain plates were phenomenal - fresh, flaky, lightly battered, fully flavored, and absolutely succulent. Other plates had clearly been over-cooked... the fish was dry, rubbery, and lifeless... it's probably the nature of the beast when you're trying to serve fresh, hot fish to a few hundred people at a time. I'm guessing certain plates sat longer than others prior to being served.

St. Peter's does nail the batter - every piece of fish featured the perfectly applied batter, with a hint of salt and pepper. It was never too thick nor too thin, and it clung to the fish without fail. The fish itself was also delicious - nary a sign of grease, and the fish was extremely mild yet flavorful. Quite honestly, the only thing that was occasionally "off" was the texture, and I blame that on the church trying to crank-out so much fish at once.

So, it goes to prove - it you land a good table with ordinary (read: human) people, and you can manage to snag fresh fish, you'll be in good shape at Saint Peters. But, if by some stroke of bad-luck, you happen to land at a table like mine, you'll suffer.

The fries - decent. Crinkle-cut, nicely fried, lightly salted. The canned beans - canned. Watery, warm, just like you had in the old grade school cafeteria. The bread -acceptable. I'm told the coleslaw was "passable."

At the end of our meal (Mr. ZZ-fishzilla was still going strong after 30-35 minutes of pounding fish), we accepted a small dessert - this piece of strawberry cake hit the spot:

ff_cake.jpg

Simple, and obviously homemade, it was the perfect end to our evening.

Despite being seated with Mr. Fish, I still endorse this fish fry with complete confidence. Its standing in the overall ratings stands strong.

St. Peters = WIN

Food = 4.0 stars
Service = 5.0 stars
Value = 5.0 stars
MISC = 3.0 stars

They only serve it once a month (on average) and they only serve for a few months per year, but it's worth the wait and price. Not every plate will be perfect, but all things considered, it's a damn solid fish fry (eeek! did I just just say that about a church-sponsored fish fry?!)...

Fish Fry Review: The Draft House

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Date of review: Friday, January 27, 2012

When one of my co-workers suggested that I join him and his brother for a fish fry, I resisted. I had been rock-solid with my 100-day commitment to not cheat on my diet - hadn't missed a beat. I was afraid that a fish fry might push me into the land of temptation... the thought of crispy, beer-battered, deep fried cod (or perch or walleye or blue gill) sent my tastebuds-a-watering...

When I learned they were heading to Verona to visit the Draft House, I checked online to see what type of fish options were available; I saw the usual suspects - cod, perch, walleye, and baked fish. Hmmm... this sounded like it might have potential. I could sample the fried varietals while using the baked as my mainstay. And so, I decided to join them.

10 minutes after the Friday quittin' time whistle sounded, I found myself in Verona, searching for a parking spot at the packed Draft House. Once inside, I was a bit shocked by the Draft House - it was quite large, featuring two floors and a separate dining area. It was crowded, busy, and loud, but we put in our name for a table. After a quick stop at the bar for a round of beverages, we settled-in at a high-top table and waited.

Our wait was short-lived; a table in the dining area opened-up and we were promptly seated. The waitress was expedient and extremely friendly - she shared the fish specials, the sides, and the soup options. One of the soups caught my attention: the vegetable beef barley. I placed an order for a cup; she sped-off to grab an appetizer (spinach artichoke dip) and the soup.

Within minutes she returned, appetizer, soup and a soda-refill in hand (she was good!). The soup was fantastic - it featured large chunks of tender beef, and rough-cut, root-style vegetables, with just a hint of barley. I sampled some of the artichoke dip and it was absolutely superb - very delicious. The dip was warm and creamy, and came in a large, whole-wheat bread bowl with a generous side of veggies.

We placed our fish orders; baked fish with baby-red potatoes for me, lake perch with hashbrowns for Chris and his brother. We chatted a bit; I waited for my soup to cool while they enjoyed the spinach dip.

Time must have flown-by, because before we knew it, our fish orders were presented, and I still had 3/4 of my soup left. I cast the soup aside and took a quick picture of the baked fish:

DH_baked.JPG

As you can see from the photo, the baked cod was accompanied by the obligatory dinner roll, coleslaw, and drawn butter. The baby-reds are lurking just beneath the roll.

The baked fish was excellent - very delicate and fresh tasting; not a hint of fishiness or wateriness. The fish was firm and flaky; you could break it into perfect bite-sized pieces with only the side of your fork. The baby-reds were decent; a tad buttery and a tad overcooked, but passable without complaint. I didn't sample the roll or the slaw.

Everyone else's deep-fried perch looked like this plate:

DH_perch.JPG

I was fortunate enough to snag an entire piece of the freshwater perch to sample, and boy am I glad that I did. The batter was expertly applied - it clung to the fish with amazing strength, and offered just a hint of chewiness with an excellent crunch. The batter itself was tasty - perhaps its because I had gone 30-days without a beer, but the beer flavor was obvious, as was a touch of salt and pepper. The perch was excellent; just a slight hint of fish-flavor (enough to remind you this was fish you were enjoying), and a nice, firm texture.

I didn't sample the hashbrowns, but am told they were excellent.

I could've easily polished off all of the lake perch on the table, along with my baked cod.

The waitress stopped-by a few times to make sure we were doing ok; she offered dessert, but we passed. I had another refill of my diet soda before settling-up my tab, which came to just under $15. Well worth it, in my book.

The Draft House = WIN

Food = 3.75 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 3.5 stars
MISC = 3.0 stars (sports-bar; loud; large; "cold" feeling)

In summary, this visit to the Draft House was quite excellent. It's getting hard to say exactly where fish frys should "land" in the rankings; based on this visit, I would say it may have been a top-10 visit... but there are so many stellar fish frys... I'm going to struggle with the overall placement. Suffice it to say, you could do much worse than the Draft House for your next Friday night venture.

I've been sitting on this review for a while, because I'm struggling with what to say, and how to say it. You may recall that I previously reviewed Dexter's Pub and had mixed feelings - the service was a bit lacking, but the fish was tasty; overall, a win.

Since the time of that review, I have returned to Dexter's many, many times. Simply put, I love the place. It's definitely a haul for me to head to Dexter's - depending on traffic, it can be a 25-30 minute drive each way. But it's worth it. The staff is outstanding - from the owner, Nick, to every single member of his team, everyone is friendly, helpful, accommodating, and super attentive. With the exception of that first visit way back in January of 2010, the Dexter's staff have never once faltered. They are true A-players.

Dexter's beer selection is amongst the best I've ever seen. Nick is a true beer geek, and knows how to select some of the most interesting, intriguing, and delicious microbrews from around the world. I've sampled some truly amazing beers over the past two years, nearly all compliments of Dexter's. Nick and his crew serve said beverages in the appropriate glassware, at the appropriate temperature - an extra nice touch, and evidence of their commitment to honoring the beer they so proudly serve.

Dexter's food is incredible - I'm a HUGE fan of their hummus plate (it features an IPA-infused hummus with a selection of fresh veggies and crispy naan). Even if you're not a fan of hummus, I strongly urge you to give it a try. It is that awesome.

Their Santa Fe chicken salad is another favorite of mine; the burgers never disappoint, the pizza is homemade and scrumptious, and the soups are inventive and phenomenal. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Dexter's knows how to make seriously good food. It's far from your typical bar food - this is true gastropub fare.

So, why the struggle?

I've had the fish fry several times now, and it hasn't consistently wowed me like the rest of the food has. It's been really good on several occasions - really good. But it's also been average on several occasions. In talking with Nick, he indicated that it's been difficult to source consistent fish - he's very picky about the fish he selects, and that shows.

The actual fish has never been my issue - the fish (cod, walleye, and perch) have always been truly excellent. Fresh, firm, slightly meaty, never too fishy, and plenty moist. I have zero complaints with the fish by its lonesome.

Where I've had mixed results is with the batter and preparation. The past few visits have resulted in a rather greasy fish fry; on this last visit, I sampled the deep fried cod, the deep fried perch, and the pan seared walleye. Of the three, the only one that wasn't spongy with grease was the walleye - it stole the show that night. Here's a picture of the wonderful pan fried walleye:

d_walleye.jpg

I'm not sure if the fryer temps dropped, or if the fish sat for a bit after being cooked, but on the past two visits, the cod and perch looked absolutely incredible on the plate, with perfect amounts of Dexter's infamous batter and breading. But upon first cut, those batters secreted unacceptable amounts of grease from their battery pores. I'm a fanatic for non-greasy fish, which is why I was semi-disappointed.

Now don't get me wrong - this is still a fantastic fish fry by any measure. In any other arena, it would be a top 10 fish fry. But with two of the last three visits resulting in a greasier than average fish fry, I have to rank it outside of the top 10. I really wanted to see Dexter's land in the top 10, but for now, I have to place it outside of the top 10.

Again - the breaded perch and battered cod are outstanding fish offerings. The perch features what appears to be a cornmeal-based breading that boasts a hint of salt and pepper flavor. The breading is thin, and it clings to the meaty perch with a kung-fu grip. The perch is tasty, firm, and offers the perfect amount of "chewiness" that a quality perch should. When things are "on," there's no sign of excess grease, and the fish fry is impeccable. Paired with Dexter's signature (and literally-to-die-for) waffle fries, the dynamic duo are a solid option. Here's the lake perch plate, with another solid side: onion rings. On this particular evening, the perch offering was a bit on the skimpy side:

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The battered cod is served three filets to a plate. The oblong filets are substantially thicker and more meaty than the perch. The delicately-flavored white fish has always been moist, flaky, and sinfully smooth. The bubbly beer batter features a similar salt-and-pepper flavor with hints of a third spice that I can't quite place. Just like the breading on the perch, this beer batter has a death grip on the cod filets - it clings and won't let go, which is a rare feat in the world of fish frys. On this particular visit, I was racing so fast to devour the fish before the grease really released, that I forgot to take a picture until I was half-way through the meal... apologies for showing my half-eaten plate:

d_cod.jpg

So there you have it. Not my typical review, but Dexter's isn't your typical place. It is easily one of my favorite places to eat, drink, socialize, and visit. There's nothing on the menu that isn't beyond superb. You could throw a dart at the menu and you'd love whatever it landed on. You'll also love the staff - they're always smiling, always helpful, and always right on the money.

Give the fish a try. If it's "on" - it'll be ON, and you'll enjoy the best fish fry of your life. If it's "off" - it'll still be better than most fish frys. It'll just give you an excuse to have to return and try it again.

No one is perfect 100% of the time. Dexter's comes close. It's sort of like being "disappointed" when Aaron Rodgers plays a game where he only completes 89% of his passes and barely eclipses 300 yards with just 2 touchdown tosses. In anybody else's world, that would be an MVP performance...

Summary: Dexter's Pub = WIN

Food = 4.25 stars (even when the fish is average, it's still worthy of 3+ stars)
Service = 5 stars
Value = 3.75 stars (the perch portions have been a bit light lately)
MISC = 5 stars (great atmosphere, friendly patrons, good jukebox, comfy & clean)

Trust me when I say you must try this fish fry. Oh, and another tip: try their chili. It is another hidden gem on their menu. It's hearty, chock-full of meat and veggies, and it's got a consistent heat with just enough zip to keep your taste buds alert and slightly nervous. :-) You'll love it.

Fish Fry Review: Klassik Tavern, Verona, WI

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It's been a while since I've done a proper fish fry review, so when a few friends extended an invitation to venture over to the Klassik Tavern in Verona, I jumped at the chance. I had been eating cleanly for a while and felt that a fish fry was warranted and justified (or at least that's what I told myself). :-)

The Klassik was previously known as "The Cozee Inn," and is located directly below the Verona water tower, across the street from Michael's Frozen Custard (a deadly combination for someone like me). Upon arriving, we noticed the packed parking lot and the mixed brick/white siding exterior - a good sign that we were venturing into more of a supper club than a tavern.

After a quick check-in at the hostess station we were invited to wait in the bar; our table would be ready in 15-20 minutes - not bad for a busy Friday night. We wandered into the bar, which featured low ceilings, classic vinyl covered, "bucket" bar stools, and a few flat screen televisions.

Tap offerings were slim; I spied taps from Capital, New Glarus, and Great Lakes. We found a 4-top high table near one of the Klassik's large bay windows and waited for the hostess to call our name. As mentioned, the place was busy, fairly loud, but comfy - I really liked the vibe of the place, as it was "homey" and welcoming. I believe an owner or manager came over and chatted with us for a bit, and was extremely nice. That's a theme that would carry throughout the experience - everyone we encountered was exceptionally friendly and helpful.

After 10-15 minutes of waiting, we were promptly seated at a table in one of the small, L-shaped dining room's corners. Two servers appeared with water glasses and a dinner roll. The dinner roll was obviously "from the bag," but wasn't too bad. The non-frozen-butter-pats were a welcomed touch.

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A cheery waitress appeared within seconds of our rolls and water arriving, and informed us of the fish specials, which included cod (fried or baked), lake perch, and walleye. We pondered our choices, and settled on two orders of lake perch and one order of fried cod. I inquired about the old fashioneds, and was warned that the Klassik did not muddle, nor did it use Squirt, so I passed. After some light small talk, our waitress scurried off to the kitchen, our fish orders in hand.

I had also ordered a side salad, which arrived almost immediately after our waitress left the table. The place was fast, if nothing else!

The side salad was rather plain - a simple wedge of iceberg lettuce, a few leaves of spinach, a lone tomato chunk, and a lone (and rather thin) slice of cucumber. I'm not sure if it was worth an extra $1.95, but I've had worse salads, that's for sure.

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I had no sooner finished the salad when our fish plates arrived. Chris and Sheila (friends from work) had selected the lake perch. Their plates featured a few filets of lightly breaded perch, with nary a sign of grease.

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Sheila went with the baked potato (as shown above), while Chris opted for the hashbrowns, which featured a really nice char/sear, and had hints of onion scattered throughout. I'm told the hashbrowns were great, and so was the coleslaw, which we all agreed appeared to be homemade.

The perch received good remarks; it wasn't out-of-this-world great, but was a solid effort. The breading was light, slightly crisp, and featured a slight hint of salt and pepper.

My cod plate hosted 4 "chunks" of battered cod and a small pile of matchstick french fries:

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The batter was on the heavy side, which I don't mind. I do mind grease, however, and when I cut into my cod, I was shocked to find puddles of grease readily emerging from between the batter and the cod.

Adding insult to injury, the thick, inflexible batter didn't cling to the cod; it easily separated from the fish, thanks in part to the flaky nature of the cod. This allowed grease to pool between the cod and the batter.

The cod itself was good. The flavor of the batter was decent - just slightly salty, although after a few bites, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to the flavor of something like a Vande Kemps boxed-fish-batter.

All things considered, the puddles of grease, heavy batter (with separation), and smallish portions made for a less than stellar experience. The generously salted fries were served slightly cool; they had been sitting in a bin for a bit, no doubt.

Our waitress was absent throughout most of the meal, but we didn't really need anything, so I'm wondering if she realized we were doing OK and left us to our conversations. She was always helpful, friendly, and engaging, which we really enjoyed.

After finishing our meals, we were asked about dessert and strongly considered a slice of cheesecake, but opted to pass. Checks arrived; my bill was $17 for the fish, side salad, and a Great Lakes beer. A bit steep, given the experience.

Klassik Supper Club = MEH

Food = 2.5 stars (pedestrian)
Service = 3.5 stars (a bit absent, but helpful and nice)
Value = 2.5 stars (a bit pricey)
MISC = 3.25 stars (comfy feel, great staff)

Summary: The place is comfortable, the staff is friendly, and I could see myself swinging by every so often for dinner. The cod and perch looked great, but ultimately failed to deliver "winning" results - they were both ordinary at best. The coolish fries and the greasy (yet piping hot) cod were downfalls, especially for the price. Not a bad choice for a fish fry, but it wouldn't be my "go to" place when looking to impress.

Fish Fry Review: Spirits, Waupun, WI

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As mentioned in my previous entry, my aunt, uncle, and cousin were in town to attend the fundraiser, and while I had a bit of an opportunity to chat with them, I didn't get to spend as much quality time as I would've like to have. So, I contacted them to inquire about a fish fry... and they obliged.

After perusing the long list of recommended places to try, we settled on Spirits. Spirits is located a bit out of the way - it's in Waupun, Wisconsin, which is about an hour and 20 minutes north of Madison. That's a bit of a hike when it comes to a fish fry, but ultimately it was worth the drive.

Spirits is located on Highway 26, on the far east side of Waupun. According to my aunt, it's been there forever, although not in its current version. For the longest time, it was strictly a blue collar bar; it sits directly across from a large manufacturing plant (that was at one time the Carnation plant). She said it used to be quite small - seating maybe 10-12 people, and served burgers.

The place recently underwent an expansion and a refresh, and the results are quite nice. The inside features high ceilings, plenty of seating, a nice bar area, and a bunch of crisp flat panel televisions.

We settled-in at a 6-top table in the bar and after a rather lengthy wait, were greeted by a waitress who took our drink orders. The tap selection is somewhat limited; no New Glarus brews available on tap... I went with a Capital Fest, for $3.00. Not a bad deal.

After receiving our beverages, we ordered some appetizers - cheese curds and "chippers," which were homemade, thick cut chips. They both arrived after a short wait - the curds were the typical brown bag variety, but featured white cheese and a light breading.

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The chips were a bit greasy, which made them slightly chewy, but in a good way. I cringed a bit with each bite, knowing that my arteries were absorbing a fair amount of oil, but oh well...

Following on the heels of our appetizers was a bread basket that featured non-homemade rolls (they looked like the kind that come in a thin white cardboard 'box' with a bag over them from the grocery store), and cinnamon butter. The butter was very interesting...

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Orders for fish were placed - I went with the "poorman's lobster," which is essentially baked haddock; my cousin went with the 2-piece cod, and my cousin's husband went with the 6-piece lake perch dinner. My aunt followed my suit and chose the baked haddock as well.

We had a bit of a wait for our fish, which was fine - it gave us plenty of opportunity to chat and to catch-up. When the fish did arrive, it looked fantastic. Here's my poorman's lobster:

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Despite the appearance of a heavy seasoning, the fish was actually flavored quite well. It wasn't overly "dilly" or overly "paprika'd" - the fish was firm, flaky, moist, and delicious. There wasn't any butter or grease to be detected, and the filet itself was quite large. Easily worth the $11.95 price tag.

I sampled the fried varieties of fish, starting with my cousin's deep fried cod, as seen here:

s_cod.jpg

The batter was "just right" - a nice texture, not too heavy, lightly salted and peppered, and it clung well to the cod. The fish was also quite tasty, and unlike the chippers, didn't suffer from any excess grease. Very solid cod.

My cousin's husband ordered the lake perch plate, which featured six large perch fillets, each dipped into a slightly crunchy breading. The breading didn't have the same seasoning as the cod, but it was still quite excellent. It also came with a MOUND of french fries:

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The perch was delicious, even if it did have just a tiny bit of greasiness - but I suspect that's normal for perch. And, as much as I enjoy my cod and haddock, there's just something about lake perch... slightly chewy, very "meaty," and it has just enough of that seafood flavor to remind you that you're actually eating fish. Note to self: always go with perch from now on.

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner pace - we wrapped-up at around 9:00pm or so. Our waitress was largely absent, which was a bit surprising, as the place wasn't terribly busy. The check arrived and our dinner for four, with appetizers and drinks came to $70. Not too bad, but maybe just a touch steep.

Spirits = WIN

Food = 3.5 stars
Service = 2.25 stars
Value = 3 stars
MISC = 3 stars

Summary: Nothing extraordinary, but nonetheless quite solid. If you find yourself up near Fond du Lac, Waupun, Juneau, or any of those areas, consider stopping-in to Spirits. While it wasn't a top-10 contender, it didn't disappoint. I'd list Spirits as a very reliable and recommended option.

As mentioned in my "House Guest, Part II" entry, I had a chance to sample the fish fry from the Water Street Brewery, in Milwaukee. Quick review: terrible service (complete with horrible, snotty attitudes); decent fish; expensive. Won't be back.

Detailed review:
With an out-of-state guest in tow, a tour of the Miller Brewery under our belts, and an evening of Summerfest lurking just ahead, the only "pure Wisconsin" activity left un-explored was that of the traditional Friday fish fry.

We hopped in the car and made the short drive from Watertown Plank Road to Water Street, where I figured we would find a decent selection of fish frys to choose from. We parked the car and tried a few pubs/restaurants, only to be disappointed by the fish offerings. The first few places we stepped-into offered "fish and chips;" none appeared to have a proper Friday fish fry.

We walked our way down Water Street and stumbled upon the Water Street Brewery. A quick iPhone query of the web about their fish fry indicated the WSB did indeed offer a proper Friday fish fry, complete with cod, perch, and walleye choices. Score!

We asked for a table and after some confusion/hesitation were seated in the back corner of the restaurant, near the bar area. The booth was large and flanked by plenty of dark wood, lending to an almost Irish Pub theme/feel. There were two other couples seated nearby; the rest of the brewery was empty.

A waitress stopped-by to let us know that she'd be "right with us" and then scurried off, leaving us to explore the WSB menu, which is more of a newspaper (ala The Great Dane in Madison). After about 5 minutes or so, our waitress reappeared. Before we even got her name, she complained about people not knowing which door to enter the brewery from, and proclaimed that "today was the day where every idiot in the world has ventured into the brewery."

Nice to meet you, as well.

Neither of us felt like having any beers, so I ordered a Diet Coke and BJ ordered a water. We were ready to order our food, but our waitress left before we could place orders for the fish. She returned after another five minutes or so, and as she sat our drinks down, she said, "You wanted regular Coke, right?"

"Nope, sorry - Diet Coke, if possible," I responded.

She yelled over to the bartender (who was on her cell phone complaining to someone about her new Coach purse and how it wasn't what she wanted), "Do you love me?"

The bartender said (direct quote), "Not if you're going to request a f#&@king beer sampler - I'll kill anyone who orders one of those."

Nice customer service - great attitude and way to help promote the brewery's offerings...

"Remember that Coke? Now they want Diet," said our waitress. Great - blame it on me; I was preparing to filter spit from the replacement...

With a sigh, the waitress looked back at us and said, "What can I getchya'?"

I asked about the fish fry choices and explained that BJ was from out-of-state and was looking for the best fish fry offering. Our lovely waitress responded, "I'm not sure why people up here like their fish fry so much. I mean, it's like fried fish, right? Oh wow, like that's new or something. Where I'm from, we had better fish - bass is so good compared to cod."

Not really the answer we were looking for... BJ tried to be nice and picked-up on the "where I'm from" comment by asking where she was from. She responded that she was from Wichita, Kansas and had been in Wisconsin for about a year.

After a few minutes of really uncomfortable banter about Wisconsin and how it's full of fat people that love cheese, beer, and fried food, we ordered fried food - I went with the lake perch, and BJ went with the battered cod. Our waitress left with our orders. My replacement Diet Coke arrived after a few minutes, sans spit, so things were looking up.

As we were waiting, a group of older folks walked-in to the Brewery through a side door (the same door that BJ and I entered through) and seemed confused by the whole brewery. They were looking to buy some bottled beer to take with them back to their home (out of state); the staff was less than accommodating, to say the least.

Our waitress walked over to the side door and locked it, then walked over to our table and said, "I'd like to shoot anyone that comes through that door -it's not like the main entrance, so why are people so dumb?" We pointed out that we came through the door because it's on the main Water Street sidewalk, and it looked like the only entrance... she rolled her eyes and went back to the kitchen to check on our food.

The fish eventually arrived, and it looked to be good. The perch plate featured four large, butterflied filets of breaded perch, a nice accompaniment of fries, an interesting marble rye, and an Asian-inspired slaw.

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The perch was slightly soggy; hints of grease became more evident with each bite. The fish itself was meaty with a perfect perch texture - slightly firm, slightly chewy; substantial if you will. The breading wasn't too heavy, although it was (as mentioned) on the greasy side.

The fries were cold, but not bad. The rye was delicious and featured a salted-crust, which was an unusual surprise. I even sampled the slaw, which was slightly sweet and actually quite good, even for a slaw-hater like myself. :-)

BJ's cod plate featured several thick pieces of cod, a handful of fries, and the same sides as the perch plate.

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I was lucky enough to sample the cod, and found the batter to be quite heavy, very crispy, and slightly over-powering. It was good, but it took center stage over the delicate cod, which is a bit of a shame. There was also a substantial amount of grease, which didn't help things. Alas, we were both starving, so the fish was more than acceptable.

As we were about half-way through our meal, our lovely waitress returned and proceeded to talk to us for a solid 15 minutes about the differences between Wichita and Wisconsin. We learned most of her life's story, at the cost of our fish growing cold and more greasy. But, at least she wasn't berating us and the bartender wasn't complaining about having to sell beer...

After she left, I went to the restroom, which was located next to the kitchen, and is where I overheard our waitress complaining to someone (I assume a manager) about all of the idiots that she had to wait on today, including some old people that were "clueless" and two guys that were "dorks" - I'm assuming that was us...

I slinked back to our table and suggested that we leave as soon as the bill arrived, which did promptly did - as if on cue. The total damage: $38. Wow. For two mediocre fish frys and a soda... I left a $2 tip, which is something I'd never, ever do, but the service was truly terrible.

Water Street Brewery = FAIL

Service = -100 stars (perhaps the worst service ever)
Food = 2.75 stars (the fish was decent, but not great; fries were cold)
Value = 1.50 stars (extremely pricey for what we received)
MISC = 2.75 stars (place has potential, but vibe/service kills any hope)

Summary: I'm not sure if we hit them at a bad time, or if we drew a bad straw with the server, but I'd be hard-pressed to return to the Water Street Brewery. There has to be better fish offerings in the area... Thankfully I don't get to Milwaukee very often, so odds are that I won't be looking for a fish fry in that area any time soon.

Spend any time in Wisconsin, and you'll quickly identify several common threads that run amongst many of the communities, including: summer festivals (nearly every town has one), the ratio of bars/taverns to churches runs approximately 1-to-1, and the ratio of fish frys to bars/taverns is nearly 1-to-1.

Lake Mills fits this assessment to the "T" - they have an annual summer festival known as "Town and Country Days" (held on the downtown square, complete with carnival rides, parades, and so on), and they fit the bill for the church/tavern/fish ratio.

So, it was with great pleasure that I found myself in Lake Mills during Town and Country Days, and even more so that I ended-up at Hering's Sand Bar, enjoying a fish fry with some friends (truth be told, we skipped the festival and went straight to the fish fry).

Hering's Sand Bar is located on the far south side of Lake Mills, near the entrance to Sandy Beach. As such, the restaurant/bar is perched approximately 25 yards from the shores of beautiful Rock Lake, which affords some spectacular views, especially from the outdoor patio/deck.

We arrived at approximately 7:00pm - the height of fish fry feasting time - and put our names in for a table. We were invited to have a seat outside and to wait for our turn at a table. The bar was jammed - it took several minutes to grab a bartender and order a round of beverages. Tap selections were limited - Spotted Cow, Capital Amber, and a few of the typical "classic" beers (PBR, etc). Drinks in hand, we settled-in for the long wait.

We were eventually seated; I believe it was around 8:15 or so when our table became available. Luckily, we scored an outdoor seat, so it was worth the wait as the sun was setting, and the views were outstanding.

A frazzled waitress arrived to take our drink orders; we refreshed things and also placed an order for some cheese curds. She scurried off and returned approximately 10 minutes later with our drinks. The curds arrived shortly thereafter and were quite good, even if they weren't handmade - they were the battered white cheese variety, and were cooked quite well.

We placed our orders for fish - two orders of beer battered cod, one order of baked cod. Our waitress rushed back to the kitchen, order in hand, while we kicked back, sipped our beverages, enjoyed the weather, and shot the bull.

The food arrived after a fairly long wait - I believe it took approximately 30-35 minutes for our orders to appear. The baked cod looked great - generous portions of lightly seasoned cod. I sampled a piece and it was indeed quite good - flaky, firm, and fresh. Just the way it should be. The dish was accompanied by deep-fried green beans (which I didn't sample, but am told were "good.").

The beer battered cod came in two sizes: a 3-piece and a 5-piece. As I was starving, I went with the 5-piece and am glad that I did. My plate sported 5 average-sized pieces of heavily battered cod and a small accompaniment of standard-cut battered fries.

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As you can see from the picture: the batter was rather substantial (although well cooked), and, the fish looks quite nice. Once I crunched through the crispy beer batter (which was slightly salty and just ever-so-lightly "charred" tasting, but in a good way), I found the cod to be excellent in every regard - flaky, firm, fresh, and super tasty. Despite the heavy batter, the fish still presented itself well, especially with a hit of lemmon and a spot of malt vinegar.

I made short work of the 5-pieces and the handful of fries. My dining companions polished off their dishes as well, and when our waitress reappeared, we all ordered some of Hering's infamous homemade pie. It is literally made from scratch on a daily basis by the owner's wife - and it is unreal. I had the peanut butter silk pie and was floored by how delicious it was. I'd make the 50+ mile drive for a slice any time. The crust is flaky, light, and obviously homemade. The filling was fluffy, airy, and not too sweet - it was perfect, and complimented the crust perfectly.

The 5-piece cod ran $14.95; a bit steep. The tap beers ran about $4 each, and the pie was $5.00, but worth every penny. We finished-off the evening with a pontoon boat ride around the lake.

Herring's = WIN

Food = 3.75 stars (pie = 5 stars)
Value = 2.5 stars (pricey, all things considered)
Service = 2.5 stars (rather slow; didn't see our waitress much)
MISC = 4 stars (great atmosphere and view)

In summary, I'd return here for fish, fries, and homemade pie any time. It's not really a top-10 fish spot, but it is quite solid. If you're looking for a solid fish fry outside of the Madison area, Lake Mills is easy to get to and I doubt you'll find a better restaurant in terms of view, atmosphere, and general food quality.

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You'll find Fish Tales nestled in one of the many nooks that border Lake Wisconsin, just a stone's throw from the intersection of 113 and 188, approximately 5-6 miles to the "other side" of Lodi proper. Sure, it's a bit of a drive from Madison - it took us about 45 minutes - but it's worth the time and fuel expense, even with gas running $4/gallon today.

I was originally scheduled to have fish this Friday with both my boss (Steve) and co-worker (Mark), but with my recent bingeing and out-of-control eating, I wasn't sure I'd be strong enough to avoid temptation, so I tentatively declined the invitation. A last minute audible (and confidence in my will power) meant I'd be joining them for fish, but vowing to stick to my diet in the process.

Well, due to the last minute audible, it was just my boss and I for dinner, which was fine; I rode with him in his incredible new car - the Audi TT-S convertible - and we had a great opportunity to chat, both about work and life away from the office. We arrived at approximately 6:30 and were shocked to find the place largely empty.

We were promptly seated; Fish Tales has a nice bar area that's separated from a medium-sized dining area by way of a half-wall. The dining room features a corner fireplace and about a dozen 4-top tables. The bar had a very limited selection of tap brews: Spotted Cow, New Belgium's Ranger IPA, Shock Top, and Bud Light... I opted for Diet Coke, my boss went with a bottle of Miller Lite (which sounded amazing, but alas, I remained strong).

A waitress quickly appeared and shared with us details about the specials, most of which revolved around fish. From broiled jumbo prawns to walleye to bluegills to haddock - everything sounded fantastic, as did the "stuffed pepper tomato soup."

I selected the baked haddock with a sweet potato and salad (no dressing, no cheese). My boss pulled a complete 180 and went with the 4-piece broasted chicken with hashbrowns and salad. I was really counting on him ordering the deep-fried haddock or cod so that I could get a full report, but alas, it wasn't in the cards.

Our salads arrived, accompanied by an interesting loaf of bread. My boss sampled the bread and reported that while it appeared to be a sour dough, it featured a wonderful garlic flavor. I'd be shocked to learn if this wasn't homemade... I couldn't resist sampling a small portion, so I cut a piece the size of a quarter and took a taste - sure enough, it was a wonderfully chewy, soft and just slightly crusty bread that boasted an amazing garlic punch. Wow.

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The salads were fresh and delicious - they featured bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, tomato, and homemade croutons. I indulged in 2-3 croutons, and pushed the rest away, as hard as it was to do so. The rest of the salad was excellent; I could've had 3-4 plates and been more than happy.

The entrees arrived after 15 minutes or so; the chicken looked and smelled divine - the breading was absolutely perfectly applied, and my boss reported it had a great, slightly spiced taste. I could hear every single crunch of the golden-battered-and-broasted skin; the word came back that it was "superb." The hashbrowns featured an excellent sear and garnered accolades as well.

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The baked haddock was generous in size - I'd estimate it at 8-10 ounces - and featured the perfect blend of paprika and mild spices. It was baked to absolute perfection; it had a slightly "crisp" texture, as if it had been broiled for a few minutes or set on an uber hot griddle. I loved it. There wasn't a sign of butter/grease/oil anywhere - it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The sweet potato was stellar as well, and while it had more carbs than I would've cared to ingest tonight, I can assure you that it was worth every single calorie. It wasn't overbaked, nor was it underdone - it was perfect.

Our waitress and her support staff (there were 2-3 girls who cleared the tables and refilled water with regularity) was excellent. We had some of the best service I've ever experienced, even as the place grew more and more busy. By the time we paid our modest bill ($30 for the two of us), the place was jumpin' with patrons. I'd suggest that if you're adverse to waiting for a table that you arrive prior to 7:00pm.

I did manage to spy numerous plates of the fried fish fare as it left the kitchen, and every single plate looked absolutely amazing. Based on the feedback from the chicken, I have no reason to doubt or suspect that the fried fish is as every bit as good as (if not better than) the baked haddock. I can't wait to return to sample the fried goodies... oh, and for those keeping score, the cheese curds and hand-battered deep-fried pickles looked unreal as well. Why do I have to be such a chub?

Fish Tales = WIN
Food = 4.25 stars
Service = 4.25 stars
Value = 4.25 stars
MISC = 4.25 stars (has a huge outdoor lake-side patio and a great vibe as well)

I highly recommend that you give this place a try, and let me know how delectable the cheese curds and fried fish options are. I'm certain you won't be disappointed! To give you an idea of how impressed we were with the non-fried fish/food, Fish Tales almost cracked the top-10. That's sayin' something.

This will be a quick review, as it's a follow-up visit to an earlier visit to The Crawfish Junction.

What a difference a few months can make - while the first visit to The Crawfish Junction was absolutely superb, this visit left much to be desired, in every single regard. I hope this was just an anomaly, because had this been my first visit, The Crawfish would've likely ranked near the very bottom of our fish fry list. While this most recent visit wasn't as stellar as the first, we're not going to write-off TCJ... let's chalk it up to April Fool's day?

It goes to prove that every Friday offers a unique experience. Diners and readers take note - it's obvious that fish is a finicky and fickle subject, so note that it may not be uncommon for your individual experiences to (and most likely will) differ from those of mine.

We strolled in to the Crawfish at around 7:30pm this past Friday and were greeted with a 45-minute waiting list. The bar area was absolutely packed, and service was suffering - it took at least 15 minutes for one of the bartenders to pour three drinks: 2 beers and one bloody mary. And, despite our desperate pleas for "non-frozen" beer glasses, we were stuck with ice-cold glasses. Strike 1.

I should also note that The Crawfish has a fairly limited tap selection - two varieties of New Belgium brewery, three varieties from that scammy brewery from Lake Mills, and a single Spotted Cow tap. I went with a Ranger IPA; Dan went with a brew from the scammy brewery.

I'd like to expand a bit on the ice-cold glass thing; the reason for an ice cold glass is to help "improve" the flavor of lower-quality beers. You can test it yourself... take a typical light beer and let it sit at room temperature. Take a sip. Then, take that same room-temperature beer and pour a little into an ice cold glass. Take a sip. The flavor should "improve."

The problem is: the flavor doesn't really improve. It's simply masked by the ice cold temperature. The cold temperature covers many of the nuances and unique flavors, scents, and other sensory treats that the brewmaster has incorporated (or left out, in the case of lower quality brews).

So, when a bar features some interesting tap offerings (like New Glarus, New Belgium, and other micro brews), and they go through the trouble of serving those special beers in the appropriate glassware (like TCJ does - they have the tulip style glasses for Fat Tire, for example), why on earth do they dampen the experience by deep-freezing the glassware?? It would be like showing up to a first date in a Ferrari that's covered in mud, with an interior that smells like old gym socks.

Adding insult to injury, the bartenders from this particular evening weren't big on personality, either. So, when you combine the gruff service, the incorrect serving temperature, and the long wait for a pour, it results in a strike. Sorry.

We stood around the bar area for a bit, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that our table was ready a bit early. Unfortunately for us, the table was located in the less desirable side of the establishment, in an upstairs-and-apparently-an-afterthought portion of the restaurant, where the lights are too bright, the area too small, the walls completely bare, and there's a generally unpleasant feeling/vibe. It seems like it should be a storage area rather than a dining area (and probably is, most of the time).

Making matters worse were three factors:

1) There was only one waitress available to service the entire room, which had 9 tables, all of which were full. We sat for at least 20 minutes before being greeted and asked about drink refills or appetizers. When we did get a chance to order, it took another 10+ minutes for anything to arrive, and once again, our beer glasses were served at a rigamortis-inducing cold temperature.

2) The bus-girl who was responsible for cleaning the tables had apparently created an incredibly strong batch of bleach-based table cleaner. With every spray of her cleaning bottle, I swore we were inhaling mustard gas. The stench of bleach was overpowering; people were complaining to the manager about the odor, yet the girl was oblivious to it... she kept liberally spraying the nostril-melting concoction as if it was nothing.

3) By the time we were able to order, we learned that they were completely out of baked fish, baked potatoes, shrimp, walleye, and something else (I forget what it was). No biggie on the shrimp, but the walleye, baked, and potato outages were a major downer.

Let's combine all of those issues for Strike 2.

We placed our food order, which consisted of cheese curds, a spinach artichoke dip (with crawfish tails), broasted cod, and a combo platter of fried lake perch and fried bluegills.

The appetizers arrived first - I had received a tip that the cheese curds were "unreal" but was sadly disappointed, as they were obviously straight from the Sysco catalog. Nothing to write home about, although they were nicely fried.

The artichoke and crawfish dip was downright awful. The tri-colored chips were slightly stale; the artichoke dip was flavorless and gluey, and the crawfish tails were absolutely dreadful - they had the consistency of soggy rubber boots (despite being breaded and deep fried), and had the grossest, fishiest, most nauseating taste I've ever experienced. It was as if they had cooked-up a big batch of them at around 4:00pm and then left them sit until someone ordered some. In all fairness, I've never had crawfish before, but if crawfish is supposed to have the flavor and consistency of a well-used rubber band, I won't be likely to order them again.

The fish plates arrived after another 15-20 minute wait. I immediately dug-in to my combo basket, and immediately wanted to cry. My 8 smallish pieces of fish (4 each of the lake perch and bluegill) had suffered the same fate as those disgusting little crawfish - they were rubbery and lifeless. I'm convinced that they were cooked well ahead of time and left in a warming bin until they were thrown into my basket. They weren't scaldingly hot by any means, the coating was soggy, and as mentioned, the fish was rubbery.

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I've never had such limp, lifeless, and chewy fried fish. Granted, the breading still had an excellent flavor, but nothing tasted (or felt) as if it had just come from the fryer. It was such a disappointment.... sort of like when you're starving from a full day's worth of hectic travel (or work) and decide to visit McDonald's at 9:00pm because all you're looking forward to is a steaming-hot, fresh and crispy order of those infamous fries, but get slapped with the ones that have been sitting in the warming bin since around 6:45pm...

The broasted cod, which was so superb at our last visit, was just as disappointing. Strike 3.

So, with this particular visit, The Crawfish Junction = FAIL

Service = 1.25 stars (1 waitress for 9 tables? Seriously? 20+ minutes for first orders?)
Food = 1 star (rubbery, lifeless, and generally bad this time around)
Value = 1 star (seemed as if we got the left-over left-overs)
MISC = 1 star (terrible seating area, bleach stench, no ambiance, bad bar service)


I still want to like The Crawfish Junction because I like most of the establishment; I like their full menu, and the previous visit was so good... I have to (or really want to) believe that this was an "off night" for TCJ... we'll visit again with the hope that things take a drastic turn for the better next time. Otherwise, I'm afraid it'll be game over for TCJ recommendations.

Well what do we have here? A fish fry review? It's been far too long, indeed.

After spending a few weeks following a strict diet/workout routine, and coming within 0.5% of my goals (literally), I decided to treat myself to a little fish fry by way of Kelly's Bar. My cousin and aunt had mentioned Kelly's to me a while ago, and said it was a great spot for fish - a bit out of the way, yes; but it was supposed to be superb. So, I fired-up the Prius and hit the road, destined for Columbus.

As a kid, I remember making the drive to Randolph on more than one occassion, and I always remembered a certain point along Highway 73 where there was a bright yellow building, and a series of smaller white buildings/houses. Back then, I had no idea the white buildings were Kelly's Bar... so, I was surprised when a familiar feeling struck as I drove north from Columbus.

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The parking lot was starting to fill-up, and it was only about 6:00 or so. A good sign that Kelly's served good fish (that, or they had a good happy hour special).

My cousin and her husband were waiting patiently at a small table near the bar area; the bar isn't terribly large, nor is the drink selection terribly vast - you'll find a few domestic taps and a small smattering of "craft-ish" beverages, primarily from Leinie's. They did have Spotted Cow, but that was about it for exotic offerings. Cans of soda will run $1; most beverages about $3.

Kelly's follows an ordering methodology that some love and some hate - you place your dinner order at the bar, wait for a table to become available, and upon being seated, your food arrives. I prefer that method - it's efficient.

I browsed the menu which included several fish options - everything from walleye (Winning!) to frogs' legs (Not-winning!). They had: haddock, walleye, perch, cod, shrimp, and scallops. And, you could order combination plates, in various sizes: small, regular, order-and-a-half, or double order. For reference, a "regular" order consists of about 5 pieces of fish.

Side options were standard: fries, seasoned wedge fries, waffle fries, baked potato, hashbrowns, or cheese-tots. Upon further inquiry, the hashbrowns and tots were just what I suspected: frozen patties, deep-fried with cheese as an option.

I went for an order-and-a-half, with Lake Perch and Haddock. Leanne went with haddock, and Jeff ordered the sampler platter, which included a little of everything. We also ordered some breaded mushrooms and an order of cheese curds. Hey, when you're off the wagon for a day, you might as well jump clean away from it. :-D

We enjoyed a beverage at our small table, made some small-talk, and were just about to order another round when our table in the dining area became available. So, we moved into the dining room, where our mushrooms and curds were waiting, along with a basket of rolls, coleslaw, and salads.

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The mushrooms and curds, while not homemade, were perfectly fried. Kelly's has a firm handle on the fryer controls; according to Leanne (who knows the cook), Kelly's watches their oil temperatures like a hawk - and that attention pays dividends in how their battered items serve-up. The 'shrooms were wonderful and the curds were decent - again, not homemade, but definitely good.

We had just sampled the appetizers when our main courses arrived, piping hot from those carefully piloted fryers. Here's my plate of Lake Perch and Haddock:

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I tore into a piece of the Lake Perch and recoiled - it was so scaldingly hot that the trapped steam gave me a "warm" welcome. Wow, that fish was hot! I allowed the piece to cool a bit before giving it another go; the breading was of the crunchy, non-battered style and it clung perfectly to the firm piece of fresh water perch. The perch had just the perfect fish taste - enough to let you know you're enjoying fish, but not overpowering enough to turn you away. Delicious.

The haddock's batter wasn't quite a breading, nor was it a beer batter, nor was it a buttermilk batter. It was... well... battered. I can't describe it in any other way. It was good, and just like the perch, it stuck perfectly to the thick and meaty squares of haddock. And, just like the perch, the haddock was expertly cooked, and featured a perfectly mild, almost "creamy" haddock taste. Yum.

I do suspect, upon retrospection, that the fish arrives frozen and pre-battered. I'd be surprised if this was hand-battered/hand-prepped fish. There's nothing wrong with that, but purists will want to take note.

Jeff's sampler platter looked impressive (and indeed, received rave reviews):

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Leanne's plate of haddock was exactly as my sampler - large pieces of squared haddock, served with a baked potato on the side. We scarfed down our food; dinner was largely silent, as we were too busy indulging and enjoying the feast. :-)

The check arrived, and our bill for 3 was just about $45, which included the appetizers and a few sodas as well. Not bad.

Note: Kelly's doesn't take plastic; it's cash or check only, and they do not have an ATM onsite.

Kelly's = WIN

Food = 3 stars - all "from the bag," but cooked really, really well
Value = 3.5 stars - lots of options, reasonable prices, great flexibility
Service = 3.5 stars - quick, concise, no-frills but friendly
MISC = 3 stars - true, "old school" tavern; filled with friendly locals; not much for beverage selection; no plastic/no ATM

Summary: it may not be home/handmade fish, and yes, it's a bit out of the way. But, it's a great little bar/restaurant with a huge selection of good quality fish and great appetizers.

Looking back to my (much) younger days, I seem to recall two distinct destinations for Friday night fish frys: the traditional supper club and the local golf course. I'm sure that bars also had fish frys "back in the day," but we didn't frequent them, so I only had familiarity with the golf courses and supper clubs.

It's been a while since I've been to a golf course; I dabbled briefly in attempting to golf but quickly realized that the more I played, the worse I did. So, golf courses have been largely off the radar. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I joined my friends Jed and Jamie for a fish fry. We had originally planned to visit one of the local churches for fish, but several challenges resulted in a last minute change of plans; we ultimately decided to try the fish from a local public golf course called Bridges On The Green (or, BOTG).

BOTG is a rather humble public golf course - it's located near Shopko and Copps, just off highway 30, near the east side of Madison. The clubhouse is large, but quite plain - it seems to be set-up for banquets and gatherings more so than for casual dining, but that's fine, as we were there for the fish.

We arrived to BOTG at approximately 6:30pm and were promptly seated at a 4-top table. The open, airy, and brightly-lit BOTG club house featured a large wooden bar and appeared to have a very nice selection of Capital and other local brews on tap. All of us would choose soda for the evening, so there isn't a report for the Old Fashioneds.

A waitress stopped by to immediately drop-off menus and to bring us a few sodas. We browsed the menu, which appears to offer primarily fish and appetizers on Friday nights - it's definitely a "reduced" menu. Fish options included beer battered cod, baked cod, battered lake perch, walleye, bluegill, and shrimp. Side options included fries, baked potato, steamed veggies, homemade chips, or hash browns.

I ordered the baked fish with veggies, and added a salad bar. Jed and Jamie ordered the battered cod; one with a baked potato, one with the chips. The waitress took our orders to the kitchen and returned once again, this time with a bread offering. I didn't sample the bread, but am told it was amazing - it certainly looked excellent:

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While Jed and Jamie noshed on the bread, I ventured to the salad bar, which was hosted by a small cart. It was simple, but everything was fresh and tasty - it was immediately obvious that the toppings were all prepared in-house from raw ingredients; nothing appeared to have come from a bag. I really enjoyed this salad:

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I had just finished the salad when our dinners arrived. The clubhouse was still largely empty, which was a bit shocking, considering that it was "prime" dining time - just about 7:00pm or so. Up first was the baked cod with veggies:

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The large piece of baked cod was absolutely superb. It had to weigh-in at around 12-13 ounces, and featured a very delicate cod flavor. The sweet and buttery natural taste was complimented by a perfectly flaky and meaty texture. Seasoning was light as well, and I couldn't detect any signs of excess butter, water, grease or other undesirables. It was quite simply some top-notch baked cod; the same held true for the veggies, which were fantastic. Slightly crunchy and not overly greasy or mushy. Win.

The battered cod looked fantastic as well:

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I was fortunate enough to sample a piece of the battered cod and am pleased to report that it was as excellent as the baked cod was. The batter was light and extremely crisp and featured what I could only describe as a "cheese curd-like" flavor and feel. It was truly delicious and even though the piece I sampled had been sitting for quite some time (I asked for a taste near the end of our meal), it was free of grease and tasted excellent, even if it wasn't "fryer hot." To me, that's a sign of a solid fish fry - if it holds-up over time, it's a winner.

I sampled a few of the homemade chips as well, and wow - they were delicious. The thick cut and heavily seasoned fried rounds of potato were just what the doctor ordered to satisfy my fried food quota. If I were eating bad at the time, I would've been hard-pressed to choose between fries or the chips... the chips were really stellar.

We didn't see much of our waitress, but that was ok - the food was fantastic, we needed nothing, and we were having a good time talking and hanging out. We also noticed that by the end of our meal, the place had filled-up quite significantly, and it was growing quite loud - the open space seemed to reflect a lot of sound. So, we called it an evening and headed for home, satisfied, and vowing to return for more of that excellent fish.

Bridges On The Green = WIN

Service = 2.75 stars (nothing great, nothing bad)
Food = 4.25 stars (some top-notch fish; everything was fresh and tasty)
Value = 3.5 stars ($11 baked + $3 for salad bar; $10 battered cod)
MISC = 2.75 stars (bright, noisy, very "open"; nice tap offerings)

Summary: It's going to be difficult to not place BOTG in the top 10... the fish alone is worthy of a top-10 placement, but the overall environment detracts a bit. We'll see where it lands. Regardless, know that if you're looking for outstanding fish, this is some of the best around.

Fish Fry Review: Crawfish Junction

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Try as I might, I couldn't resist the temptation to join my friends Dan & Tara for a fish fry this past Friday. So, I fired-up the car and made the short drive to Milford, WI to check out what has been reported by others as an excellent fish fry, compliments of Crawfish Junction.

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A couple of important things to note right up front:


  1. Technically speaking, Crawfish Junction is located in Milford, WI - not sure why they show Johnson Creek as the address... it's in Milford, which is a small town that's located about 3 miles north of Lake Mills on Highway A.

  2. They only accept cash or checks - no credit or debit cards are accepted. They do have an ATM onsite.

  3. They stop serving food at 9:00pm on Friday nights, so be sure to get there early.

With those important notices out of the way, let's talk a bit about the actual visit. It started with me arriving to Dan and Tara's home at around 7:45pm. They were just wrapping-up things at the garage, and I was starting to feel pretty hungry. Dan had to run a few errands first; a quick stop at the local Walgreens and a subsequent visit at the local grocery store, and we were almost ready to head out for some fish.

Quite often when dealing with a small town establishment, it's not uncommon for the kitchen to close early, so I suggested we check with the Crawfish Junction to confirm that they would be serving food beyond 9:00pm. A quick call confirmed my fears: "Kitchen closes at 9:00pm," was the reply, and my watch showed 8:30pm. We put in our name and assured them we'd be there before 9:00pm.

We rolled-in to the Crawfish Junction at about 8:50pm and were pleased to find a largely empty establishment. The Crawfish Junction is a fairly large place; there are two distinct bar areas with plenty of seating (at the bar or at high-top tables with barstools), along with a separate dining area with traditional tables and chairs. When we strolled-in, there were perhaps 12-15 other folks in the place; country music played in the background while a handful of very large flatscreen televisions played ESPN programming.

The greeter showed us to a table in one of the bar areas and we were presented with menus. A quick perusing of the menu definitely piqued my interest - it looked like Crawfish Junction had some pretty interesting food options; a burger actually sounded really fine, but the waitress who introduced herself while I was skimming the menu kindly told us that on Friday nights the menu is limited to "the back page" options only, most of which involved fish.

And there were plenty of fish options: broasted cod, baked cod, fried lake perch, fried bluegills, fried walleye, shrimp, scallops, alligator (yes, you read that right!), and (gross) frogs legs. There were also a slew of appetizers and a few other fried items (chicken tenders) available, but we were there for the fish.

Dan and Tara both opted for the broasted cod with sweet potato fries; I opted for the combo option and chose the baked cod and the lake perch. We also ordered a few beverages (Fat Tire for Dan, Tyranena for me, and a bloody mary for Tara). Our waitress left, order in hand, and we chatted about the events of the past week.

After about 5 minutes, our waitress returned with our drinks and to assure us that the food was "on the way." No problem - we weren't in any hurry, and only five minutes (at most) had elapsed since we placed our orders. Speed is apparently a proud point for the Crawfish Junction crew.

With only a few sips of the frosty beverages under our belt, our food arrived. The broasted cod looked absolutely fantastic:

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For those not familiar with the act of broasting, it's fairly similar to deep frying, but it involves frying the food under pressure (think pressure cooker + fryer) to create an incredibly crispy (yet light) batter and an insanely moist main star (the fish (or chicken, as is the more traditional broasting subject)). The fish fry also included your standard cole slaw, rye bread, and potato option.

I was lucky enough to sample the broasted cod and I was absolutely impressed by it. The batter was crispy, light, and slightly "bubbly" and featured a delicious salt and pepper taste that really complimented the super moist cod. It was expertly applied and clung perfectly to every cut of the fish - even when cut with a fork. The actual fish was extremely flavorful, and there was nary a sign of grease to be found anywhere. Top notch cod, and an excellent application of broasting. The sweet potato fries were decent as well, but appeared to be "from the bag."

Up next was my combo plate, which included this massive piece of baked cod:

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That monster had to be a full 12-ounces, and let me assure you that it offered more than just quantity - like its broasted brother, the baked cod was fantastic. It was flaky and flavorful, moist and meaty, and simply delicious. It had a little hint of butter hanging around on it, but it wasn't terrible - the fish tasted clean and fresh... my guess is they bake it in some type of butter/wine combination. Dan and Tara confirmed that the baked cod was "totally excellent."

The second half of my combo plate included the fried lake perch:

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As you can see, the Crawfish Junction doesn't skimp on portions; that's a pile of lake perch (I counted 6 full-sized pieces in total) next to my baked potato, and true to the rest of the fish that we sampled, the lake perch was nothing to scoff at - it was fantastic. Slightly more fishy tasting than the cod and boasting a wonderfully meaty texture, I really enjoyed the perch. Dan's reaction was a simple, "Oh wow," after he tried it. The breading was light and crumbly and had a similar salt/pepper seasoning to the cod's batter.

The baked potato was, well, a baked potato. It's hard to get excited about a baked potato, but I like 'em, especially with a little ketchup (try it!).

Factor in the value price of just $14.95 for that monster platter and you've got one heckuva bargain. Dan and Tara's 3-piece cod dinners were $9.95; a 5-piece option exists for an additional $2.

With two rounds of drinks and three excellent fish entrees, our total bill was just a few cents over $50. That's A-OK by my balance sheet. We stayed a bit longer and chatted with our waitress (she was a bit "absent" throughout the meal, but we were never left for wanting for too long), paid the bill and headed back home.

Crawfish Junction = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 2.75 stars
Value = 4.5 stars
MISC = 4 stars (big, airy, comfy, decent parking options, average brew selection with a few surprises)

Summary: This is a top-10 fish fry that warrants a drive to the small metropolis of Milford. If broasting cod is a genius maneuver, let's call the Crawfish Junction "Einstein." Service is average at best, but the fish and the excellent value easily catapult this place over the top. I can't wait to go back and sample the bluegills, walleye, and some of their burgers (which Dan confesses are "incredible" as well).

Fish Fry Review: Blue Moon, Madison, WI

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The Blue Moon is one of those "local bars" that's developed an almost cult-like following by a very dedicated group of patrons, which can result in a double-edged dilemma: it's great to be popular, but it's challenging to manage "supply and demand."

Trying to score both a parking spot and a seat at the Blue Moon is a major hurdle, especially on Friday nights or on Badger game nights. The Blue Moon is located within a stone's throw of the campus, and as such the building is tiny; the parking lot even tinier. And don't even think about trying to land street parking -there are three additional restaurants within a block, all of which share the parking/space challenges that Blue Moon does.

I had made arrangements to join my friends Jed and Jamie for dinner at the Blue Moon, but I worried about the parking and seating... So when I managed to find a parking spot in Blue Moon's lot and acquire a small "high top" table in the bar area, I knew that everything was likely to be ok. And, with luck clearly on our side, Jed and Jamie arrived within a few minutes and reported that they had also landed a parking spot without drama.

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The Blue Moon was crowded - there were plenty of folks wrapping-up the work week with a beverage or six - the grille was hoppin', and the waitstaff was jumpin'. Our waitress immediately stopped by to grab our drink orders and promptly returned with three fresh brews. She asked if we had any questions about the menu and wondered if we might be ready to order. Jed and Jamie were browsing the burger options (Blue Moon is famous for its burgers); I was considering my fish options. We placed a preliminary order for some cheese curds and waffle fries.

Our friendly waitress delivered our appetizer order to the grille and we continued to consider our menu options. Within ten minutes, our appetizers arrived and looked absolutely scrumptious. The Blue Moon may be famous for its burgers, but they apparently know a thing or two about fryer operation:

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The curds, while not homemade, were stellar. They had a light golden-brown breading that delicately covered a mixture of white and yellow cheeses. They were fried to perfection and free of any excess grease; the cheese was perfectly chewy, the breading crisp, and everything finished with just a hint of salt. The ranch was also spectacular.

The waffle fries were equally excellent - crispy, piping hot, and sprinkled with a hint of season salt. I do enjoy a waffle fry - they hold the perfect amount of ketchup, and the texture is a nice change of pace from the standard fry.

Our waitress stopped by again to take our orders - Jed and Jamie went the burger route; I went with the baked cod. Other fish options included fried cod, fried walleye, or fried perch (which was on special this evening). Having pre-filled my gut with fried goodies, I figured the baked fish was the more responsible route to take.

Within ten minutes, our entrees arrived, which is no small feat considering how busy the place was and how small the grille/kitchen area is. The burgers looked phenomenal - the cod looked "interesting."

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I cut into the huge piece of baked cod and was immediately pleased by the texture, look, and feel. The fish was flaky and light, and there wasn't a hint of grease or excess water anywhere. Fearing that it might be dry, I carefully took a bite and was pleased to discover that it was still quite moist and really delicious. The only problem: it was lukewarm at best.

But, therein lies a hidden "win" - even though the baked cod was cool to the touch, it was still quite excellent, and I had no problem wolfing it down with complete pleasure and enjoyment. The seasoning was perfectly balanced and the light crisp from the flattop grille was a nice touch. Blue Moon definitely uses some quality cod.

The garlic mashed potatoes were chunky and good; they're the only option when you order the baked cod. I was happy that they didn't drench everything in butter as well.

The burgers were reported as "good" - a bit over-cooked, but still tasty. We wrapped-up our meal with a final beverage; our waitress was spot-on the entire time. The bill came, and it was more than reasonable: $10 for the baked cod plate, $6-ish for the burgers. Plastic-users take note: the Blue Moon is a cash only joint. No cards accepted.

Blue Moon = WIN

Service = 4.25 stars (really good - spot on, responsive, friendly)
Food = 3.5 stars (everything was stellar; fish was lukewarm, which "cost" 1 full point)
Value = 3.75 stars (more than reasonable)
MISC = 2.5 stars (limited parking, limited seating)

In summary: I'd definitely recommend trying the Blue Moon fish fry; I've had the burgers in the past and really enjoyed them too, so this is definitely a "safe bet" place for dinner. Be sure to order something from the fryer as well - you'll be glad you did (although your cardiologist may not be as thrilled).

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.

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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."

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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:

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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.

It's been a little more than a year since we made the trek over to Palmyra's Nite Cap Inn, so when Mark suggested we take the drive for some potato pancakes I didn't hesitate to take him up on the offer.

We had originally planned to meet-up with one of our former managers (he was recently promoted to a director position with our sister company), but unfortunately, those plans fell through. No worries, we knew the Nite Cap Inn would knock our socks off, even without our full entourage in tow.

The drive from Madison to Palmyra takes you through some great little towns. We hit Cambridge (home to NASCAR star, Matt Kenseth), Milton, and Whitewater (Mark's home town) before landing in Palmyra. The scenery and the small towns make the 1.5-hour drive worthwhile.

We arrived to the Nite Cap promptly at 6:00pm and were shocked to find the place... empty. There were less than five cars parked out front, which was quite unusual. We wondered if they had closed, but were relieved to see someone exiting the restaurant.

We walked in and found an empty bar and a nearly empty dining room. The hostess asked us if we'd like to put in an order for fish, and we did, but not before inquiring about the deserted setting.

"I've worked here 23 years," said the hostess, "and I've never once seen it this slow on a Friday night. I think it's related to all of the homecoming activities falling on the same night."

Fair enough! The small crowd meant faster seating, so we didn't complain. Mark grabbed an Old Fashioned from the bar; I sampled a Sprecher Amber. And with that, our table was ready.

The Nite Cap treats its diners to some great rye bread - there was a small basket of this beautifully seasoned bread sitting on the table, along with a bowl of apple sauce, coleslaw, butter, and maple syrup. We had just finished a slice of the bread when our waitress appeared with our grub (you place your order with the hostess, and when your food is ready, you get seated at a table).

The fish looked superb - I went with the baked cod, Mark opted for the fried. Both of us chose the Nite Cap's signature side: potato pancakes. Folks, I'm not lying and I'm not exaggerating - the Nite Cap's potato pancakes are worth their weight in gold. Man, are they delicious.

Here's a really poor photo of the baked fish and a potato pancake:

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With the fall season upon us and the sun setting quite early, I didn't have much light to work with, so I apologize for the photo. Trust me when I say that both the fish and the potato pancake were superb.

The baked cod is done "right" - not greasy, not drenched in butter, not overly seasoned, not steamed. It's so fresh and clean tasting - the fish really shines through here. Texture was spot on, flavor was perfect - everything about the fish was excellent.

The fried cod features a light cornmeal breading that works well with the fish. It's not too heavy, it's not overly seasoned, and it's fried to a perfect golden brown. I sampled a piece of Mark's fried cod and wow - excellent as well.

But... as good as the fish is, the potato pancakes are the real star of the show. I've never had a better potato pancake. These feature a wonderfully crisp "crust" with a perfectly flavored and just slightly chewy (and moist) interior. There's a hint of onion in there - just enough to let you know it's around.

The best part of it all? The entire meal is All You Can Eat, and boy, did we take advantage of that... I had 3-4 servings of baked fish along with 6-7 potato pancakes. Mark kept up as well, and the kitchen never once complained. Everything came out on cue, piping hot, super fresh, and incredibly delicious. Desserts were offered, but we passed, as our bellies were full of fish and potato pancakes.

The Nite Cap Inn = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 3.5 stars
Value = 4 stars ($31 for two, with drinks)
MISC = 4 stars (superb supper club feel)

Summary: Definitely worth the 3-hours you'll spend driving roundtrip from Madison to Palmyra, and be prepared to wait a long time for a table on a normal night. This week's visit was definitely an anamoly. Get the potato pancakes and then prepare to be blown away (and disappointed with every potato pancake you'll have in the future). The Nite Cap scored a big win and will likely advance to a higher ranking than it previously held - this is some seriously good eating.

PS: While in Palmyra, stop by the local grocery store and grab some Rhinelander Potato Chips. We spied these while grabbing a soda on the way out of town... Rhinelander may be about the size of Palmyra, but somehow managed to score its own brand of chips... :-)

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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.

I'm confident in stating that Mid-Town Pub has some spectacular fish, as I've now sampled every one of their fish offerings, save for the shrimp. This will be a quick review, as my visit to MTP last week was short - I'm trying desperately to get 100% settled-in to the new place, and spending hours at a fish fry (as enticing and attractive as it would be) isn't on the schedule right now. :-(

I arrived to MTP at around 7:30pm on Friday night, just as the primary Fish Fry crowd was starting to disperse. I grabbed a seat at the bar, where I promptly put in a request for some French Onion soup, a beverage, and some of their famously fresh-popped popcorn.

The bartenders wasted no time in bringing out a bowl of velvety french onion soup - the staff at MTP is so fantastic, I simply can't say enough great things about them - along with the popcorn and drink.

True to MTP form, the soup was scalding hot, so I left it to cool for a bit, and instead munched on the popcorn as I browsed the fish fry menu. I opted for the grilled fish, with a baked potato - figured I'd be a little healthy. MTP fish frys also come with coleslaw, tartar, and a piece of garlic toast.

I eventually was able to try the soup and it was superb. MTP makes a mean soup (and a killer chili, which is always available); their soup offerings are unique, creative, and different with every day - it's rare that you'll find the same soup on the menu twice in one week.

The fish arrived within 10 minutes of placing the order and featured three large white filets of cod, each of which was lightly coated with a flaky, light-colored seasoning (almost like a rub). It's important to note that the fish isn't "grilled" in the traditional sense of the word - it's cooked on a flat-top, but is served very "clean" (no signs of grease, slime, etc). You won't find grill marks, however (other than a nice, uniform sear).

I took a bite and was immediately satisfied - the fish was fantastic in every respect: moist, flaky, slightly-firm, cooked to perfection, and wonderfully flavorful. MTP's cod can't be messed with - fried or grilled, it's incredible stuff.

The baked potato and garlic toast were equally good; the latter moreso than the potato (it's just a simple baked potato, afterall). I scarfed down the meal in record time, paid my bill, thanked the staff and headed home.

MTP Grilled cod = WIN

Service = 5 stars
Food = 4.25 stars
Value = 4.25 stars
MISC = 5 stars (friendliest place in Middleton, and probably all of Madison)


Summary: MTP continues to deliver good food, great service, and a great environment. And while I didn't include pictures (forgot the camera at home), it should be noted that I don't wait for weeks to post my reviews - I'm prompt and responsive... ;-) When "review sites" spend less time Facebooking and digging-on other sites and more time reviewing, readers win. Waiting weeks for a review/update = bad.

With the new iPhone firmly in hand and an invitation to partake in a fish fry with my friend Jed, I hopped in the truck and made the short jaunt down to Oregon, WI where I found Mulligan's.

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A few weeks ago, Jed texted me from Mulligan's to report that the fish fry was "decent" and the Old Fashioneds were "perfectly muddled." Sounded like a winning combination, so I was pretty excited to give this fish fry a shot - especially after last Friday's less than fantastic fish fry at Feiler's.

Mulligan's was a busy place - the patio was filled, the bar area was packed, and the dining areas that flank either side of the bar were also well attended. Jed had arrived before me and as such put in a request for a table, which we were told would take about an hour to become available. No worries - the bar featured a nice selection of tap beverages and huge bowls of complimentary Gardetto's snacks.

I grabbed a Supper Club and a handful of snacks and then went about chatting with Jed and Jamie. Jed also introduced me to a friend of his who happened to be at the bar with his wife, and before we knew it, the table was ready.

While we were seated promptly, our server took a good 20-30 minutes before making her first appearance. Apparently (according to the hostess) the server was "brand new," so we cut her some slack - besides, it was Friday night, the work week was behind us, and a fish feast was eminent.

We ordered some cheese curds; several folks ordered clam chowder, and I sampled the Old Fashioned (whiskey sour). It was indeed muddled (extra points) and was crisp and refreshing - score one for Mulligan's.

The curds and soup arrived - the curds, while not homemade, looked to be well prepared and tasty.

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After downing a few curds (which were quite good, with nary a sign of grease or sogginess), we put in our orders for fish - Mulligan's offers two choices of fish, both of which are served "AYCE" (All You Can Eat): battered cod or baked cod. Potato choices included: garlic mashed potatoes, baked potato, french fries, waffle fries, onion rings, or cottage cheese - quite a diverse selection to say the least.

I went with the battered cod and waffle fries; I was absolutely floored (and pleased) to learn that I could also order baked as part of the AYCE option - not too many places offer that service, so it was greatly appreciated.

After a brief wait, the fish arrived:

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And I'm pleased to report that the battered cod was excellent. The batter, while slightly heavy, was crisp, tasty, and perfectly applied. It clung nicely to the delicate, moist, flaky, and fresh tasting cod. I quickly downed the two piping-hot pieces of cod and put in an order for the baked cod.

The waffle fries featured a mild spice and were superb. According to Jed, the garlic mashed potatoes were stellar - they looked fantastic, so I have no reason to doubt his assessment.

The baked cod arrived, and before I even took a bite, I knew this would be a win:

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What? It looks plain? Simple? Clean? Perfect - that's exactly how baked cod should be. It shouldn't be doused in dill, paprika, or butter - no sir, just hit it with a light dusting of spice and serve it so that the fish is the star. Mulligan's did just that - the baked cod was delicious: moist, fork-firm, flavorful and unabashedly delicious.

The bill arrived and again - good news: the fish fry was reasonably priced at $9.95! An absolute bargain when you consider how delicious it was and that you could swap between fried and baked "at will." The dinner didn't include the typical supper club fare (dinner roll, carrots/celery/radishes), but it didn't matter - it was great on its own.

Mulligan's = WIN

Service = 2 stars (new waitress; I'm sure other tables were better served)
Food = 4 stars (excellent fish, great fries, decent curds)
Value = 4.5 stars ($9.95 for AYCE??? Yes please!)
MISC = 4 stars (great bar area - large (but slightly noisy), free snacks, nice patio)

Summary: I would happily return to Mulligan's in a heartbeat. Not quite a top-10 finisher, but a very solid fish fry.

===

After the fish fry, we headed down to Oregonfest to listen to a band and to catch-up with some of Jed and Jamie's other friends. As we were making our way to the park, we met this little guy - a two-year-old boxer by the name of Reggie - he was a real cutie!

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Fish Fry Review: Feiler's

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Greetings, fish fiends! While I had vowed to lay-off from the fish frys for a while (and to help recover/reset my diet a bit), I couldn't help but seek out a fish fry just for the sake of spite - I wanted to take some more pictures and share my experience with you, my friends. :-)

I considered my options - folks have been sending tons of great restaurant suggestions (thanks very much, by the way!) and all have sounded interesting for one reason or another. My original plan was to drive to Lodi to check out a place on the lake, but the weather was looking rather unstable, so I decided to stay local.

And so I "threw a dart" at the list and it landed on Feiler's. Feiler's is a classic supper club that's located on Verona Road, near the Home Depot. It looks like it's been there for years, and the menu backed-up my hunch: they've been around since the sixties.

When I arrived at 7:00, the parking lot looked quite full; but when I stepped inside the wood-paneled, low-ceilinged, and very dark supper club, I was surprised to find only one table with diners. The rest of the people were drinking at the horseshoe-shaped bar.

I asked the hostess for a table and that's when things went downhill. "How many in your party?" she inquired.

"Just one - I'm flying solo," I said.

"What? You're going home?" she asked, looking really confused.

"No, sorry, I'm alone - just me - 'flying solo' - just trying to add a funny comment," I clarified.

"Oh," she said.

And that was it - I was left to follow her to a table in the corner, near the back of the restaurant portion of the supper club. She told me that my waitress would be back to take my order.

I'm not sure why, but it took about 20 minutes for my waitress to make her first appearance. Two other waitresses stopped by in the meantime to assure me that I would be taken care of "in no time," but apparently "no time" translates to twenty minutes at Feiler's.

I eventually met my waitress who took my drink order and then asked if I needed more time to decide on my dinner. I told her that the 20 minutes of waiting had afforded me plenty of time to come to a decision: battered cod with the homemade hash browns. I inquired about the cheese curds and she assured me they were homemade, just like the hash browns. I decided to try an order.

She left with my order and returned about 5 minutes later with my diet pepsi. My water glass remained empty. The cheese curds came out after another 5 minutes or so:

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Sigh. Do those curds look familiar? They should - they're clearly what I refer to as "catalog curds," meaning they're no doubt sourced from a Sysco catalog, delivered frozen, and dropped into the fryer upon order. ARGH. To add insult to injury, they were $6. I ate six of the uninspired curds and pushed the plate away. Hopefully the fish would be better.

My waitress came back after another 15 minutes or so to tell me that the fish was "almost ready." Crikey - this place had the slowest service ever, especially since there were only three occupied tables: mine, the original table that I saw with diners, and a new table that had arrived about 10 minutes prior to my last update. They too were still waiting for their waitress to arrive...

The cod came out and here's what it looked like:

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Three pieces of battered cod with hash browns and a big 'ole slab of Velveeta. A small bowl of really dry "toasted garlic bread" also accompanied the meal - try to imagine a big slice of an old crouton, and that's about what the bread was like.

I quickly sampled the fish - the first piece was nicely prepared - crispy and perfectly battered. The fish, however, was watery and mushy, and featured lots of the dreaded "dark meat" that cod sometimes has. All things considered, that first piece wasn't too bad... but the second and third pieces weren't quite as lucky - the batter was soggy, the fish watery, and again - lots of dark meat. Ugh.

The hash browns were uninspiring as well - largely flavorless, even with the huge chunk of Velveeta. I'm told they had onions and peppers in them, but I couldn't find (or taste) any. The potatoes didn't feature any char; it's as if they were diced, microwaved, and thrown on the plate.

The bill came - $21. Wow. I paid and left.

Feiler's = FAIL

Service = 1.5 stars (dreadfully slow and inattentive)
Food = 1.5 stars (could've been great; poorly executed, mediocre fish)
Value = 1 star (way too expensive)
MISC = 3 stars (great supper club atmosphere)

Summary: I think I may have had too many fish frys that are "world class" - I may have peaked too early. A few years ago, I probably would've enjoyed this fish fry... but, I've had so many outstanding fish frys that I simply didn't enjoy this one all that much. Factor in the inexplicably slow service, and it was a recipe for failure.

Fish Fry Feuds - seriously?

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A little fishy e-mailed me yesterday to say, "... prominent fish fry review site doesn't like that you post pictures of food on your blog."

Apparently this other site considers it "pretentious" that I prefer to document my experiences with both words and photos. The informant went on to say the site suggested that anyone who takes photos of their food "deserves an @ss kicking."

Seriously?

I had to laugh. And after a hearty chuckle, I wondered why anyone would get their undies in a bundle because someone documents, validates, and clarifies a review with the use of a photo. Heck, newspapers review restaurants and regularly include photos of the food, right?

Honestly. Would you call Consumer Reports pretentious for including photos of the dishwashers they review? Or how about Car & Driver? Do they deserve to have their butts kicked for taking a photo of the Kia they recently test drove?

Man has been documenting his adventures through pictures since the beginning of time. Cavemen drew pictures of a big hunt on animal hides and cave walls. Artists captured wars, prominent families, and common events with oil and canvas. Photographers took things a step further. Videographers another step. Today, thanks to the internet, we share photos of everything from family vacations to lobsters fighting with knives...

Anyone who's spent any time on my blog knows that I like to use photos to help clarify, communicate, and share my experiences. I guess I'm a jerk for doing that - oh well. Based on the feedback that countless people have sent, I'll keep including photos because you don't seem to be threatened or offended by them.

Color me skeptical, but a "review" without a photo is sort of like telling a story about "the big one" that "got away." Anyone can throw together a story with colorful descriptions; I'd rather share a photo to clarify and demonstrate such adjectives as "miniscule" and "mountainous" any day.

Finally, I've never considered my reviews to be in any type of "competition" with anyone else. The primary reason I started sharing my fish fry experiences was because many of my friends live in locations outside of Wisconsin and as such, they've never sampled a fish fry. Since I can't very easily send samples of the fish and I've not quite perfected "smell-o-vision" via the web, a photo is probably the next best thing to help share the overall experience. In fact, I think it's hilarious that anyone would "compete" over a fish fry review - what's the point? It's like arguing that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla...

Anyway, that's it for now - I'm going to go make sure my camera batteries are charged - I smell a fish fry coming this Friday... ;-)

Fish Fry Review: Update - Dorf Haus

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This will be a quick review, as it's a "second visit" of one of our favorite fish frys: The Dorf Haus in Roxbury.

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We arrived to the Dorf Haus promptly at 5:15pm and were shocked to find plenty of parking and lots of empty seats in the bar. With our last visit, we struggled to find parking and were fortunate to snag two seats at the crowded bar. We were also shocked (and pleased) to discover that there wasn't much of a wait for a table today - we credited the Memorial Day weekend and travel plans for the good fortune.

As we waited in the bar area, we chatted about the uniqueness of this place. It's somewhat baffling to think about how a German restaurant came to land in what is effectively, "the middle of nowhere." But this place is Germany to the core - it really does feel as if you've wandered into a Bavarian bar, despite the fact that you're sitting the middle of midwest farmland.

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Our table became available promptly at 6:00pm, and we were led to the rear dining room, where a waitress (decked out in drindl) came to take our orders. I went with the baked haddock, with a baked potato. Mark and his dining companion Therese went with the family-style deep-fried cod. Their sides included spaetzel and german potato salad. We also opted for an order of cheese curds.

The waitress headed back to the kitchen, then returned with a basket of those infamous fritters. We had forgotten about these deep-fried gems, otherwise we would've skipped the curds. The fritters are awesome - fist-sized nuggets of deep fried dough, slightly chewy, slightly sweet, and just a hint of salt. Yum. Top them with honey and it's pure heaven.

The curds arrived a few minutes later, and boo - they were Sysco catalog curds. Argh.

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After a short wait, our fish arrived, and we were excited. The deep fried cod looked amazing - as mentioned, it was served family style so it arrived mounded high on a plate - the first round included 6-7 large pieces of cod, all of which was piping hot.

Here's the cod, as it sat on Mark's plate:

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The cod was as delicious as ever. The Dorf Haus has mastered its cod batter - it's light, perfectly seasoned with hints of salt and pepper, and expertly applied. It stays crispy, clings well to the fish, and compliments everything. The fish itself is excellent, too - tender, flaky, moist and flavorful. A perfect combination, for sure.

Here's the spaetzel, which was incredible, just like it was on the previous visit. I'm not sure what it is about boiled dough that's lightly pan-fried, but it sure is tasty.

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The baked haddock was a bit of a letdown from last time - it was dry and didn't have as much flavor. It almost seemed as though they had made the baked haddock quite some time earlier, then reheated it in a dry heat just before serving.

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If I wasn't trying to watch my ever-expanding waistline, I'd go with the deep-fried cod over the baked here; it seems to be more consistent and really is one of the best fried fish offerings we've ever had. When the baked is "on," it's superb, but it's probably not worth the risk if you're trying to impress someone with a great fish experience.

The baked haddock wasn't the only thing that was "off" a bit with this visit - the service was somewhat lacking, too. Our waitress wasn't as friendly, prompt, or helpful as the last time, but the overall visit was still completely acceptable.

Dorf Haus = WIN

Service = 2 stars (slow, not very helpful, didn't come around much)
Food = 4 stars (primarily for the deep-fried cod and spaetzel)
Value = 4 stars ($44 for 3 people)
MISC = 4 stars (great environment, great overall fish fry)

Summary: Based on this follow-up review, the Dorf Haus maintains its standing as a top-5 fish fry. Even though the baked fish wasn't as good as last time, the overall meal was excellent, and is a "must visit."

Fish Fry Review: Jacs of Madison

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As much as I wanted to skip the fish fry, my loyal readers were hounding me for a new review... so, I took one for the team and set the fish finder sights on Jacs of Madison.

Jacs is located on Monroe Street, just a few blocks south of Camp Randall and the old Field House. Monroe Street is a cool little section of town - it features a lot of local mom-n-pop stores, and it also plays host to Trader Joe's grocery store. There are also a ton of little restaurants and coffee shops - it's more or less its own little city within a city. The architecture is also pretty cool - it's very "old school" which I fully appreciate. Here's Jacs as seen from Monroe Street:

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It's not a terribly huge establishment - I'd say it might seat about 60-70 people at the most. It features tall ceilings, a velvety red wall color, a large cracked-copper-top bar, and a handful of cozy 4-seat tables. Two large windows provide a nice influx of ambient light.

Upon entry, I was greeted by a hostess who asked if I might like to sit at the bar, as I was dining solo. I obliged and took a seat at the far end of the bar, where I had a decent view of the establishment (and also had an opportunity to see all of the various food plates as they left the kitchen). Here's a blurry shot of the interior:

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Jacs definitely has character - it's a comfortable and inviting place that you wouldn't mind spending time at on a regular basis. I could easily see myself meeting coworkers at Jacs for afterwork beverages...

The menu is expansive and varied - from asparagus risotto to pheasant flatbread pizza to filets and burgers with frites - there's likely something for everyone. But, alas, I was here for the fish fry. And as much as I wanted to try the frites or the curds, I went with a "safer" option of tomato basil soup, which arrived promptly and featured two nice little pieces of baguette.

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The soup had a nice consistency and texture, but didn't deliver big flavor. I expected a bit more basil punch, but for the most part, the soup tasted a lot like a standard tomato soup... Bummer, for certain.

The fish fry offering is limited to beer-battered cod and is served exclusively with potato pancakes. There were no options for baked fish, perch, shrimp, or any other types of fish. When my plate arrived, I was a bit underwhelmed.

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Why so underwhelmed? A couple of reasons... The plating seemed to be quite confused - Jacs uses some really cool plates, cups, and utensils, yet they dump their apple sauce and tartar sauce in some cheesy plastic "to-go" cups? The portions were also quite disappointing, especially given the $12 price tag. Two smallish pieces of fish and two tiny potato pancakes shouldn't cost $12... The cup of soup also ran $3 or $4... a bit "proud" for my tastes.

I sampled the potato pancake first - it was obviously homemade and had a texture that leaned more toward the pancake side than the hashbrown side. Onion flavor was very subtle, and despite having a bunch of chives mixed in, I didn't detect any chive flavor. For the most part, the potato pancakes were quite plain and unexciting. They weren't bad, but they didn't hold a candle to the potato pancakes that we've had at places like the Nite Cap in Palmyra or The Wayside in Jefferson.

I dug-in to the fish, which featured a semi-heavy, dark beer batter, and was actually quite tasty. The batter had a clear and easily identifiable yeasty beer taste, and it clung nicely to the moist and tender cod. The cod flaked apart when cut with my fork and the flavor was fresh and mild. I'd say it may have been a bit light on fish flavor, but I much prefer that to the alternative.

The fish stayed crisp and grease-free throughout the meal - a sign that it was cooked perfectly.

After finishing the plate of fish, I was offered a dessert but took a pass. In hindsight, I should've ordered dessert, because I found myself starving about an hour later... the portions of fish and sides were simply miniscule.

Jacs = FAIL

Service = 4.5 stars
Food = 2.75 stars
Value = 1 star
MISC = 4.5 stars

I hate giving Jacs a "Fail" rating, because the service was stellar - really top notch, and I loved the interior (and overall vibe of the place). The menu looked incredible as well, but everything that I sampled failed to deliver on numerous fronts... the flavors were lacking, the portions were tiny, and the prices were simply too high. My total dinner bill with one New Glarus beer, soup, fish, and tip was $25.33. That's too much, especially for two smallish pieces of average cod.

I'll go back to Jacs to sample the other menu items, but I probably won't return for fish.

With no racing plans for this weekend and a busy week of work behind us, we were excited to get back on track with chasing down the best fish fry around. After considering our many options, we decided to hit RP Adler's Grill and Pub, located on the far west side of Madison.

We arrived promptly at 5:15pm and were pleased to find a few good seating choices: the large and inviting bar is outfitted in dark wood and features high ceilings, plenty of pub tables, and a variety of large screen plasma TVs. The dining side seemed to be a bit of an afterthought, and conjured memories of Denny's, with its forrest green booths and carpeting. To say that it's a stark contrast to the bar would be an understatement.

The host told us that we could grab a seat at the bar, order a drink, and then make a decision as to where we'd like to sit. He added that the smallish dining area would fill-up promptly by 5:45pm, but also said we could eat in the bar if we'd like.

We grabbed one of the high-top tables and browsed the beverage menu. Mark went with a margarita; I opted for a New Glarus Naked (now back on tap!). We browsed the menu, but were most interested in the fish special, of which our waitress informed us included cod (baked, fried, blackened, or boiled), or lake perch.

I inquired if I could "mix-and-match" my cod options and was shocked when she responded with an "of course you can!" So, I ordered the three-piece cod dinner, with 2 pieces of baked cod and one fried, with steamed red potatoes for my side. Mark chose the lake perch with fries. I also asked for a cup of French onion soup, in lieu of cheese curds - Mark and I have decided that unless the curds are infamous, they're most likely going to be the standard Sysco curds, and calories don't come cheap...

The soup arrived just as I was finishing my beverage. I was saddened to see a fair amount of oil/grease in the soup; I cast aside the cheese and dug-in to the dark brown brothy cup. Any sadness quickly disappeared - the soup was fantastic. It had an initial peppery hit, a velvety and rich beef stock flavor, and a sweet and mellow onion finish. It was really a good soup - obviously homemade.

Fish frys include a baked pretzel as the bread option - the pretzel was awesome; I wish they'd have given us a dozen.

A second round of drinks was ordered, with Mark opting for an Old Fashioned (whiskey sour). The Old Fashioned was muddled (with orange - minus 1 point), and was very "watery" tasting. No favors won with the Old Fashioned, but that's ok.

Our fish plates arrived, and they looked decent, although RP won't win any awards for presentation. Here's my plate:

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The baked cod was delicious, if not a bit small. It was moist yet pleasantly firm, and flaked nicely when cut with my fork. The cod flavor was just as I'd expect - mild and smooth. No signs of butter or grease anywhere. If this would've been AYCE fish, I would've put down more that a few plates of the stuff.

The deep fried cod featured the same delicious cod base, but was covered in a beer batter that included what I believe were Corn Flakes. The result was a slightly over-battered piece of cod, but it was still delicious. The batter was extra crispy and just barely overpowered the cod. I ate the fried piece last, and was happy to find that it remained crisp, with no signs of grease or sogginess.

The steamed potatoes were average - about what you'd expect from a steamed baby red potato.

Mark's 4-piece perch plate looked delicious as well:

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Crinkle cut fries were obviously of the Sysco variety, but were well-cooked and crispy. The lake perch pieces were bigger than what we're used to seeing, and weren't quite as "firm" as what we've had elsewhere. The batter was identical to the cod batter, and featured the Corn Flakes as well. As such, I feel some of the lake perch beauty was lost in the batter, which is a shame, because lake perch can usually stand on its own - it doesn't need much batter; a light dusting and a quick fry will usually work perfectly.

RP Adler's Pub & Grill = WIN (barely)

Service = 4 stars (excellent, attentive and helpful - definitely sit in the bar area)
Food = 3.25 stars (baked was great; fried options were over-battered)
Value = 2.5 stars ($60 for two, with drinks - a bit pricey)
MISC = 3.5 stars (the bar area is enjoyable)

Summary: You can definitely do a lot worse than RP Adler's Pub & Grill - if you're in the area, don't hesitate to swing on in for a couple of beverages and what is for the most part, a decent fish fry.

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.

I was flying solo this Friday night, so I decided to a drive over to Mount Horeb, troll capital of the world, to sample the fish and the beverages from The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub.

Mount Horeb is located about 25 minutes south west of Madison and is a pretty neat little town. If it wasn't so far from Madison, I'd consider moving there - it's very picturesque and it seems like a nice place to live. The roads also looked to be quite awesome for biking...

I located The Grumpy Troll without too much trouble - it's about a block off of Main Street, and has a rather distinctive sign that makes it easy to find.

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When you enter The Grumpy Troll, you're presented with two options: venture upstairs to the pizzeria, or enter through a door that looks rather "school office-like" and into the bar, where they have a larger menu. I accidentally walked upstairs - it seems like the natural path, but quickly discovered my error and made my way back down to the bar, which was absolutely packed with people.

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I eventually made my way up to the bar and ordered a "Curly" Scottish Ale - The Troll brews its own beers, and many are held in high regard. The Curly was indeed quite good - it was very smooth, not too heavy, and very mildly bittered with a hint of hops.

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After standing around wondering how to put in my name for a table, I asked some folks if they knew how the system worked. They pointed to a small hostess station that was located near the back of the brew pub, so I walked over and asked for a table for one. The rather unfriendly hostess gave me a blank look and said, "ok."

And that was it. Didn't ask for a name, didn't give me an idea of how long things would take - just a blank look and then she walked away. I stood there wondering if I should wait, but decided to venture back over to the bar as a seat was opening up and I wanted to snag it.

Once seated at the bar, I felt a little more comfortable; I figured if I got stuck waiting for too long, I could always eat at the bar. And that's what I did. After about 35-40 minutes of waiting, I asked the bartender for a menu. He obliged and I browsed the vast menu.

I inquired about some "brats in a blanket" as an appetizer - mini brats, wrapped in a sourdough puff pastry, and served with a spicy honey mustard. "Oh, we no longer have those," said the bartender. Argh.

"How are the cheese curds?" I asked.

"We make them in-house, and they're awesome. So are the Grump Chips."

Decision made. I went with the baked fish with Grump Chips, and an appetizer of the curds. The bartender offered to substitute the curds as a side to my fish and bring out the chips first - he said it would be less expensive. Fine by me!

The chips arrived within minutes, along with a pretzel roll and some coleslaw. Everything looked incredibly tasty; the chips were dusted with a spicy blend, some toasted parmesan cheese, and served with a gorgonzola dip.

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Unfortunately, nothing tasted as good as it looked. The chips were cold, stale, and tasted like old grease. The gorgonzola dip had zero flavor - it tasted primarily like lumpy cream cheese. The pretzel was warm and soft, but had no flavor, and it was overly buttery. Oh joy... this wasn't shaping up to be a very good experience.

I ate about 3-4 of the chips, about 1/4 of the pretzel, and waited for my fish to arrive. The bartender asked how my chips were, and I told him, "not good - they taste really old and greasy." He shrugged and walked away.

By now, the bar was largely empty - I guess everyone was seated and eating. I inquired about a second beverage - I went with a Diet Pepsi, and I was also given some popcorn (also not very fresh tasting).

The fish arrived shortly after my soda and popcorn. I was immediately struck by the cheese curds - they definitely didn't look homemade... in fact, they looked exactly like the curds that you can get at nearly every bar in southern Wisconsin - Sysco curds... argh #2.

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I took a bite of the fish and it was game over. The fish was clearly a frozen filet, baked, and covered with paprika. It wasn't moist - it was dry and flavorless. It wasn't tender or flaky - I cut it with my knife and ate it like you might eat a piece of bread... The curds were over cooked and slightly greasy.

I ate about 1/2 of the fish and about 1/4 of the curds. The bartender stopped to ask how things were and again I gave him the bad news. He offered me a piece of the beer battered cod to sample, and I did. It arrived within seconds, and wasn't much better than the baked cod. The batter was too heavy, it was greasy tasting, and the fish wasn't anything to write home about.

I asked for my bill, and almost fell out of my chair - $28, without the beer (I paid cash for that). I asked for an itemized bill - they apparently don't have them.

So, I went and re-created how I hit the $28 price tag... $12 for fish, $7 for curds, $5 for chips, $2 for soda, and then tax. Wow.

The Grumpy Troll = FAIL

Service = 2 stars (horrible, considering I was sitting at the bar)
Food = 1 star (everything tasted old and had a strong grease flavor)
Value = 0 stars
MISC = 4 stars (the beer was decent)

I would definitely not recommend The Grumpy Troll for fish. Their beer was nice, but everything else was less than decent. The pizzas looked good, but I'm not sure if I'd even give them a shot, especially with as bad as the curds and chips were. There are many better fish frys out there - don't make a special trip to Mount Horeb for the fish here. :-(

Alchemy: Fish Fry Review

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Well, wouldn't you know it, but another Friday was upon us and that meant just one thing: it was time for some fish fry. A quick inquiry of our "must visit" list led us to the Alchemy Cafe, which is located on Atwood Avenue in downtown Madison.

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We arrived to the Alchemy at around 6:15pm. The place is quite small and apparently quite popular with the neighborhood residents because our wait time was quoted at "around an hour." We put in our names with the friendly hostess and then tried to make our way to the bar for a beverage.

That effort proved to be nearly futile, so we caught the hostess and asked if we could leave a phone number; we were going to walk next door and grab a seat at the "Ideal Bar." She accommodated our request and we made the short walk to the Ideal, where we grabbed a couple of New Glarus Moon Mans. While sitting at the Ideal, we noticed a bar novelty item that struck our fancy - Beer Nuts. I haven't had those things in 20 years... so, we grabbed a couple of packets and enjoyed our wait.

Before we knew it, the phone rang and we made our way back to the Alchemy, where we were promptly seated at a nice little table near the front of the restaurant. A waitress introduced herself and took our drink orders - Mark went with the customary Old Fashioned; Dennis stuck with water, and I sampled one of the many unique craft brews that they had on tap. I'd only heard of one or two of the breweries listed, so I was curious to see how things would play out. I tried a "Hell Lager" from some tiny little brewery - it was pretty tasty and proved to be a good first pick.

The Alchemy menu is quite limited and appears to change often. The menu that's currently listed online didn't match with what they were offering at the restaurant during our visit - for example, the only choice for "starters" were some fries or a clam chowder; and the entrees had changed significantly as well. No problemo - we were there for the fish; although the only option for the Fish Fry was beer battered cod. No baked, no walleye, no perch - it was battered cod or nothing.

So it was battered cod all the way around; I chose sesame-seared green beans as my side item, while Dennis and Mark opted for fries. Mark's Old Fashioned arrived while we were placing our food order - it was nicely muddled and had a very good flavor. We're not sure if they used Squirt, but it didn't matter as it was tasty. So far, so good.

After about 20-30 minutes of waiting, our fish arrived. The Alchemy features a very cool interior; I'm going to classify it less as a cafe/bar and more of a "gastro-pub." The classification shows through with the presentation - while not fancy, they did try to present the fish in a unique way:

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The fish featured a thick beer batter that was actually quite tasty, if not a tad heavy. I'm pleased to report that the fish itself was absolutely excellent - it was nice and tender, moist yet flaky, and thanks in part to that heavy beer batter, didn't catch any grease. The fish was served nice and hot; and while I took my time eating, the batter never got soggy or greasy - it stayed crisp and perfect througout. The beans were excellent as well, although I couldn't detect any sesame flavor. The whole wheat dinner roll was tasty to boot.

The fries, as ordered by Dennis and Mark were interesting - they weren't so much fries in the traditional sense of the word as they were more like American Fries or thick-cut chips. Here's what the plate of fries looked like:

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They were good, especially when dipped in a touch of ranch, but I'm not so certain I'd order them on my own.

Each fish fry cost $12.95 (a bit steep for what it was), and with drinks our bill came to just over $50; not too bad for three people. The environment was pleasant, the fish was decent, and the service wasn't too bad - although it was a bit slow and "forgetful."

Alchemy Cafe = WIN

Service = 3 stars
Food = 3.75 stars
Value = 2.75 stars
MISC = 4 stars (nice microbrew selection; cool interior/vibe)

Summary: There are worse places to visit for fish; the Alchemy offers a solid fish fry with a very cool interior/vibe. I'd be tempted to try their normal menu - many of the offerings (including a bison burger) sounded quite interesting.

Due to a number of extenuating circumstances around this past Friday's Fish Fry opportunity, we had to revisit an establishment that we had already reviewed... we decided to drop-in on Christy's Landing for three reasons: they were close in proximity to where we were, they were open late (served fish until 10pm), and had availability to seat us.

A little back story if you will. This past week was quite busy; after work most nights, I had to help Mark pack and move, and we spent the better part of Friday moving the majority of his household items. By the time we finished, it was nearly 8pm and we were dead tired, not smelling too fresh, and in desperate need of some fish fry.

Several calls to local restaurants resulted in frustration - the wait times were either in excess of two hours, or the establishments had already stopped serving (or run out of fish). I had no idea that a Good Friday meant every single restaurant would run out of fish... :-)

We called Christy's and they indicated they'd be able to seat us by 9:00pm. That allowed for a quick clean-up and drive time, so we took the reservation.

Upon arriving at Christy's, the parking lot was packed with vehicles, but we were able to secure a spot at the bar where we promptly ordered an old fashioned and a few beverages. Within minutes of receiving our drinks, we were whisked upstairs to the dining room and seated at a comfy little table.

Our waitress informed us that they had already run out of several items (coleslaw, salad, baked potatoes and baked cod), but that they had plenty of perch and battered cod. Mark and Dennis ordered the perch (both chose hash browns with cheese and onions for their sides), while I opted for the battered cod with red potatoes and steamed veggies.

We also ordered a round of appetizers (curds and "fry chips"). Our waitress left and we proceeded to unwind and relax a bit.

The appetizers arrived within 5-10 minutes; the curds were of the standard "bagged" variety, but were cooked well, so they received a solid rating. The "fry chips" were essentially homemade, thicker cut chips with an interesting seasoning applied to them. They were decent, especially when dipped in a bit of ranch.

Drinks were refreshed and our fish arrived soon after. The battered cod was spectacular, just as it was during the previous visit. The batter was expertly applied, nicely seasoned, and complimented the flavor of the fish. It was also cooked to perfection - there was nary a sign of grease, and the fish itself was as expected: tender, flaky, moist, and delicious. The red potatoes and veggies were excellent as well.

I was fortunate enough to be able to sample the perch and the hashbrowns, and am pleased to report that both were stellar. The perch plates were piled high with lightly breaded pieces of perch; all were scalding hot and extremely flavorful. While I'm a purist at heart (I usually go with cod), I could easily fall for perch... and the hashbrowns were wonderful to boot.

All-in-all, Christy's remains an excellent option for Friday night fish. Highly recommended, and definitely worthy of it's current ranking at #7 overall. Our service on this past visit was a bit spotty, but it was quite late and they were obviously extremely busy, so it's hard to take away any points.

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I managed to invite myself to dinner with Dan and Tara (and their family) this past Friday; they were headed to The Fireside to celebrate Tara's mother's birthday. The Fireside is a bit of a legendary place - it's been around for eons, but surprisingly, I'd never been there. Probably because they're famous more for their entertainment (musicals, plays) than their food fare...

We arrived to the monstrously large Fireside (it seats 1,750 people for dinner) at 8pm and were ushered through the "lobby" area, which includes a bunch of shops as shown here:

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Yes, that's a "Technicolor Dreamcoat" hanging from the wall - it was actually pretty cool.

We took a seat in the large bar area, which featured classic 70s decor, including these awesome vinyl "wrap-around" chairs:

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Sorry for the dark photo; the place doesn't seem to have many (if any) windows, and the primary light source in the bar came from a few of the four-sided fireplaces. I'm guessing they have something to do with the name of the place.

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After sampling an old fashioned from the bar (they didn't muddle, nor did they include cherries or an orange), we made our way to one of the dining areas, where we were promptly greeted by a waiter. Menus were already placed and were clearly the "Friday Fish Fry Special" menus, as options were quite limited (fish, chicken, sides, soup, dessert, kids items).

The Fireside offers your choice of beer battered cod, steamed cod, deep fried chicken, or a combination of any of the three. You also have the option of "adding a piece" of whatever you'd like to your order... so, in theory, you could order the steamed cod and order a piece of beer battered cod, or a piece of chicken. It's not a bad system.

I chose the steamed cod with a baked potato. I also opted for a cup of french onion soup, and decided to pass on dessert. The rest of the table ordered nearly the same - steamed cod was by far the favorite, but one person did order beer battered cod, and another added a piece of chicken to their steamed cod order.

Side options included: baked potato, fries, Yukon potatoes (quartered and boiled Yukon golds, with onion and spice), and potato pancakes (which included applesauce and maple syrup on the side).

After taking our orders and leaving, another server brought us baskets of freshly-made bread. Tonight's offerings included a marble rye and a cheddar sourdough. I tried a small piece of each - they were soft, perfectly chewy, and super tasty.

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Shortly after the bread arrived, so did our soups and coleslaw. I didn't try the slaw, but the soup was pretty decent. It was made with a small piece of rye bread and a small square of muenster cheese:

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I appreciated the way they did the soup; it wasn't cloaked by a huge piece of fatty, greasy cheese, and the amount of bread was perfect for the size of the cup. The soup was slightly salty, but it all worked well.

After a longish wait, our dinner entrees arrived. The steamed cod looked slightly odd (the fish had "opened" up), but it was quite tasty. Here's a picture of my cod plate:

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While the Fireside may serve upwards of 2,000 people on a Friday Fish Fry night, you'd never know it. The fish was made really well - it was steamed perfectly, and unlike so many other places that ruin their baked or steamed fish by drenching it in butter or dill, the Fireside serves their fish "clean." I really like that they served it clean - it allowed the wonderful flavor of the fish to shine through.

The fish was nice and hot, tender and flaky, and very flavorful. The baked potato was a bit overdone, but the steamed veggies saved the day. Once again, they were steamed perfectly and served clean, just like the fish. No butter, no oil, no grease, just freshly steamed vegetables. My hat's off to the Fireside for offering their meals in a healthy manner.

The beer battered cod looked decent - I didn't sample it, but did examine it. The batter appeared to be dark yet thin, it adhered to the fish, and there weren't any signs of grease. I'm told it was "excellent" and have no reason to doubt that it was anything less than great.

I did sample the potato pancakes and was disappointed by them - they appeared to be deep fried rather than pan-fried, and as such resembled a McDonald's breakfast hashbrown more so than a proper potato pancake.

At around 9:30pm, desserts were served (key lime pie and an ice cream dish), as was coffee. The coffee was excellent - I could've had a dozen cups.

My fish plate cost $12.95, which isn't bad, considering how well it was made and the reasonable portions. Service was average at best, but the place is quite large, so I'll give them some slack.

Fireside = WIN

Service = 3 stars
Food = 3.5 stars
Value = 3 stars
MISC = 3 stars

You could do a lot worse when it comes to Fish Fry; while I'm not sure if I'd drive to Fort Atkinson just for the fish on a Friday, I certainly wouldn't turn away if in the area.

After fish, we headed over to the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills - I'm really starting to enjoy some of their offerings, and I like the inside of the small brewery. Here's a photo of the bar area, where Dan and I enjoyed a brew or two before calling it a night.

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What's that old saying about "distance makes the heart grow fond?"

I take exception to this rule, simply because one of my favorite places to meet-up with friends, watch a game, have a delicious dinner, or enjoy a beverage or two is located just a few blocks from my "home" in Madison - The MidTown Pub.

Followers of the blog will recall that I've been to the MidTown Pub ("MTP") for a fish fry before, and while the fish was good, they were too busy to keep up with the all-you-can-eat part of the deal.

Don't get me wrong - the MTP is an absolutely stellar place - I just seemed to have a bad run of luck when I tried the fish back in August of 09. Every other time I've ever gone to the MTP, the service has been absolutely incredible. In fact, it's largely because of the wonderful service that I'm such a huge fan of the MTP - the bartenders, the cooks, and the owner (Joel) are great, great people. It only took a second visit before they recognized me as a repeat customer - they really make you feel at home.

So, with March Madness underway and a good week of work behind me, I decided to revisit the MTP for some fish, some beverages, and a little basketball.

I forgot that the Badgers were playing in the tournament, so I was a bit shocked to discover the MTP was absolutely packed at 4:00pm on Friday. Everyone was glued to one of the many flatscreen televisions; when the Badgers would score, the place erupted. Luckily, I was able to find a spot at the bar (one lone stool, wedged between two intense basketball fans), and I placed my order for the beer battered cod - all you can eat, please.

The friendly bartenders took my order, asked me how work had been going, and wondered if I might be interested in a beverage - it was happy hour, after all. I obliged, and welcomed the fresh-popped popcorn offering as well.

I watched as the cooks took plain fillets of cod, carefully battered them, and dropped them into the hot oil (sitting at the bar has its advantages - you can watch the cooks work, you can see all of the televisions, and you can converse with the staff). I started to salivate with anticipation.

Next, I saw my fries go into the oil, followed by a nice thick slice of garlic bread hitting the griddle. I was getting anxious.

Perfectly orchestrated, the fish, fries, and bread were finished, plated, and brought out to me, served with a side of lemon and the usual accoutrements: tartar and coleslaw. Here's what my gorgeous plate of fish looked like:

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A dash of malt vinegar, a squeeze of lemon, and I was ready to tear into the fish - and I'm glad I did. As I recall, the fish from my previous visit was excellent, but slightly over-battered. I'm pleased to report that today's fish was absolutely perfect. The batter was light, crispy, nicely seasoned, and expertly applied. It stuck to the meaty, fresh, moist, and flaky cod fillets - this was some seriously good fish.

The fries were decent as well, but the real star was the fish (as it should be). I wolfed down my first four pieces and put in an order for a few more - the staff seemed somewhat surprised, but as I said, "don't let my gangly appearance fool you - I can pack away fish."

Within minutes, a second plate arrived and it was every bit as good, if not better than, the first plate. I could've eaten another 5-6 pieces of fish quite easily, but I didn't want to make a scene, so I called it quits on the 'ole fry. Oh - the garlic bread - stellar as well. There's something about a "griddled" piece of bread that's just wonderful.

The all you can eat cod is served from 3:00pm - 7:00pm and costs $12.95. I'd recommend you go early and try to sit at the bar; otherwise they also have a myriad of other fish options, including a baked cod that's supposed to be exceptional (I'll try it during a future visit).

So - where does this leave things? To reiterate - I love the MTP. I really enjoy hanging out there, and I'm serious when I say they have the best atmosphere, the most friendly staff, and the nicest patrons. Their food is top notch (I've yet to order anything unsatisfactory from the normal menu, and I really crave their burgers and sweet potato fries). The prices are inexpensive. The fish fry was excellent.

MidTown Pub = WIN

Service = 5 stars (the best around)
Food = 4 stars (fish was incredible)
Value = 4 stars ($12.95 for AYCE? No brainer)
Misc = 5 stars (best local bar for miles and miles and miles + great jukebox)

Summary: While I don't think the MTP beats some of the holy grails of fish frys, it is a very excellent fish fry - based on this visit, I'd place it near the top 8. Go there if for no other reason than to enjoy some of the best and most friendly/genuine service you'll ever experience, nosh on some incredible food, and leave feeling happy you stopped by. Well done, folks!

Quivey's Grove

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What a joy it's been to run again - I was able to run every day this past week, and despite still feeling quite sluggish and "out of it," managed to log just over 35 miles in five days. I've got my fingers crossed that at some point in the very near future I'll feel more normal while running, but I guess recovery takes time - I'll try to be patient. :-)

With some miles back under my feet, I figured I could treat myself to a proper fish fry. Mark and I had been hearing from some coworkers that the fish from Quivey's Grove was phenomenal, so we set our sites on the famous eatery. We sent invites out to our coworkers and were pleased to have a few of them join us.

Astute geekysteve readers will recall that I've been to Quivey's Grove before - just not for food... no sir, we kicked-off Oktoberfest with the Quivey's Beer Fest a few months ago, and it was a great time.

We arrived to Quivey's at 5:00 sharp and promptly put in our name for a table. Would you believe the wait was set at "45 minutes or more" for a table of five? Crikey! Thankfully, the bar area was comfortable and featured a nice selection of Wisconsin microbrews. Check out the huge timbers that make up the Stable Bar area of Quivey's:

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We ordered a round of drinks. The old fashioneds were average - no muddling, no cherry, no olives, no Squirt. While waiting for our table, we decided to try the cheese curds. They were a bit steep at $7, but were fairly tasty, if not a touch greasy.

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Our table was ready by 6:15 (a full hour+ wait), and we were led upstairs to the Stable's eating area. Quivey's has a lot of character and charm - I'll give it that. It was quite pleasant to sit in the old building, surrounded by the huge beams of timber and the centuries old stone. Here's our group, which consisted of (clockwise from left: Dianne (from PRC group), Russ (our PMO manager), Karan (a fellow Project Manager), and Mark (a fellow Project Manager).

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We browsed the menu and opted for fish, all the way around. I chose the sampler, which included baked cod, beer battered cod, and fried lake perch. Potato options included "parmesan potatoes" (or, as some would call them - "funeral potatoes") or fries. I went with the fries, since everyone else at the table chose the parmesan potatoes.

We got things going with the traditional coleslaw and bread. I'm not a slaw fan, so I can't comment on it, but the bread was nice - it reminded me of a non-sour sourdough - had a dense feel to it, but was soft and chewy with just a slight bit of crustiness.

Our fish arrived after about twenty minutes - here's what the sampler looked like:

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We'll work from left to right.

The baked cod was average at best. Slightly watery, slightly rubbery, mild flavor - it seemed as if it had been sitting in a steamer/warmer tray for a little too long. It definitely didn't have that "fresh from the grill (or oven)" taste or feel. Had it been a little more fresh, it probably would've been a solid offering, but as presented, it was disappointing.

The beer battered cod was a major disappointment. The batter was soggy, and no matter how I tried to cut the fish, the fish would "fall out" of the batter. The cod itself was really watery and largely flavorless, and when combined with the super soggy and quite greasy batter, it was all I could do to choke down those two pieces. Definitely subpar.

The fried lake perch was the best of the group - the breading stayed firm and crunchy, the fish had a good flavor, and held its texture. Unfortunately, the tiny little pieces were couldn't revive or save the rest of the miserable plate (each piece was about the size of a pat of butter).

The fries? Ick. Limp, cold, and greasy. Thank goodness they only gave me a small bunch of them. All things considered, the plate was not worth $17.

Here's a shot of the parmesan potatoes with the baked cod - again, check out how tiny the portions are (this plate was $14; use the lemon for size reference):

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I'm told the funeral potatoes were largely lifeless, so a fail all the way around. We reflected on the meal while paying the bill and most rated it a "low 5 out of 10." I'm not sure if we hit them on a bad night, but given this experience, it's unlikely I'd go back to try the fish again.

Summary:

Fish = 2 stars
Service = 2 stars (we saw our waitress three times)
Value = 1.5 stars
MISC = 4 stars (great atmosphere)

Quivey's has history, character, and a nice bar. If you're looking for good fish, look elsewhere.

Fish Fry Review: Middleton Sport Bowl

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Friday lunches during lenten season can be hit or miss... Odds are if you head to a burger joint, it'll be largely empty. Hit a place that's known for its fish fry, and you'd best be prepared for a lengthy wait, so it was with some reservation that we decided to try the Middleton Sport Bowl for lunch today. They supposedly have a decent Friday lunch fish fry, so odds were that we'd be in for a bit of a wait, or have to deal with a packed house.

Luck was on our side today; we were able to quickly find a parking spot, and once inside the bar area of the bowling alley, secured two bar stools without any trouble at all. An older gentleman took our orders - deep fried cod plates with diet pepsi all around.

He poured our sodas and brought us a complimentary bowl of freshly popped popcorn. Bonus!

Within 10-15 minutes our fish plates arrived, and featured 2 pieces of beer battered deep fried cod, a nice portion of battered straight-cut fries, some coleslaw, some tartar sauce, and a dinner roll. I opted out of the slaw and tartar, as I'm not a fan. I'm told the slaw was "ordinary" and the tartar "wasn't anything special." Duly noted.

Here's my plate of fish and fries:

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The cod was decent. Nothing spectacular by any means, but for a lunch plate, it wasn't too bad. The beer batter was quite flavorful, if not a bit heavy. The fish was a bit watery and light, and it lacked a firm/meaty texture. Flavor was extremely mild - the batter easily over-powered it. Had this been "dinner fish," I'd have been extremely upset, but since it was lunch time, we cut it some slack.

Fries weren't bad at all - nicely battered and fried to perfection. I added a dash of salt and a few shakes of pepper, and all was good. The dinner roll was dry and crusty - so dry, in fact, that I didn't even bother giving it a try. Just from the feel of it alone, I could tell it wasn't going to be worth the calories.

We polished off the fish and our bill arrived - $14.64 for the both of us. Not too shabby. We tipped, thanked the staff, and headed out to the car - our adventure took just 30 minutes - very respectable.

So, Middleton Sport Bowl = NEUTRAL. Not a win, not a fail. I probably wouldn't hit this place for dinner on a Friday night, but I'd definitely go back for a lunch or two, as many of the other patrons' plates looked mighty good (especially the Philly cheesesteaks).

Stay tuned for an entry about the Bloom Bake Shop - a new bakery that recently opened...

I'm not normally one to voluntarily hang out in a church, but for a good fish fry, I'll do just about anything. So, when folks kept telling us (the fish fry fanatics) about the awesome fish fry from a catholic school, we decided to give the 'ole parish a shot.

The school is located just northwest of Middleton - it's about a 10 minute drive from Madison's west side. It's easy to find - just follow the long line of cars making their way down the narrow two-lane road that is Highway K. Finding a parking spot proved tricky, and figuring out the correct entrance into the place proved even trickier.

Once inside, we were shocked to find a long line (it had to have at least 150 people in it), but that shock was quickly one-upped by the most shocking thing I've ever seen in my life: a beer stand... IN A CHURCH SCHOOL... ...I'm just sayin'...

We ponied-up our $11 for a fish ticket, and then got into line. This is what the line looked like after we'd been there for about 10 minutes or so.

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As we were buying our first beverage, I asked the friendly vendor how long we might have to wait in line - I figured it would take at least an hour or so to make our way down to the basement. His response was startling - "I'd say this is a one beer line."

I was starting to like this place. I liked it even more when I stumbled across this gem, compliments of a first grade student at the school:

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Definitely a unique combination of aspirations! The line did indeed move quickly - within minutes, we were making our way down the first flight of stairs and after another 10 minutes or so, we were in the basement and ready to be seated. The dining area was packed, and it's 100% "family style" - you're placed at a table with 8-10 other folks, where you all share food from heaping plates of goodness. Here's the dining area:

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Just after I finished taking that picture, we were led to our table, where we discovered a gigantic plate filled with steaming-hot deep fried cod, along with massive bowls of fresh crinkle cut fries, baked potatoes, colesalw, green beans, and homemade bread. This was going to be a dangerous evening.

I helped myself to a few pieces of cod, some fries, some green beans, and a piece of bread:

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The fish was divine. I keep saying things like "top 3 fish" or "top 5 contender," but this was quite possibly some of the best fish I've ever had. It was served absolutely piping hot - the beer batter was perfectly applied and delightfully flavorful. The fish itself was unreal: tender, flaky, firm, meaty, moist, and absolutely superb. As good as any fish I've had anywhere, and it was all you can eat, and it was a bargain at $11.

The fries were good as was everything else; but the fish was definitely the star of the evening. Oh - the service was excellent as well. As soon as any plate or bowl was nearing empty, a volunteer would swoop in and replace the empty plate or bowl with a brand new, pile of food - be it fish, fries, beans, or whatever.

And just when I was ready to burst at the seams thanks to all of that heavenly fish, the volunteers stopped by (as if on cue) with slices of homemade strawberry cake for dessert. I swear I heard angels on choir.

Saint Peter's was definitely a WIN. The only downsides? The basement setting isn't big on ambiance, there weren't any old fashioneds, and there wasn't a baked fish offering. Oh, and they also only do the fish fry once a month on "non lent" months, so it requires some advanced planning.

But those are all very minor/petty complaints - the fish was out of this world, the price was more than fair, and the service was top notch. 5-stars all the way around. Now, if they could find a way to do a "Sunday morning fish fry," I might just be enticed to go to church every so often...

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...seriously? I think they're trying to make light of the whole "here's a beer while you're in church" thing. But whatever - it all works, and it works really well. Kudo's to St. Peter's!!!

Friday Night Fish Fry: Fitzgerald's

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We decided to stay local, and you can't get much more "local" than Fitzgerald's on Parmenter in Middleton. The place is a classic supper club - complete with paneling, a large and dark bar area, and a nice-sized dining area. It's been around for quite a while from what I'm told, and while they're best known for steaks, rumor had it the fish fry was solid, so we decided to give it a try.

Here's what Fitzgerald's looks like from the outside:

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Ventured inside, checked with the hostess and after putting in our names for a table, grabbed a seat at the bar. The bar featured a nice selection of craft brews on tap, and they had complimentary snacks - Gardetto's and fresh popped popcorn. I went with a Tyranena Rocky's Revenge; Mark sampled the old fashioned.

They muddled the cherries with the sugar and bitters; added whiskey, added ice, and topped it off with sour. Mark reported it was "ok" - 5.5 to 6 points out of 10.

Our table became ready and we were led to the dining room, where we passed a huge buffet line along the way. The buffet included items such as broasted chicken, deep fried cod, baked haddock, seasoned and broiled haddock, some casseroles, and a bunch of potato options.

We took a peek at the menu - the buffet was $13; the all you can eat deep fried fish was $13... and the baked fish included 2 pieces of haddock for $10. Hmm... seemed like the buffet was the best bet, so we ponied up the $13 and made our way to the line.

The seasoned haddock looked as if it had been drowned in butter, so I took a pass. I did, however, go with the baked haddock, a baked potato, and I decided to sample the deep fried cod as well. After squeezing some lemon over my fish, this is what the plate looked like:

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The fried fish was decent - tasted a lot like a good piece of Vande Kemps frozen fish, though... I seriously doubt they hand batter the buffet fish, so after a few bites I cast it aside and focused on the baked haddock.

The baked was quite firm, rather tasteless, and really unexciting. It wasn't offensive by any means, but it wasn't worth going back for more (although I did go back and grab one additional piece, just because I could). I've definitely had better baked fish in my day.

The baked potato was semi-hard; didn't seem as though they had cooked it to completion. I tried a few of the broasted potatoes, which were excellent - I should've gone with them instead.

All in all, a rather disappointing fish fry. I'd rank Fitzgerald's well outside of our top 10. Perhaps the menu fish is better than the buffet fish?

After Fitzgerald's we headed over to Fontana where I scored a killer new winter hat for $10 (on sale). We ultimately finished the evening at the Come Back Inn - here's Mark and I posing as "uninspired" (we were reminiscing about the fish from Fitzgerald's). You can see my new hat as well... :-D

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So, in summary - skip Fitzgerald's. There are better options in the area.

Sunday brings us the Superbowl! I'm headed over to Phil's house (coworker) to watch the game; should be a good time.

Speaking of which, and a bit off-topic... I went shopping for beverages with Phil the other day and stumbled across this odd beverage choice:

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Nothing says "refreshing" like a nice big bottle of... erm, Harlem?

Dorf-Haus: Well worth the drive

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Well, there went another week. It seems like I was posting a Fish Fry update only yesterday... The time goes by far too quickly, that's for sure.

It's becoming a bit more difficult to find good fish fries that are both popular and close in proximity to Madison; we get plenty of suggestions for places that are probably quite fantastic, but unfortunately are located in rather diverse locations - these options include: "The Gone Fish Inn" in Mount Vernon, "The Night Owl," in Evansville, and of all things, a gas station in Lancaster...

We definitely want to try as many fish fries as possible, but time isn't always on our side... so, we weigh the options and choose carefully. This past Friday's choice proved to be a winner in every sense of the term. Read on.

I'd read good things about a little German restaurant known as "The Dorf Haus," especially with regard to their fish fry. A quick peek at the map showed the drive wouldn't be terrible - maybe 30 minutes or so from Madison. So we saddled-up and hit the road, our tummies-a-rumblin', tastebuds-a-waterin'.

The Dorf Haus is located in Roxsbury, Wisconsin, which is a town that appears to consist of a few bars, a church or two, and a handful of houses. Very quaint, to say the least, and we had no problem finding the Dorf Haus - the parking lot was packed (overflowing, actually) with cars. Definitely a good sign.

We wandered into the bar area and put in our names for a table. The hostess indicated it would be "at least an hour" before we would be seated. Yikes! So, we ordered a few beers (The Dorf only offers German brews on tap - another bonus) and went on the hunt for a place to sit and wait.

(All pictures are from my iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality)

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We eventually scored some seats near the end of the bar, which was great - we had plenty of room and it was near where the bartenders kept the snack mix, so our bowl of crisps never went empty. :-)

Mark ordered an Old Fashioned as well, and was happy to report that it was well-made. The bartenders cranked out Old Fashioneds by the dozen - no lie. They muddled sugar with bitters and a splash of cherry juice, added the whiskey (or brandy), added ice, and topped it off with a splash of soda. Total time to complete: about 14 seconds. $3.50, thankyouverymuch.

Our table became ready at around 8:00pm, and we were led into one of a handful of dining areas. Upon being seated, we discovered a basket of "fritters," which were deep-fried biscuit-like nuggets of bliss (and were still warm, puffy, and slightly crisp on the outside). Here's what one of these delicious little critters look like (with honey):

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Salads arrived next - nothing fancy to report... Just your basic side salad on a chilled plate, and served by gals wearing authentic German gear (I believe the dresses are called "Dirndl").

Our fish options were limited to family style (AKA "all you can eat") deep-fried cod for $10, or an order of baked haddock for $13. Mark went with the family style, and I went with the baked. For sides, Mark chose spaetzl (a german noodle of sorts) and I opted for the baked potato.

Within 15-20 minutes our entrees arrived. Here's the baked haddock:

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All I can say is, "wow." Easily a top three contender for fish quality. I'm running out of ways to describe fish in a unique manner, so I'll have to rely on the old descriptors of: fresh, flaky, tender, slightly sweet, and no hint of fishiness. Just absolutely perfectly executed baked fish. It wasn't watery, it wasn't dry - it was just incredible. Haddock is a quality piece of fish, and it definitely shines when baked properly.

Mark's deep fried cod was even more impressive; they start with what has to be some of the highest-quality cod around, dip it in a light batter that has just a hint of salt and pepper, and then fry it to perfection.

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The batter wasn't overwhelming, nor was it greasy, and it stayed crisp until the very last bite. I sampled half-a-piece of the stuff and instantly wished I hadn't - not because it wasn't great, but because I could've easily polished off 15-20 pieces of the stuff. I would've made a scene.

The spaetzl was awesome as well - I'd never really tried it before, but man, is it some good stuff. Mark has spent some serious time in Germany, and he remarked that the Dorf Haus spaetzl was as good as any he'd had while in Germany. That's a compliment.

Our waitress offered us some lovely desserts, but we were both quite full, so we took a pass. We left great tip (the service was stellar to boot), and then drove back to Madison, raving and remarking about the Dorf Haus the entire way. Definitely a win.

Dexter's Pub

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Friday flew up faster than anticipated leaving us without much time to plan for Friday's fish feast. The weather was brisk, but decent, so we decided to venture to the east side of Madison and sample one of the local pub offerings. Dexter's fit the bill, so we meandered into the smallish establishment at around 7:30pm, found the bar, and put in a request for a table.

As we waited in the brightly-lit and paneled bar, my dining partners ordered some Old Fashioneds. I'm pleased to report that Dexter's gets bonus points for building a proper Old Fashioned - they muddled the cherries, used a nice amount of bitters, and finished things off with Squirt. The only foul on their part was including an orange, but that was easily removed. Round two of Old Fashioneds apparently didn't include an orange, so all was good once again.

After nearly an hour's wait (the place was packed), we were directed to our table, where a waiter presented us with an incredibly impressive beer menu that featured approximately 20 specialty microbrews, and a set of food menus. I knew what to go with for dinner, but the beer offerings were a bit more challenging... I eventually opted for a Miller Lite... nothing too exciting.

We ordered curds to start things off, along with soups and salads. The soups and salads arrived immediately and were excellent - I had a garden vegetable soup; Phil had a chili; Mark and Shaun (Phil's wife) had salads.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. An hour went by, and we hadn't seen our waiter or our curds. We flagged down a waitress and inquired about our order; she came back a few minutes later and apologized - our order had been lost, but the curds would be right out. Sure enough, they arrived within a few minutes, and despite looking a little odd, were quite scrumptious.

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I believe these were hand-made curds, but it's hard to say for certain. They were absolutely delicious and featured a light breading and white cheese. No signs of grease, and they weren't over cooked, so the curds scored big points.

Our fish arrived a few minutes later - I went with cod; others chose lake perch and shrimp. All were excellent - easily top 7-8 fish offerings. Here's the cod with waffle fries:

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While it may not appear to be, the fish portions were perfect. Those cod fillets were thick and meaty; the beer batter was perfect (from flavor to form), and it was served steaming hot. Top-notch fish, for sure.

And, Dexter's made good on their mistake; they comped our drinks and appetizers, so the meal cost about $40. Not bad by any means - we'll definitely be back.

Saturday arrived and the weather was nice, so I rode the trainer for 2.5 hours and then took a 1.5 hour run. It felt to good to get out and run in the 40-degree air. Unfortunately, the nice weather won't stick around for long... they're calling for falling temperatures this week...sigh. Hope all is well with everyone out there.

Fish Fry at the VFW Post 8483

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Mother nature dealt us a healthy serving of snow over the past few days - the temperatures dropped to single digits (and around 0 or below at night), and we received a good 6-8 inches of snow. Things weren't looking good for an adventurous fish fry, so we decided to stay local.

After pondering several choices, from golf courses to old favorites, we decided to try the VFW Post 8483, which is located near the airport in Madison. Rumor had it that their fish fry was good and reasonably priced. It was worth a shot.

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The place looked more like a bunker - it's sunk into a hillside, is constructed completely of cement block, and didn't appear to have a single window. Inside, things weren't much more "inviting..."

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But, when a deep-fried cod plate with sides, bread, and coffee runs a total of $8.50, I'm more than willing to sacrifice a little ambiance.

The VFW has an interesting ordering process, in that upon entry to the VFW, you're greeted by an older gentleman who shows you a "chart" of fish options. They had cod, haddock, and shrimp, all of it served deep-fried. You tell him which fish you'd like, and he gives you a card that indicates your fish choice. You then carry that card to your table, where the waitress takes the card along with your potato choice.

Beer is served at the bar and costs $1.75 for a 16oz tap.

Our waitress arrived, took our potato order, grabbed the cards, and was off to the kitchen. She returned with a small bowl of bread and coleslaw. And soon after, she returned with the fish.

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We went with the cod, and it was simply delicious. The perfectly applied breading was lightly spiced and cooked to perfection - no grease anywhere. The fish itself was fantastic as well - light, flaky, moist, and delicious. Easily top 10 fish - after wolfing it down, we figured the fish ranks #8 on our list; just behind the Esquire Club and just ahead of Jordan's Big 10 Pub.

The sides, the service, and the ambiance all left a little room for improvement, but the fish was absolutely solid, and would warrant a return trip by itself. All in all, a good fish fry experience, even if it was a bit out of the ordinary for us. :-)

After filling our guts with the tasty fish, we stopped by Phil's house (a coworker) for some great conversation along with a beverage or two. We really enjoyed hanging out with Phil - he's got a great family (his wife and three daughters were all super fun and interesting to chat with) along with two of the cutest dogs (Fiddle and Badger). Thanks for having us over Phil - we had a great time!!

Fish Fry, Found Dog - Happy New Year!

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Hey! Hope everyone is doing well! It's been a busy few weeks - sorry for the late update.

Stopped by the Oakcrest Tavern for their fish fry last week, and... well, it wasn't anything great. We tried the deep fried cod along with the baked cod, and both were terribly underwhelming. The service was spotty at best as well, and the fish was entirely forgettable. Normally, we're fans of the Oakcrest, but when it comes to fish fry, look elsewhere. Here's a picture of the deep-fried cod:

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And the baked tilapia - seriously, who has tilapia as their baked fish in a Wisconsin fish fry????

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The fries were spectacular, but aside from that, the Oakcrest fails when it comes to fish fry. Their burgers are great, their fries are awesome, but the fish fry = suck. Skip it. Definitely not worth the money... I think we spent close to $45 for two fish fries. EEEEK!

Christmas eve was uneventful - had some food at the MidTown Pub and then picked-up a cookie from Sentry:

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In other news, I found a blind Beagle this evening, and I absolutely fell in love with her. She was just wandering around on the road when I stumbled upon her. I honked and immediately noticed she didn't have any eyes. I almost started to cry instantly... but I called her toward the car, and she jumped right in.

I took her to the house where she quickly made friends with everyone. Here's her and Regis:

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I called the police to report that I found her, and was going to meet an officer at the animal shelter, but she got along with everyone so well that I took my time in calling back. Here she is sitting on one of the dog beds:

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Part of me wished her owners would never call, but they did... they called the police and the police called me to see if I could meet the owner and transfer the dog. Turns out her name was Maggie, she was 10 years old, and she got ocular cancer at the age of four and has been blind ever since. :-( She was sooooo sweet!!

Well, I guess that's about it... I'm just chillin' at the house, watching the Family Guy Empire Strikes Back parody DVD and enjoying some Miller Lites and cookies. :-)

I've been running a ton lately - averaging about 11 miles per day. Hope you all have a great New Year's.

Back on the hunt: Fish Fry Report

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So after taking a well-deserved break from the fish fry hunt, we decided to resume our search this past Friday. With the roads still in rough shape from Wednesday's snow storm, we thought it would be best to stay close to home and after a brief discussion, settled on Tully's II in Monona.

Tully's is located "around the corner" from Mark's house, so it was a logical choice and it received decent reviews from other fish fry fans, so we were confident the experience would be solid.

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Upon entering the place we were immediately confused. You walk in and encounter a small dining area with 7 or 8 tables. Behind this small dining area is a large bar with a ton of bar stools and 2-3 tables. To the right of the entryway is a pool table room, and to the right of the pool table room is another small dining room with 7-8 tables and a salad bar. We weren't sure where to sit, so we stood around for a bit and eventually settled on a table in the "front" area.

Waitress took our drink orders; no Old Fashioneds today - we just weren't in the mood. We did order some cheese curds and browsed the menu which lent itself heavily to the pub/bar food genre.

Fish choices were many: baked or battered cod, baked or battered perch, shrimp, and a third option that escapes my memory. All were offered as AYCE (All You Can Eat), and the side choices were equally vast - from kettle chips to garlic mashed potatoes.

We decided on the baked cod, the deep fried cod, and the deep fried perch. The dinners include a trip to the salad bar; I found the salad bar to be a bit disappointing - everything tasted as if it had come from a freezer bag or a can, and the cherry tomatoes that I had were squishy and funny tasting. Not a good sign.

Food arrived at the same time as our curds (another bad sign); the curds were anything but special, just your garden-variety Sysco breaded yellow cheese curds that were fried a bit longer than they should've been.

The baked cod didn't look too appetizing:

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It arrived in a small crock of sorts and was swimming in a buttery water. As you can tell from the photo, they coated the heck out of the fish with dill. The fish was rather lifeless - dull, tasteless, mushy, and anything but exciting. I regretted going with the AYCE option after the first few bites... there was no way I'd be getting my money's worth on this trip.

The fried cod was just slightly better:

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It featured a fairly tasty beer batter that was a both heavy and slightly greasy. It did have a good flavor, but no amount of batter could help the poor cod. And to add insult to injury, as the cod sat, it became even greasier. Strike two. The saving grace were the cheesy hash browns - they were crispy and delicious.

The battered perch was even greasier than the cod; not even worth a photo. The final blow came by way of the check - 3 drinks, an order of curds, and 3 plates of fish was nearly $60. Not good.

Since we didn't over indulge in fish, we decided to head to our favorite watering hole, The Come Back Inn. We're becoming regulars here; when we walked-in, we were immediately greeted and asked if we were going to have "the usual." Yikes!

I went with a liter of Spaten Lager; I'd normally go with New Glarus Naked, but it's a seasonal offering that "expired" in September and won't be available until next May.

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Their bar is so great - it's a huge slab of wood that's at least 10" thick; they have about 30 varieties of unique/micro brews on tap, free popcorn, the employees are all wonderful and friendly, and they have live music on Friday and Saturday nights (without a cover charge). It's also reasonable - a liter is $9 - and their food is pretty solid.

The CBI is connected to The Essen Haus, which is a true German establishment - their dishes are all of the authentic German variety and on Friday nights, they have a traditional "oompah band" that plays polka into the wee hours. We took a gander and were immediately hooked. There's something about sitting in a place that resembles a German pub while drinking a good German beverage and listening to an oompah band. I loved it.

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A short-lived first place

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So two weeks ago, we proudly announced a new winner of the coveted Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics award for best fish fry... and that winner was: Schaumburg's Supper Club. Unfortunately, their first-place title was short-lived, as we stumbled across what is quite easily the best fish fry we've ever had.

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The new "winner" of our award for the best fish fry is: The Owl's Nest in Poynette, WI. It's located just east of 51, about 4-5 miles north of highway 60. Trust me when I say it's well worth the drive - from the minute we arrived and took a smell of the air outside of this little bar, we knew we were in for a treat.

We put in our names for a table and were told that the wait would be about an hour. No problem - the night was young, the weather was wonderful, and the bar area was crowded, entertaining, and relatively smoke-free. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the bar was this "lazy Susan" for the various alcohols, as it featured a large, carved wooden owl.

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After almost an hour's wait (to the minute), our table became available, and we were promptly seated in the dining area of the Owl's Nest. We were immediately impressed with the true supper club nature of this place - it featured plenty of wood paneling, wallpaper, true Wisconsin "kitsch" and wall adornments that appeared to be straight out of the 70s. How can you not love these chandeliers and the "hi-fonic" speaker system?

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Our waitress promptly stopped by to take our drink orders and to take our orders. We went with the usuals - a whiskey old fashioned sour, breaded mushrooms, onion rings, and fish. The fish was served family-style, as were the complimentary sides that included baked beans, coleslaw, rye bread, and tartar sauce.

Up first was the old fashioned - it wasn't muddled, wasn't made with Squirt, and featured an orange (a big no-no). We had that promptly corrected - oranges should never be included in a whiskey old fashioned sour... overall, the old fashioned left a little to be desired; it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't spectacular.

Next came the mushrooms, which were spectacular. They were obviously homemade; fresh button mushrooms dipped in a flaky batter, fried to perfection, and served with a huge side of delicious ranch. It would've been easy to eat a couple-two-tree-hundred of these wonderful mushrooms:

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Before we knew it, the onion rings arrived and as hard as this may to believe, they were even better than the mushrooms. The rings weren't so much rings as they were super thinly sliced rings and strings of sweet onions that were lightly battered and perfectly fried. They had a slightly salty flavor, and literally dissolved in your mouth. Wow - so good.

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Our waitress kept the party rolling by bringing out the fish - we ordered both the baked cod and the deep fried cod. They both shared an identical foundation - the cod was fresh, flaky, moist, flavorful and absolutely perfect. Both were served absolutely piping hot; so hot that we burned our mouths with the first bites.

Here's the baked cod - not sure why they include butter... it's absolutely not necessary.

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And here's the deep-fried cod (that's one plate of the family-style fish!):

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The deep-fried cod is available in two varieties: beer battered or breaded. We went with the beer-battered, and it was unreal. The Owl's Nest definitely knows how to prepare a killer batter. Kudos to the fine folks that work there!

We finished the meal with an ice cream dessert; it featured some type of French alcohol that was mixed-in with it (the name escapes me). Hand blended, and extremely generous with the portions, it was the perfect way to cap-off the wonderful meal.

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Combine the outstanding food with some of the best service we've ever experienced, and The Owl's Nest easily takes the first-place prize for best fish fry to date. Do yourself a favor and make the short drive up to Poynette to check out this place. You won't be disappointed!

Playing "catch-up"

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What a busy week. It all started a week ago, on Friday the 30th, with a trip to The Stadium Bar for lunch with a few coworkers. It was the day before Halloween, my projects were racing along at full speed, the weather was cold and dreary... the notion of a steaming plate of fish fry for lunch sounded too good to pass up. So, we headed down to Regent Street and into the infamous Stadium Bar.

The Stadium Bar gets its name from its close proximity to both Camp Randall and The Field House (both Badger institutions - football and basketball, respectively). Rumor has it that on a game weekend, the Stadium Bar will easily host 600-700 people at a time. It appears to have nearly 100 televisions along with a massive outdoor tailgating area.

Another fish fry website ranked the Stadium's fish quite high, so I was excited to try it out. Deep fried lake perch with fries was the only option, and for $8, sounded like a good deal. The fish arrived rather quickly:

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The result: underwhelming. The perch was just ok at best. It wasn't served very hot, it didn't have much flavor, the breading wasn't crisp - it seemed as if the fish had sat under a heatlamp or in a warming tray for a while prior to being served. I wouldn't go back for the fish any time soon.

We finished our lunches and headed back to work, and despite my pleas to stop at the Greenbush Bakery for a "quick donut" (it's almost across the street from the Stadium Bar), my coworkers kept me on track and drove straight to work.

So that brings us to Friday night... with a difficult week of work behind us, it was time to let the hair down and hit a serious fish fry. Plans were set in place to make a drive up to Poynette, but we called a last second audible and made the shorter drive to McFarland, where we found The Green Lantern.

McFarland isn't a "smoke-free" city, so that meant we'd be sitting in a smoky bar as we waited for our table. Imagine my surprise when I noticed my uncle walk past us; it was good to see him (and my aunt). We chatted for a bit, and then our tables became ready. Before we went to our respective tables, my uncle suggested that we order the shrimp - he said it was unbelievable, and well worth the extra cost.

The Green Lantern (or "the greenie" as locals refer to it) is a "rustic" supper club that sits on the eastern shore of Lake Waubesa, almost directly across the lake from Christy's. I have a feeling that on a beautiful day, this would be an ideal place to hang out and enjoy some spectacular lake views.

We started with an order of cheese curds and an old fashioned. The curds:

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As you can see, they were your standard "from the bag" curds. Nothing too exciting. And here's the old fashioned:

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Can you spot what's wrong with that old fashioned? That's right: no muddling, no Squirt, and way too heavy on the whiskey (once again). We didn't have much of a chance to ponder the old fashioned because our fish arrived shortly after the curds and old fashioned...

Here's the baked cod:

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It was absolutely superb - everything you'd expect from a top notch piece of baked cod. Mild flavor, steamy and moist, flaky and tender (but still firm enough to hold up to a fork). I could've downed a dozen pieces of the baked cod (skipped the butter; the fish didn't need it).

Here's the deep fried cod with hash browns:

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Just like the baked cod, the beer-battered deep fried cod was really solid. The fish was served incredibly hot, the batter was crisp and light, the fish was perfect. The hash browns were also quite tasty; maybe a touch greasy, but overall very good.

And... the real star... the shrimp:

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All I can say is "wow." I'm not normally a huge fan of shrimp, but this stuff was exactly as my uncle promised - nothing short of amazing. Perfectly battered monster pieces of shrimp that were crisp, light, and delightful. If you make your way over to The Greenie, be sure to try the shrimp.

In summary, The Greenie delivered a great fish fry experience. We kicked around rankings, and figure it should fall into the 6-7-8 range. It loses some points for the smoky environment and for the lackluster curds and old fashioned, but delivers on everything else.

After leaving McFarland, we ventured back to downtown Madison and into our new favorite watering hole, The Come Back In. They were having a "pre-halloween" party, and we spotted this cool costume:

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It was pretty crowded and very loud (there was also a band playing), so we didn't spend too much time at the CBI. Perhaps we'll head over there tonight to see what's happening...

So that's about it. Sorry it took so long to get this entry done... stay tuned for results from tonight's fish fry adventure - we may head up to Poynette, or we may decide to stay local... we'll see how things play out. :-)

Fish Fry - We May Have A New Winner

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I swore that I was going to eat "well" this weekend... no fried foods, no donuts, no popcorn - nothing "bad." I didn't need to scarf down 300 pieces of fish and half-a-dozen donuts and an order or three of cheese curds, no sir. I was bound and determined to eat like a good boy.

Well, Friday came along, and before you knew it, the clock was reading 3:00pm, and I hadn't eaten anything... I was in meetings most of the day, or on the phone, and time just flew by. Starving and well aware that if I didn't eat something immediately, I'd be pigging out in a matter of hours, I gulped down my very favorite new treat: 1/2 cup of Dannon Light & Fit Vanilla Yogurt with 1/2 cup of Fiber One Cereal mixed in. Oh man - it's so delicious, and it's only 115 calories. It'll keep you full (and regular) for a long time, too.

That snack kept me perfectly content as we made the drive up to Schaumburg's Dinner Club, which is located exactly in the "middle of no where" - just outside of Randolph, Wisconsin. It took about 1.5 hours to drive there, and the drive included some roads that may not have seen traffic in quite some time.

We arrived at the Dinner Club and made our way into the crowded, smoky bar area. We put in our name for a table and took the first available seat we could find, which just so happened to be at the bar. The bar is a bit odd; there's not much to look at, but what few things are hanging from the walls, they're primarily Dallas Cowboys items... not sure what that's about... but here's a photo of the bar area:

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The place looks vacant in that picture because literally about 3 seconds before I took the picture, a group of about 15 people were seated. The empty seats that you see in the above photo were quickly occupied by other people who were waiting for their tables to become available.

The bar was smoky - dreadfully so... I can't wait for Wisconsin to go entirely smoke-free. So, to help cut the smoke, we ordered the customary Old Fashioned:

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It was: not muddled, wasn't made with cherries in the mix, didn't use Squirt, and had a ton of really cheap whiskey. So, not a winner. I took a single sip of it and called it quits. I browsed the menu and spied all sorts of goodies - cheese curds, onion rings, potato wedges, hamburgers, cakes... My "good eating" nerve was growing weak and frail...

After about forty-five minutes of waiting, our table was ready. At Schaumburg's, you're seated in what appears to be the living room of an old house - the place is pretty large, and it's pretty cool inside. It also has an interesting "back story" - more on that in a bit. For now, here's a shot of one of the dining areas:

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We ordered the french onion soup, which was wonderful. It featured a full, beefy flavor, with a hint of saltiness, and just enough of that onion "bite" to keep you honest. The soup was complimented by a nice rye bread that was soft and flavorful. I'm told the coleslaw was excellent as well.

Just as we were finishing our soup, the fish arrived - deep fried cod, served "all you can eat."

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The fish was absolutely spectacular. Better than almost any fish we've had to date. What made it so good? It's hard to put a finger on "exactly" what it was about it - the breading was perfect. The texture and crispiness of the batter was perfect. There wasn't a hint of grease anywhere. The flavor and texture of the fish was perfect. Light, delicate, meaty, moist, flaky; more than capable of standing tall on its own, but complimented perfectly by the batter. And the batter wasn't "over done" - the fish didn't need the batter to be great.

The fries were equally excellent; we also tried the broasted potatoes and they were superb.

Several plates of that fish were consumed, and every piece from every plate was as good as the next. There wasn't a single bad thing about any portion of the dinner - it was all incredible. So much so that my "good eating vow" went right out the window - I must have had 15 pieces of fish.

So, with the commitment to eat good trampled and forgotten, we decided to try the Schaumtorte desert - a meringue of sorts, topped with fresh strawberries.

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The torte was good, but not stellar like the fish was. The coffee, however was incredible as well - Cetavo-brand (exclusive to Sysco); it's so tasty - smooth and delicious.

We left the place impressed. Yes, it's true - Schaumburg's Dinner Club is hosted in what was once a brothel... ok, so yeah - that's odd. But the place has character - natural character, and that counts for a lot. Even without any character, the fish is so good that you could sell it from a cart on the corner of East Wash and Blair and you'd have a winner.

As we were trying to figure out the overall "rank" of Schaumburg's, we came up with this conclusion - Schaumburg wins overall because it IS a supper club that has superb fish. It's not a place that's TRYING to be a supper club and serves mediocre fish with artificial character... So, for that reason, Schaumburg's may have taken the #1 honors from The Avenue Bar. We may have to visit The Avenue again for the sake of direct comparison... oh bother. :-)

What a week. Work has been absolutely crazy; didn't have much time to do anything all week, so when Friday came along, no one had to twist my arm to lead the way to a fish fry.

Decided to head down to Belleville to check out Borland's Tavern. I had been to Borland's about 15 years ago and really enjoyed it; I hoped it would be as good as the 'ole memory bank made it out to be. Belleville is about 15 miles south of Madison - about half way to New Glarus, and aside from Borland's, there isn't much else in the town, so if the fish wasn't decent, we'd be hiking it back toward Madison for dinner.

After the short drive south, we hit Main Street Belleville and there she was - the familiar Borland's sign. Shining like a beacon, beckoning us to come on in and sample the fish.

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We walked in and everything was exactly as remembered - the bar with the old fashioned stools, the fluorescent lights, paper placemat/menus, the paneling; this place had all of the ingredients to be fantastic!

The Borland's menu is fairly limited - it's first and foremost a bar - we didn't see any cheese curds on the menu, so we ordered an Old Fashioned Sour and the fish. Borland's offers one type of fish: deep fried cod. Take it or leave it, thankyouverymuch.

The Old Fashioned arrived and it was...... well, a good effort.

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Can you spot what's wrong with the Old Fashioned? That's right - no muddling, no cherries, too light on the bitters, and far too heavy on the whiskey. They did use Squirt, so the potential was there. Thankfully it was only $2.50.

Shortly after we finished sampling the Old Fashioned our plates arrived. I was starving, as I didn't have a chance to eat anything at all on Friday (thanks to work being ridiculously busy), so I went with the "double order" of fish.

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What you're seeing here is: six pieces of fish, a huge side of coleslaw, some bread, and an order of fries. But you came here for the review, so let's get on with it. The fish was absolutely great (or at least my plate was). Yes, it was breaded (loses points), but the breading was light and crisp and didn't overpower the fish. The fish itself was excellent - light, flaky, moist - all of the things you'd expect or want from great fish. My only complaint is that it wasn't all you could eat, although that's probably for the best - I would've probably run them out of business if it was.

I skipped the slaw (I'm not a slaw fan), so nothing to report there. The bread was great - most likely homemade, very soft, slightly chewy, and delicious. The fries were excellent as well - I have a feeling Borland's knows their way around the fryer because the fries were perfect.

With the belly full of fish, it was time to call it a night.

Saturday night brought a Badger hockey game - found some tickets via Craigslist and ventured over to the Kohl Center to watch Bucky do battle with the Colorado College Tigers. The seats were pretty phenomenal - right behind the goal.

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During the warm-ups, the players rifle the pucks toward the goal and a lot of them miss, which results in the loudest "WHACK!" noise you've ever heard as the puck flies into the plexiglass barriers at about 100mph. It was a bit unnerving to say the least, but sitting a few rows from the ice made the flinching worthwhile. Here's the Zamboni in action:

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The game started and it was pretty cool - the action, the speed, the tenacity of the game - it's quite a fun time. Got to see a few scuffles, including this little tiff... I wish I knew hockey rules a little better - the game would've made more sense.

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Here's Bucky during one of the "halftimes" - I'm not even sure what they call the downtime that takes place between the three periods.

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The Badgers wound-up tying the Tigers: 1 to 1. The game was a lot of fun, though - there'll definitely be more hockey games in the future!

Rather than fight the masses that were leaving the Kohl Center, it sounded like a good idea to hit the local watering hole for a beverage. Nothing to really report from here, other than I saw my first "stein" - check out this monster:

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That's a 5-liter stein, next to a "normal" 1-liter stein. There was a group of guys that staggered in to the bar and wanted to order a boot, but because the bar was so busy, they were out of boots and suggested the stein. All I can say is - WOW. The thing is massive. I'm not even sure how they picked it up, since it's ceramic and had to weigh 20 pounds empty!

Finally, had a chance to ride the bike outside today; the weather was gorgeous, if not windy. It was sunny, in the low 40s, and a perfect day to hit the road. 2 minutes on the trainer seems like an eternity; 2 hours on the road, on the other hand, feels like 2 minutes, even when it is cold and windy. I'm not sure how many more opportunities there will be to ride outdoors... and that makes me a bit sad.

So there you have it - not a bad little weekend. Oh, and for those scoring at home - there were actually 4 Bs (if you count the beer in the stein).

Villa Tap

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This'll be primarily a fish fry update - was busy with work all week, despite the fact that I missed several days due to getting sick. Of all the times to get sick, I catch a nasty sore throat bug with a bad cough and body aches during the week where "phase one" of one of my projects is due to go live. I was completely out of commission on Wednesday, but managed to work from home on Thursday and Friday, and things are on-track for Monday's launch. At least all was not lost!

It not only stunk that I had to miss work, but that I couldn't run, ride, or swim at all during those days... I managed to ride the trainer for about 1 hour and 45 minutes today, and followed it up with a 1 hour run.

I also managed to hit a fish fry on Friday night; I felt pretty decent all day on Friday, but my manager said to stay home so that I wouldn't possibly get anyone else sick. So, with work wrapped-up for the week, it was time to take the crew over to The Villa Tap for some fish fry.

We'd heard good things about The Villa's fish, and it's not often that we make it to that side of town, so it seemed like a good opportunity to venture out and sample some fish.

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Got there sort of late (as you can tell from the darkness), and the place was plenty busy. It's a small - nay, tiny - bar with a handful of "tables" along the perimeter of the bar and approximately 25 seats at the actual bar itself. We managed to score one of the tables, and promptly placed our order with the bartender.

Started with the customary Old Fashioned:

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It lost points for not being muddled and for not using Squirt, but it wasn't too bad. Not one of the better Old Fashioneds we've ever sampled, but far from the worst.

Our appetizers arrived promptly:

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The onion rings were wonderful - cooked to perfection, sweet and flavorful, and the batter was excellent. The curds were standard "out of the box" curds, but they were cooked perfectly as well, so they were pretty darned tasty - no hint of grease, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. The ranch didn't win any fans... but, that's not a show stopper.

With the appetizers so good, we had high hopes (and expectations) for the fish. It arrived within 15 minutes of us placing our order:

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We'll start with the good stuff. It was cooked perfectly. The batter was light and didn't take any of the attention away from the fish. There wasn't any sign of grease anywhere, the fish was nice and hot, and the texture of the fish was excellent - moist, firm yet flaky, and decently "meaty."

Unfortunately, it was a bit fishy tasting... far too fishy tasting for cod - it tasted more like Ocean Perch; some bites tasted like Smelt (really fishy). It's a shame because the way it was prepared, The Villa Tap was in a position to become a top 3 fish fry experience.

Maybe they had an "off night" for the fish; we'll probably try it again, but for now, we can't strongly recommend The Villa's fish.

Some folks have asked for "rankings" - a Top 10 list, if you will - so, here it is:

1. Avenue Bar
2. Toby's
3. Christy's Landing
4. Norm's Hideaway
5. Esquire Club
6. Jordan's Big 10 Pub
7. Mid-Town Pub
8. Nite Cap Inn (Palmyra)
9. Flannery's Inn (New Glarus)
10. Villa Tap
11. Old Fashioned
12. Milford Hills Hunt Club
13. Stamm House

Until next week....

Oktoberfest - Starting off right

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Happy October, folks! Although I don't know how happy things can be when the high temperature so far has been about 50.000F! The past few mornings have been especially chilly - during one run earlier this week, the thermometer said 34F. Nice!

Work has been busy - my projects are in full tilt mode; phase one of one of the projects is due to launch next week and there's still a ton of things to take care of, so I kept my head down most of the week and focused on getting as much done as possible. We sent nearly 2700 "grid cards" out on Tuesday alone - that was an interesting day!

So, when Friday came and the opportunity to eat two - yep, you heard right - two fish frys came about, I jumped at the chance. First stop was to the local watering hole - Paul's Neighborhood Bar. We had heard the fish at Paul's was phenomenal, so we stopped in for lunch to check it out.

Unfortunately, the fish fry at Paul's doesn't start until 4:30pm... so, we were "stuck" with having to find an alternative. I spied a baked cod special for $6 and decided to give it a try. The fish was great - but the plate was doused in butter... argh.

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And as if covering the fish, the potatoes, and the beans in butter wasn't enough, they serve it all with a side of butter. You have to love Wisconsin.

The good news is that the fish was quite good. I sandwiched it between a few napkins in an attempt to soak up as much butter as possible, skimmed as much butter off the potatoes as possible, and enjoyed the lunch.

For dinner, the crew hit Norm's Hideaway Bar and Grill, which is located on Lake Koshkonog, just outside of Fort Atkinson and not too far from Busseyville.

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Some coworkers had told us about Norm's, and after checking with a few other sources, Norm's earned a shot at being reviewed/rated by The Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics.

The place sits literally "on the lake" and has a great northwoods/rustic feel to it. The only downside is that they allow smoking inside, but thankfully it wasn't terribly busy and therefore it wasn't terribly smokey.

Here's a shot of the bar area - we sat here for a bit while waiting for a table to open up (it's first come, first served for seating, and you order all of your food/drinks/etc at the bar).

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The bartenders were friendly, fast, and helpful. We chatted with one of them for quite a bit - she gave us some tips about the food, and later shared some appetizers with us.

While waiting for our table, we ordered some appetizers - white cheese curds and mini corndogs. They were pretty tasty - the curds were good; not homemade, but good.

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A table opened up, and we ordered fish - I was the only one to go with baked fish, and decided to try the Fiesta Poached Cod. It was three pieces of poached cod, topped with a roasted garlic salsa and served with potato pancakes. It looks odd in the photo, but trust me when I say it was absolutely delicious. The fish was light, flaky, flavorful, and tender. The salsa and potato pancakes were great as well. The potato pancakes weren't as good as the ones from Palmyra, but they were a close second!

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Other fish orders included Walleye, which earned rave reviews (no photo, sorry!) and the deep fried cod, which was extremely tasty. The fried cod was served nice and hot; it was lightly battered, moist, delicately flavored, and not the slightest bit greasy - not even after it sat for a while, which is a great indicator of a well-fried piece of fish. And, it was $9 to boot - talk about a bargain!

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We'd highly recommend Norm's Hideaway - great fish, great location, friendly service, and outstanding value. It's definitely worth the 25-30 minute drive from Madison.

I woke up this morning to weather that was, well, not so great - low 40's and raining. So, it was time to break out the dreaded trainer. I don't hate the trainer at all; in fact, I really like it, but I don't enjoy riding on the trainer because it's quite boring. Nothing like riding on a bike treadmill for an hour or so.

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The other thing that scares me about the trainer is that I'm still not convinced that it's OK to use a carbon fiber bike on the trainer... the bike's bottom bracket seems to "flex" a lot while riding, and that makes me nervous - I'm afraid it's going to crack or become damaged. I really need to get a second bike for trainer/commuter use.

After riding for 70 minutes, I hit the road for a run, then went over to Oktoberfest at Quivey's Grove. Quivey's Oktoberfest is quite an event - they invite 35 microbreweries to their grounds (Quivey's is a restaurant) and for $30 you get a small tasting glass and the chance to sample as many of the microbrews as you wish.

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The event is quite popular - it sells out months in advance, and people arrive early to get in line - this is the line, nearly 30 minutes before the event was due to open, and with the weather not being real friendly (rainy and cold).

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Once inside, it was a madhouse. People everywhere, all eager to try the different microbrews. Tried a bunch of different offerings - some were really good, others not so much. Quivey's did a great job of thinking of just about everything - they had this ingenious little "washing station" where you could rinse your glass between tastings. So simple, yet so effective - a horse trough, some PVC pipe, and a garden hose.

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There was even a band that played a nice variety of music; mostly "rockabilly" type music, but they were pretty decent. The funny part of it was they kept stopping the band so that the Badger football game could be played over the PA (the Badgers won, by the way).

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Quivey's also had food offerings that included bratwurst, soft pretzels, pulled pork, chicken sandwiches, and cheese curds. Tried the pulled pork sandwich (absolutely phenomenal) and a brat (decent, but not amazing). But perhaps the coolest thing at the event were these pretzel necklaces. Here's Jed showing off his edible neck ornament:

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With nearly 1000 people crowded into the tent, a belly full of pork, brats, and microbrew, and the weather not giving any sign of getting any warmer, it was time to call it a day. Headed back to the apartment and am sitting on the couch, watching some football. Hope you're all having a good weekend - we'll see you next week.

Here's one final shot of the people inside the tent at Quivey's. If you look really closely, you can see some of the breweries around the perimeter of the tent.

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Can you believe that September is almost behind us? It seems like just yesterday when we were celebrating the 4th of July... it's incredible how time literally flies by.

Speaking of time, I'll keep this entry brief; for those that are keenly aware of my blog and past entries, you may recall a post or two about a book and author that I stumbled across some time back while listening to Michael Feldman's radio show. The book was called The Omnivore's Dilemma and it was by Michael Pollan. The book was amazing; everyone should take the time to read it because it really will open your eyes about food - where it comes from, how it impacts us (economically, environmentally, nutritionally, and so on), and how there are responsible and irresponsible ways to produce and consume food.

Anyway, Michael Pollan has a new(ish) book, and he stopped by Madison to promote it. He spoke to a group of about 7,000 people at the Kohl Center on Thursday night, and as luck would have it (and time allowed), I was able to stop by and check him out.

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The "show" was free - just had to park, walk in, and find a seat. It lasted for about 2 hours and it was really interesting, as you can likely imagine. Apparently the new book, In Defense of Food has caused a stir - it's got people taking sides for a number of reasons, which is probably good because it ultimately means that people are reading the book, digesting the message(s), and feeling strongly about it. I managed to score a copy of the book at the show - autographed and all - for $9. A nice find, for sure, and I've just started to read it so I'll report back on it when I finish it.

Having spent Thursday night with Mr. Pollan, Friday night was just around the corner, and that meant another fish fry was in order. The crew decided to try Christys Landing, which is located on the western "coast" of Lake Waubesa. It's a tricky place to find by car; by boat it would be quite easy.

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Christys has an unusual layout - it's similar to The Stamm House; you enter at the "bar level," with all dining taking place upstairs. There's a hostess who waits at a makeshift hostess station near the bottom of the stairs, and when you're ready to eat, you walk over and request a table from her. She takes you upstairs, where there are about 10 tables and just two waitresses.

Upon being seated, we ordered some onion rings and cheese curds - the crew was starving, and the service was a tad on the slow side, so we "over-ordered" in the interest of staving off our hunger as quickly as possible.

Here are the curds and the rings:

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As you can tell from the photos, the appetizers weren't anything special by any means - just your standard "from the freezer to the fryer" Sysco offerings. But, they were cooked well, and being as hungry as we were, they did a fair job of satisfying us. We placed our fish orders - cod all around, and also ordered an Old Fashioned (as is tradition).

The Old Fashioned wasn't muddled (strike one), and didn't come with olives (strike two). Despite these two strikes, it wasn't bad - the crew thought it was a decent effort, but definitely not noteworthy.

We also sampled the chicken chili, and were pleasantly surprised - it was extremely hardy, with huge chunks of pulled chicken and just the right amount of zing. Despite the great chili we were still a bit nervous about the rest of the dinner... the service was slow, and with the exception of the chili, nothing really "stood out" as spectacular.

But alas, our concerns were for naught - the fish arrived, and it was outstanding. Here's the fried cod with cheesy home fries (red potatoes with onions) - sorry for the bad photo... iPhone... you know how it goes...

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And here's the cod with curly fries:

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The fish was easily top three quality fish - huge, thick cut portions of cod with a perfect beer batter, all flawlessly executed - no grease, no odd taste, just fantastic fish, plain and simple. Served nice and hot, the fish was delicate, "meaty," and flaky without being crumbly. Excellent job on the fish, for sure.

The curly fries were delicious as well, but the final pleasant surprise were the home fries - boiled and grilled red potatoes, mixed with onions, peppers, and cheese - yummy. Very good.

The bread basket was also great; the first round of bread included mostly wheat and potato buns; the second round featured Asiago cheese-enhanced rolls.

Value was great - the plates of fish were $10.95 and included salad/soup. We'll definitely go back to Christys.

Have a good week, everyone. We're still working on the new site (wisconsinsupperclubs.com); it'll be a few weeks before it's up and running, so until then, you'll have to suffer through fish fry reviews here at geekysteve.com... :-)

First things first - I realize that most of you are getting tired of reading about fish frys and biking and running, so it's time for a brief announcement: the fish fry crew has decided to venture out and start our own website, dedicated strictly to reviewing fish frys and supper clubs. We purchased a new domain name and I'm in the process of putting together the site. It'll be a month or so before things are up and running, but keep your eyes open for the new site - it's called www.wisconsinsupperclubs.com. It's got "place holder" text there now, but as soon as we can figure out how to organize the site, lay it out, and get some Google AdWords running, we'll have it live.

So, with that said, it's time for another fish fry review. :-)

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The crew hit The Stamm House in Middleton, and despite looking good on paper, it failed to deliver. In fact, it may have been one of the worst fish frys ever. Why?

Simple - the fish was icky. There's no better way to state it than "icky." It had the most ridiculously strong fishy (and not in a good fishy way) taste; I'm pretty sure that even the worst cafeteria fish would blow away the Stamm House fish. It took a lot of ketchup and a lot of lemon to choke down their fish. Ugh. So disappointing...

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It wasn't terribly greasy, and it was breaded quite nicely. But aside from that, it was downright awful. The restaurant itself was pretty cool - lots of history, lots of charm, good service; but that was about all they had to offer.

Didn't do too much on Saturday - went to Johnson Creek and bought a winter jacket (!!!), then went to the Come Back Inn to watch some football, and prepare for my triathlon. ;-)

I did the Devil's Challenge Triathlon today, which is held at Devil's Lake State Park, just outside of Baraboo. The park is beautiful - here's a shot of the lake about an hour before the race started:

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The weather was cool at 7:00am - about 50-ish. By race time (8:00am), the temps were in the low 60s, so it wasn't too bad. Here we are, getting ready to hit the water - I think the race started about 30 seconds after this photo was snapped:

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For some reason, that photo is just hilarious to me - I look like a 1930's bomber pilot with those goggles on. :-) So, the race went about as I expected - the swim was terrible (go figure), and it was complicated by tons of seaweed and extremely shallow water. Here I am coming out of the water, with my wetsuit already about half-off:

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That wetsuit was more trouble than it was worth - the water wasn't too terribly cold (72F) - it really slowed me down in the first transition... it took me over 4.5 minutes to get out of that wetsuit and onto the bike. I don't know how the other guys change so quickly - most folks were done with their swim transition in 2 minutes! Anyway, with the wetsuit off, it was time to head out on the bike:

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The bike course was super hilly - just what I like. The first 2 miles of the ride are essentially up a steep hill. I passed dozens and dozens of people on that hill - some people were throwing up, others were crying (men and women alike); it was pretty odd. I'm so glad that I torture myself each weekend with a super hilly 60+ mile practice route. :-)

Finished the bike section pretty easily - here I am coming in from the ride, running my bike back to the transition area:

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The bike transition went fairly well, but I'm still quite slow in transition... my T2 time was nearly 3 minutes; for comparison, other guys did it in under a minute. UGH!!!!

I ran well, despite the hilly run course, and finished the run portion (3.1 miles) in just over 23 minutes. I felt really good during the entire run - I could've kept going without any trouble, but time was up and here I am coming across the finish line:

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I managed to finish in 1:30:07, which was good enough for 161st place out of 620 people. In my age group, I finished about middle of the pack - 24th out of 46. The transition times literally cost me 5 spots in my age group alone... if I would've had an "average" transition time, I would've finished 19th out of 46. I really need to fix those!

So, that's it for now... oh, almost forgot - celebrated the finish with some breakfast at Mr. Pancake in Wisconsin Dells:

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Yum! Time to be good again - cold weather is coming, and that means I'll have to curb the binge eating on the weekends. :-(

Early review - surprise!

Started the weekend by attending special party at my favorite bike store, Cronometro; they had a bit of a customer appreciation/new product line introduction gala, and it sounded interesting, so it was over to Willy Street to check out the party and to check out the Ridley line of bicycles.

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Ridley reps were there, which was cool, because Ridley has a great line of "Cyclocross" bikes that have caught my eye. I'd love to get another bike to use for commuting to and from work, riding on trails, and using on the trainer during the winter. I really liked this model, the X-Fire:

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Unfortunately, that bike is quite a bit out of my price range. As shown above, that bike runs right about $6,000. Yikes!! Thankfully, there are some that are a bit more affordable, like this interesting Crossbow model, shown here with a fender kit and the latest Ultegra components.

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After spending about 30 minutes oggling the new bikes, chatting with folks, and sampling some Belgian beverages (Ridley is based in Belgium), it was time to head out for the fish fry.

The crew decided to hit Toby's Supper Club, which is located just outside of Madison, on Stoughton Road. The place received stellar reviews from several web sites, although some of the folks from work warned us that it might be a bit "local" or "townie."

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The place is tiny - hardly bigger than an average living room - and as such, was absolutely PACKED full of people. We arrived at around 7:30pm, and the place was jumping - we could barely find a place to stand while waiting for a table. And while there were obviously a bunch of "locals" there, the crowd was friendly and enjoyable, and thank goodness for that - check out how packed the bar was:

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The entire time that we sat at the bar, the bartenders literally flew around, multitasking like crazy. It was nothing for them to be filling two drink orders (mixing several drinks at the same time), while making change for someone at the bar, and taking a new drink order from someone in line. And they never once missed a beat - it was pretty fun to watch them work their magic.

Toby's has a unique ordering system - while seated or standing at the bar, one of the bartenders somehow notifies a waitress that you'd like to order food. Out of nowhere will appear a waitress, who takes your order, and tells you that she'll get you once the table and food are ready. With so many people stacked in the place, we found it hard to believe that this would actually work, but it did.

Our wait was long - about 2.5 hours - but well worth it! While sitting at the bar, we started off with the customary cheese curds, which were solid. Top 3 rank for curds, for sure:

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We generally prefer a battered curd to a breaded curd, but the cheese in these curds was so good that it made up for the non-battered-nature. The ranch was also spectacular. Curds = WIN.

And before we knew it (the clock had struck 10:00pm), our table and fish were ready. The table was outfitted with the customary Supper Club fare: a veggie bowl and a bread bowl.

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And then came the fish. Toby's offers: Baby Pike, Cod, and Lake Perch. And the prices are more than reasonable - no more than $13 for a plate. Here's the cod:

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It was superb. Unbelievably good - easily Top 2 fish. Why so good? Once again, the fish is breaded, which is normally not a point-scorer for us. But, the breading is light, the fish is fried perfectly (not a hint of grease anywhere), and it's served piping hot. The flavor is unreal - the fish is the actual star of the plate; it's not overwhelmed by breading or spices, or anything unusual. Simple = good, and Toby's cod is GREAT.

Here's the combo plate (Lake Perch on the left, Baby Pike on the right):

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Just like the Cod, these two offerings were stellar and beyond compare, and for the same reasons as the Cod. Lightly and perfectly breaded, expertly fried, and packed with wonderful, yet delicate fish flavor. Well worth any wait, plain and simple.

And the service was equally fantastic - our server, Rhonda, was great - super fun, helpful, and tolerant of our boisterous crew. Here's me and Rhonda:

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We called it a night and left Toby's content, happy, and raving about how incredible the fish was. We'll definitely be back!

Saturday morning came much too early, especially given there was a 54-mile bike race in Fort Atkinson that I had entered. It's called "Ride the Rock" and it benefits the local literacy council (I think). The race started at 8:30am from Jones Park in Fort Atkinson. Here we are leaving as a group to start the race:

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The race went horribly. I've discovered that I absolutely hate bike racers - they're some of the most self-centered, inconsiderate, unnecessarily aggressive riders on the planet. I was basically run off the road within the first few miles of the race by the "teams," all of which were trying to jockey for position by literally elbowing and bumping people out of the way... all within the first 3-4 miles of a 54-mile race. Really?

Factor in that the race wasn't a sanctioned event and that it was basically a charity ride, and it's just all the more silly to risk crashing and wrecking your bike, breaking bones, or causing harm to other people. Yet these guys don't apparently care... you'd think they were trying to qualify for the Olympics or something. To heck with that. After I hit the gravel, I let the group get ahead of me, and I rode out the "race" without worry of getting in a wreck.

Unfortunately, the group will always ride faster than a solo rider, by a pace of around 4-5mph. So, within the first lap (18 miles), I had completely lost site of the pack. That was fine by me. Here I am passing through a little town on my second lap:

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And here I am at the finish line, giving a solid "thumbs down" to the group. The race was generally well organized, the course was well marked, and the support crews were good, I just wish my "fellow riders" shared some of those qualities.

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So, yeah - no more bike races (or more specifically, bike racers) for me. I'll just enjoy my triathlons, where the emphasis is on the individual's effort, and not impacted/driven by mob mentality.

Interesting title, I know... but it sums up the weekend and might (?) make some sense... Had another busy weekend - with the weather being as nice as it has been, it only seems reasonable to try to accomplish as much as possible, even if it requires a finely-tuned schedule. It's only a matter of time before these beautiful 75F days are a distant memory, and brutal cold + tons of snow become a harsh reality.

The weekend started with the customary fish fry. This time our crew hit The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capitol square in downtown Madison.

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The Old Fashioned is a bit of an institution - it's known for its huge selection of locally brewed beers, great drink menu, and diverse menu that features burgers by number. The bar certainly didn't disappoint; we arrived at around 6:00pm and were informed that the wait for a table would be approximately 30-45 minutes. So, we bellied-up to the bar - check out the numerous taps:

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They have approximately 150 different locally made beers; 30 or so of which are available on tap. We tried a few offerings from The New Glarus Brewery, primarily because they were on special. We were also pleased to find that The Old Fashioned apparently knows how to honor the drink from which it's named - they muddle their cherries, which is key to a great Old Fashioned:

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While waiting for our table, we decided to order the "Number 3 Cheese plate," which featured Ghost Chevre cheese, which is a nutty-flavored soft cheese, along with some 16-month Gouda and some 10-year Cheddar. The cheese plate was awesome:

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We were eventually seated, and promptly ordered some cheese curds. Cheese curds are a yardstick by which we evaluate a restaurant and its fish fry "package." The Old Fashioned's curds were obviously homemade, but despite that, they failed to impress. Sure, they looked great:

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But in reality, they were super greasy, relatively flavorless, soggy curds that oozed grease with every single bite. The batter barely even stuck to the curds - that's how greasy they were... Truly disappointing, even more so when you consider the cost: $7.

We ordered a round of old fashioneds to try and wash down some of the grease from those curds. And once again, we were disappointed. The old fashioneds were ok, but they weren't spectacular by any means. Average, at best. Cory from The Oakcrest still holds the honor of making the best old fashioned.

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Soon after downing our old fashioneds, the fish arrived. Baked cod for me, and deep fried cod for the crew. We had high hopes for The Old Fashioned's food - it received good reviews from friends and from internet sources. But yet again, the result fell quite short of our expectations.

Here's the baked cod:

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Notice how miniscule those pieces of fish are??? They're barely bigger than the lemon wedges. The flavor was ok, but it wasn't anything spectacular... it was also greasy (too much butter) and slightly overcooked. Definitely not worth $14, that's for sure! ARGH.

Here's the deep fried cod:

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Notice how dark it is? Yeah - they way over-fried the fish, and as such, all you could really taste was the super-done batter. They also served far too many of those greasy onion strings with the fish; perhaps The Old Fashioned could go lighter on the greasy sides and focus more on properly cooking their main dish (and serving a more reasonable amount).

All-in-all, I would not recommend The Old Fashioned for to anyone looking for a good fish fry or decent curds. Truly underwhelming, overpriced, and simply not worth the long wait and high price.

At least there was a friendly little guy waiting outside as we ate:

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And with the sun setting, the capitol building looked fantastic - picture perfect:

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After the disappointing dinner, we called it a night. Good thing it was an early evening - with Saturday's forecast calling for calm winds, clear skies, and temperatures in the high 70s, I was anxious to hop on the bike and put some miles under my tires. Woke up fairly early on Saturday morning and hit the road for a 77-mile ride. It was absolutely glorious. I stopped at around the 65-mile mark and snapped a quick picture:

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After the ride, I went for a quick 3-mile run, just to help loosen up my back and quads. I find that by running after a ride I feel so much better the rest of the day. If I don't go for a run, I tighten-up and feel really stiff the next day.

With 80-miles under my belt, it was time to head out to the Taste of Madison. This annual event attracts several thousand people, several dozen local restaurants, and several dozen bands from all over the country. In past years, I remember really enjoying the event - there were tons of local restaurants, good bands, and reasonable prices.

This year, there were too many chain restaurants (Red Lobster, Abuelos, Little Ceasars, and so on), the prices were too high (most "samples" were $4 each), and the bands weren't too interesting. Candlebox was there on Saturday night, and while they were interesting, it wasn't a "great" concert by any means. :-(

So... here are some photos from the event:

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A bunch of people, for sure.


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Tried some Buffalo Chicken Pizza from Toppers - it was ok. Nothing great.


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Tried some Sesame Chicken from Hong Kong Cafe - meh.


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Tried some fried mac-n-cheese bites from Bluephies - they were decent. The cookie dough eggrolls were also decent (no picture, sorry).


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Enjoyed watching the cooks prepare food for the throngs of rabid eaters.


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Tried some Bruschetta - once again, meh - so boring and tasteless.

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Got a free hug from two really stinky (BO) kids. Had to give them credit for their ingenuity, though.


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And wrapped-up by watching Candlebox play a mediocre show on the WJJO rock stage. At least the weather was gorgeous, and once again, had a chance to hang out with Jed and Jamie (friends from an old job), so it wasn't a complete loss. Although, speaking of loss... I managed to lose my very favorite sunglasses! UGH!!


Sunday was a relatively uneventful day - rode the bike about 25 miles, went for a run, and then ran errands the rest of the day. I've been craving waffles like nobody's business, and was lucky enough to find a "classic" waffle maker (non-Belgian) at Tuesday Morning. It made some really killer waffles:

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Nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside - perfect and delicious. The batter was a whole wheat/rolled oat combo that was fantastic. Roasted some bacon, scrambled a few eggs, and had a glorious Sunday night dinner (of breakfast foods). I'd normally worry about the number of calories associated with such a feast, but the fuel was put to good use - I ran a 10K race the next day in Randolph, to help benefit the Dodge County Humane Society.

Here I am (in the orange shirt), running my way to a 6th place finish, with a time of 45:21. That's one of my better 10K times - my previous best was over 50-minutes!

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Upon returning home and resting for a bit - my legs were cramping like crazy during the race - it was over to the local triathlon supply store for a new watch. My Garmin GPS watch has been a bit unreliable lately - it doesn't want to "take" a charge, and it goes dead quite often, so I needed a back-up. I scored this Timex Ironman watch for a really reasonable price:

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I really like it so far; it's nice and light, waterproof, and it allows me to "rest" my primary daily watch - the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean.

Finally, check out this other recent score:

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Several stores were running crazy specials on Pepsi products this week, so I took full advantage of the deals. The sodas ranged in price from $1.77 - $4 per case. Made a few trips, but it was worth it - there shouldn't be any soda shortage for quite some time!

Better Late than Never...

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I'm a bit late with this update; it's been a busy week - lots of things going on at work that have been taking a tremendous amount of time and effort. Had a busy weekend last week, and it started oddly enough on Wednesday night with a trip to Lake Mills for some pizza.

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Went to the Blue Moon restaurant, which occupies the space once held by Anna Maria's. Anna Maria's was a great, great, great pizza place. Man, I miss that pizza. So while at the Blue Moon, it only made sense to order the pizza; the hope was that it wouldn't disappoint... and while it wasn't horrible, it wasn't anything like Anna Maria's pizza. To add insult to injury, the service was quite possibly the slowest and most painful service I've ever endured. It took nearly two hours to get out of there... and the place was virtually empty. Wow. Never again.


Friday included a fish fry (of course). Rather than try something new, the Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics decided to revisit a favorite - The Avenue Bar. And, we're happy to report that the fish was once again stellar. Started with a bowl of Hungarian Beef Noodle soup, and it was unreal. Wow - so good.

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And followed-it up with the usual - beer battered cod with fries. Yummo!

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The pictures simply don't do the fish justice - it's so amazing. I think it'll be difficult, if not impossible, for any other establishment to knock-off The Avenue's fish. If you're ever in Madison on a Friday, be sure to check out The Avenue. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday included what else - lots of running and riding.

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The Middleton Good Neighbor Festival was underway, and it included a 5K run that started and ended at The Capital Brewery. For some odd reason, the city of Middleton had placed barricades along University Avenue, which led me to believe the road would be closed come Saturday morning. I also figured the Capital Brewery wouldn't have much parking available, so I decided that rather than drive and try to fight traffic/parking, I'd just walk and/or jog the 2.5 miles from the apartment to the Brewery and then do the 5K race.

So, I woke-up about an hour early, got dressed, and started my walk toward the Brewery. The race started at 9:00am; I didn't hit the road until about 8:30am... so, that meant I had less than 20 minutes to walk 2.5 miles. Nearly impossible, so I decided to run to the race.

Got to the race with about 5 minutes to spare. Thankfully it was only about 45F outside (in August!!), so I wasn't overly warm... The race started and 194 of my fellow runners were off!

I finished in under 22 minutes, which was good enough for 31st place out of 194 people. Not bad! I was pretty happy about that. I didn't spend much time celebrating, though - I still had some more running to do. I finished off my run-filled-morning with an 8-mile loop around western Middleton. Total miles covered by foot: 13.9.

Hopped on the bike and took a 35-mile spin through the countryside; it was 11:00am or so and the temps were still in the low 50s... and the wind was absolutely brutal - gusts of up to 30mph, with a near-steady northerly wind of nearly 20mph. Not fun.

After all that running and riding, I was ready to unwind, so it was over to the Come Back Inn for a beverage. The CBI has these excellent authentic German glasses; I ordered a "Totally Naked" from The New Glarus Brewing Company - it was oh so glorious:

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From the CBI it was over to The Oakcrest for some Mahi Mahi. How a tiny, little hole-in-the-wall bar can cook such amazing food is beyond me! Their burgers are unreal, their steaks are amazing, and their Mahi Mahi is unbelievable. This photo is blurry (it's so dark in there), but trust me when I say the food is really, really superb.

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Also happened to have the best Old Fashioned ever, compliments of Cory - a young (21 year old) bartender who provided some of the best service I've ever had at any restaurant. He made great conversation, mixed a mean Old Fashioned, and served a killer plate of fish. Here's Cory working his muddling magic:

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Hit the road first thing on Sunday morning - rode 67 miles, did a quick little jog, and then rested for most of the day. Hit the Great Dane for dinner - I had a burger, but my dining partners were a little more adventurous- they enjoyed a chicken pot pie and a brat plate:

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And finally, went to this little Taqueria tonight for a burrito - and it was incredible. It was also huge, but cheap - just $4 for this monster:

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Their salsas were amazing as well; even bought some to take back home. I can't wait to try it on a breakfast taco and/or some turkey wraps.

This weekend will include some more bike riding and then there's a 10K race up in Randolph that I think I'm going to enter. We'll see how it goes. Oh, it's also "The Taste of Madison" this weekend, so since it involves food, odds are pretty good that you'll be reading about it during next week's update. :-)

Sunday Wrap-Up

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By now you know the drill - it's Sunday night, I've got a bunch of food pictures to share, so let's just get on with it.

Started Friday night by visiting Kavanaugh's Esquire Club.

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Astute followers of my blog will recall that I visited Kavanaugh's not too long ago... well, it's so good that a second visit certainly wasn't going to hurt my feelings. So, the fish fry crew made its way to Sherman Avenue for some Esquire Club fish.

The Esquire is always quite busy, especially so on a Friday night, so we bellied up to the bar and enjoyed a few Spotted Cows while waiting for a table to become available. The bar at the Esquire is your typical "Supper Club" bar - oval-shaped, dark wood with heavy chairs, and tons of people gathered around it.

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After a forty-five minute wait we were shown to our table, where we ordered the house specialty - all you can eat Ocean Perch with fries, and the beer battered Cod with cheesy hashbrowns.

I've got to give credit to the Esquire - despite the fact that the place was packed to the gills (pun intended!) with people, they get the food out at a record pace. Within a few minutes of placing our orders, the fish arrived. Here's the Ocean Perch:

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And here's the cod:

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Both were amazing by their own right. The Ocean Perch has a wonderfully delicate fish flavor, features a corn-bread breading, is served piping hot, yet has no hint of grease. It flakes nicely when cut - it's really great fish.

The Cod was delicious as well. Slightly more mild in flavor; flaky, moist, tender, and wrapped-up in a crispy beer batter. Really, really good - and unfortunately, not eligible for the "all you can eat" promotion. :-(

I downed about 3-pounds of the Ocean Perch. It's so good.

Went for a long (64-mile) bike ride on Saturday morning; the weather was cool - in the low 60's - and windy, so it wasn't a terribly enjoyable ride. I fought a 20mph headwind for about 50-miles worth of riding, and boy, talk about frustrating. It literally sucks the life from you - it's relentless and disheartening, but, it makes for stronger legs, so it's not all bad. Returned from the ride and went for a quick 5-mile run. Calories burned: 3700-ish. Nice.

After all of that riding and running, I was ready to refuel. So, as a fan of sweet corn, it only seemed natural to venture over to Sun Prairie for the Sun Prairie Corn Festival. For $1, you get into the festival, and then for $6, you can get a "tote" that the good people of Sun Prairie will fill with as much corn as the thing can hold. What's not to love?

Apparently, I'm not the only person who really enjoys corn on the cob... While the SPCF people have a heckuva system down for getting folks in and out of the corn serving area, there was still an impressive line:

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Now this is what I like to see:

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With an empty tote in hand, we made our way into the barn, where we were ushered to one of a dozen or so people that were ready to fill our tote with freshly picked-and-steamed corn. Here's the corn as it's coming into the barn (hot out of the steamer - they steam over 70 tons of corn in a single weekend):

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With the tote full of corn (they fit 10 ears in our tote), you make your way over to a "shucking table" where the husks are removed and the corn cleaned and prepped for buttering:

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Once your cobs are shucked and buttered, it's time to make your way out of the barn and to the "salt tree" - certainly not good for the blood pressure, but it sure is an ingenious system:

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And the net result of all of that work:

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YUMMO!!! We left the corn barn and made our way up to the "beer tent," where we purchased a few Miller Lites, found a place to stand, listened to some music and ate some corn.

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While the corn was outstanding, we managed to wolf down another one of my favorites, beer-battered cheese curds. These were from "Wittenberg's Blue Barn" and they were outstanding.

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Oh so good. Aside from being a bit windy, the weather was nice - it got into the low, low 70's... just crazy for August weather. I always remember July and August in Wisconsin as being hot, humid, and semi-miserable. This summer has been anything but - it's been cool, and downright cold on some days. I think the high on Friday was 65F!

With our bellies full of corn, it was time to trek on down to Oregon to meet the newest member of Jed's house - Rocco. Rocco is a baby Boxer, and he may be one of the cutest little guys on the planet!!!

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So cute, and maybe a tad-bit naughty. But in his defense, he's only 11 or 12 weeks old, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It's obvious that he loves being around people - here he is waiting and watching as Jed cooks some shrimp:

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Jed and his wife Jamie made some awesome Shrimp Tacos with an out-of-this-world avocado salsa; while our bellies were still a little full from the corn fest, it was hard to say no to this incredible feast. (That pile of red sauce is homemade salsa with habanero - yummmmmm!)

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And, we washed it down with a delightful pineapple upside down cake. I'd never before had pineapple upside down cake, and I must admit - I'm a fan. I'm sure it's not very good for you, but it's so good that it's well worth the calories (and guilt).

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We chatted for a while, watched a few episodes of Man V. Food (what a fun show), enjoyed playing with Rocco, and then called it an evening. Rocco was obviously pooped - here he is, wishing us farewell (look at those cute but oh-so-heavy eyes):

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Woke up this morning to 50F temperatures (again, it's ridiculous!!), waited a bit for the weather to warm-up, and then went for a shorter ride (35 miles) and a shorter run (3 miles). Spent the rest of the day running errands and hanging around the apartment, and am now waiting for Entourage to start.

I've got a 5k race next Saturday, so that'll be fun.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I can't believe it's Sunday night already - almost time to return back to work... the weekends definitely go by too fast. This weekend was a pretty good one - lots of things happened, so let's get started.

I've decided to enter another triathlon, which means I have to start swimming again. Argh. Biking and running - no problem. I'm regularly biking 70-ish miles at a time, averaging just around 23 mph, and my runs are doing great as well - I just finished a 13-mile run today, at an average of 7.5mph. So, those are fine. But swimming? I hate it!

So, I started taking swimming lessons. I found a great swim instructor who lives in Portage, so I snuck out of work early on Thursday and drove up to see if she could help my horrific swim stroke. We hopped in the lake and she took a look. The initial verdict? She claims I'm not that bad, but I'd disagree. We worked together for about an hour and I learned some great drills, tips, tricks, and exercises from her. It was well worth the drive - she was super knowledgeable and helpful, and I think I'll be making a few more trips before the race.

Friday brought about another fish fry, this time compliments of The Mid-Town Pub. It's located just a few blocks from the apartment, and it got decent reviews from people, so it was worth a try.

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They have an odd menu/system - there's all you can eat fish offered from 3:00pm - 7:00pm; otherwise it's a "one plate" dinner. Got there at about 6:00pm and ordered some cheese curds; they weren't anything special - typical "drop n fry" frozen curds that probably come from Sysco. Sad, but I'm becoming a curd snob...

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Look familiar? Yeah. They're pretty much the same exact curds as one can find at: The Avenue Bar, The Oakcrest, and Paul's Neighborhood Bar. Decent curds, for sure, but once you've had great curds it's hard to get excited by run-of-the-mill curds.

The fish came out after a lengthy wait, and it was decent. Beer-battered cod with fries. No other side options. Very mild flavor, decent batter. Better than some, but not as good as The Avenue Bar or Jordan's.

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Unfortunately the service was so slow that there wasn't much chance to take advantage of the "all you can eat" offer, as it took nearly an hour for the first batch of fish to arrive and another 25+ minutes for the second batch. By then the window for all you could eat fish was closed, and I was bored and aggravated, so it was time to leave.

Saturday morning saw a welcomed change: I got rid of Charter and got AT&T U-Verse. U-Verse is "TV by IP" - everything comes to your home via a fiber optic internet connection. So, my television comes via fiber optic to my phone line, and then into a mini computer/gateway. The gateway then transmits the TV signal to the television. It also broadcasts a wireless internet signal for my laptop (so I get my internet connection via fiber optic - fast!!!), and if I had telephone, it would go through the same device.

The signal quality so far is fantastic, and the services appear to be much better than Charter's. Charter was a disaster from the start, so I was glad to make the switch. It's slightly less expensive as well, so that's a bonus.

With U-Verse installed, I went for a quick bike ride and run, and then hit the road for the Packers vs. Browns pre-season football game. Mark, my friend from work, has season tickets and wasn't able to use these tickets, so it was the perfect opportunity to see a game.

Did some tailgating before the game with Dan and Tara:

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Scored a decent parking spot near the stadium for just $20, and traffic was light, so we had time to enjoy some snacks and beverages prior to the game. Our modest tailgate was nothing when compared to some of the other set-ups at Lambeau field... this one was particularly "interesting" -

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Once inside the stadium, Dan's alter ego came out:

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They had handed out pom-poms but Dan, not having spent time as a cheerleader, obviously didn't know how to properly use the pom-pom. That's ok - I think his interpretation was just fine!

The seats were awesome. We were in the south end zone, in row 60, but, our seats were on the aisle and, they were the very last row in our section, so we had a built-in seatback, thanks to a concrete wall. We also enjoyed a wonderful breeze; the weather was in the low 80's, sunny, and humid, so the breeze was definitely welcomed!

The Packers more or less dominated the Browns (go figure); we saw a touchdown early in the first quarter - it happened in "our" end zone, so that was cool - here's the touchdown (not that you can see much, but it gives you an idea of where the seats were).

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We were also seated next to some younger folks; I think they said they were from Utah, but I could be wrong - maybe only one of them was from Utah... They were cool guys, and it was fun to hang out with them during the game. Here's a shot of the rowdy bunch:

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With the game well in control of the Packers, we were desperate for some additional entertainment, so when the opportunity to Polka struck, Dan and Tara jumped at the chance:

pack_polka.jpg

And after the game ended, they fired-up some "YMCA" by The Village People, so here's Tara and I doing our interpretation of that timeless classic:

pack_ymca.jpg

The Packers won, 17-0, and rather than sit and fight traffic, we decided to hang out and tailgate for a few hours to allow for the roads to clear. Since it was a night game, that meant we didn't get back to Madison until well near 3:00am... a late night indeed, and as a result, today was quite lazy, aside from going for a 30-minute swim and the 13-mile run (as mentioned earlier).

That's it for now. If you're able to take advantage of it, check out AT&T UVerse - so far, so good. Great picture, great internet signal, a small DVR, flexibility, and decent pricing.

Well food fans, it's been another full week, so let's just jump right in and update you on the weekend's eating results.

Friday night: Hit Jordan's Big Ten Pub to check out their fish fry. There had been numerous write-ups about this place; some great, some good, some mediocre, so there was a bit of hesitation about trying it. Happy to report that the experience was fantastic! A very solid fish fry, complimented by two surprises: the cheese curds and the old fashioneds.

Background info first; they don't accept reservations, and there isn't a host or hostess to be found anywhere. It's strictly first come, first served, and normally that wouldn't be an issue. However, this past weekend Madison played host to The Great Taste of the Midwest, and as part of the festivities, Jordan's was one of the sites that was hosting a few of the microbreweries that were invited to attend the Great Taste event. So, that made for a rather packed establishment - finding a table proved challenging, but we were seated in a booth after about an hour or so.

We ordered the cheese curds, and I'm happy to report that these curds were excellent. Definitely top notch curds - obviously handmade; squeaky yet chewy, and perfectly battered. All of today's photos are from the iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality!

ptb_curds.jpg

Jordan's has an impressive selection of Friday night fish entrees - there were three kinds of baked fish available, fried cod, fried perch, shrimp, and about a half-dozen sandwich options. I decided to be "good" and ordered the Cajun-grilled Walleye. It came with a salad, which was delish; I chose onion rings for my side. Check out this monster slab of Walleye:

ptb_baked.jpg

The fish was great. Once again, it wasn't all you could eat, but it was tasty! The onion rings were excellent as well. Thankfully, my dining partners weren't afraid to order the good stuff - the fried cod was every bit as tasty and excellent as the walleye:

btp_cod.jpg

And, as mentioned - there were a few Old Fashioneds consumed, including this Old Fashioned Sour:

btp_oldfashioned.jpg

We learned something new on Friday night - the key to a good Old Fashioned Sour is two-fold... a good sour has seven shakes of bitters, and the fabricator must "muddle" the cherries and sugar prior to adding any liquids. Oh, and you use Squirt as the sour. So, I guess that's a "three-fold" key. Regardless, I'm not a fan of the Old Fashioned, but Jordan's Big Ten Old Fashioned were pretty amazing. I wouldn't hesitate to order one in the future.

Saturday featured bad weather in the morning - heavy rains - that ruined my iPod Shuffle... I tried to sneak out for a run during a brief sunny spot, only to get caught in a massive downpour 15-20 minutes later. Try as I might to protect my iPod, it fell victim to Mother Nature and died. ARGH.

And, as luck would have it, just after my iPod was wrecked by the weather, the sun came out and the weather was gorgeous. 90F and not a cloud in the sky. Go figure. Someone really hates me.

So it was over to the new Thai place to try some of their grub. Egg rolls, steamed dumplings, and chicken Pad Thai. All were excellent! No grease, good flavor, great service, and good value - win, win, win.

Here are the photos (egg rolls, dumplings, Pad Thai):

thai_rolls.jpg

thai_dumplings.jpg

thai_padthai.jpg


After downing some Thai food, it was time to hit the highway - picked-up some cheese and some coffee from Beres Brothers (their Highlander Grogg is unreal). Ran a few more errands and then headed over to Paul's Neighborhood Bar to watch the Brewers game. Paul's is near the apartment and is a pretty friendly place with good food, good service, and great prices. They also serve breakfast, which seemed odd - a bar that opens at 6:00am to serve breakfast? Wow. But, who am I to argue or question things...

Started the evening with some cheese curds and deep-fried mushrooms:

paul_curds.jpg

paul_shrooms.jpg

And wrapped it up with a cheese burger (add lettuce, tomato and onion) and cajun fries:

paul_burger.jpg

paul_fries.jpg

So good. There's nothing like good, greasy bar food. Unfortunately, that little event counted for an ungodly amount of calories, so on Sunday morning I hit the road on my new bike frame - yes, the local shop came through and warrantied my beloved Cervelo (although there was a fee for assembly).

I did just over 70 miles (burning 4500 calories), and then finished with a 5-mile run (burning 580 calories). So, by 11:00am on Sunday, I was back to "calorie neutral."

The new bike frame is wonderful - I was quick to love on the Seven, but the Cervelo is really an awesome bike. It's so fast - it accelerates and climbs like a friggin' race car - it really does. And, I believe Cervelo tweaked the ride quality a bit with the '09 version (my replacement frame is a 2009 model, rather than a 2008) - the ride was a bit more smooth than I remembered it, and that was a welcomed surprise. It wasn't nearly as velvety as the Seven, but it wasn't as bone-jarring as the '08 ride.

Upon closer examination of the new frame, it appears as though Cervelo changed the seatpost geometry and diameter, which may explain the smoother ride. Here's the newly reconditioned steed, in all of its glory:

bike_newframe.jpg

And a close-up of the revised seat post structure - it tapers to a narrower diameter at the top (27.2mm vs 31.7mm) to improve ride quality and (I'm guessing here) improve aerodynamics slightly. The seat stays are still pencil thin - it's ridiculous that they can hold-up while being so thin.

bike_seatpost.jpg

While out on the bike, I stumbled across a farm that was selling fresh sweet corn - they had a picnic table set-up in the front yard, along with a bucket that you put your money into. A dozen ears of corn were $3.50... so, I picked-up a few ears, dropped a few bucks in the bucket and enjoyed some delicious sweet corn. To say that "in season" sweet corn is addictive is an understatement - this stuff is so sweet, so tender, and oh so good. I could very easily eat it every single night - add a very light sweep of butter, a pinch of Kosher salt, and a shake of pepper, and you've got an unbeatable treat.

corn.jpg

So there you have it. Jordan's = Win. Ha Long Bay = Win. Paul's = Win. New bike frame = Win. Corn on the cob = Win. The only downside was losing the iPod to the rain... but, I guess you can't win them all. Catch you next week!

Fish Fry Hunter Adventures Continue

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Well friends, it's Sunday night, so you know what that means. Yes, Entourage is on, but aside from that, it means that we've put another Friday night fish fry behind us, and I know you're all itching to hear about the latest adventure.

My lifelong friend, Dan, lives in Lake Mills, so after work on Friday night, we hopped into the car and made the short jaunt down the incredibly bumpy, uneven, and terribly uncomfortable I-94 to meet up with him in L-town. We tossed around potential candidates for our fish fry adventures - J & J's Bar & Grill is conveniently located across from Dan's shop, but he was concerned that it would be too smokey. The Sand Bar was another option, but the portions had left Dan unimpressed. Carp's was a new place in Lake Mills, but Dan thought it too might be too smokey. Why the heck can't all of Wisconsin go smoke free? I swear that more people smoke in this state than any other state... it's so gross.

So, we decided to head north to Milford, where the Milford Hills Hunt Club awaited us. We pulled into the parking lot and were immediately impressed with the surroundings. The Hunt Club is nestled in the middle of nowhere - fields, trees, and rolling hills are all that you can see for miles. It's quite a gorgeous setting for a restaurant / hunting club.

Hunting appears to be the main focus of this place, as evidenced by the sign out front that encourages folks to clean their boots prior to entering the clubhouse:

hunt_boots.jpg

We made our way inside - Mark was obviously on a mission for some fish...

hunt_outside.jpg

Once inside, the hunting theme continues - there are game animals (ick) all over the place; apparently they came from a private collection by way of a gentleman who passed away and his wife then donated all of the "trophies." I don't quite agree with trophy hunting, but that's a discussion best saved for another time and place.

Here's the main dining room:

hunt_inside.jpg

Our table wouldn't be ready for a good 45 minutes, so we had some time to investigate the place. We stumbled across a cooler that was full of wild fare, including Pheasant Chilli - sounded interesting:

hunt_chili.jpg

Here's a view from the large back deck - looks like they were preparing for a wedding or some type of ceremony this weekend.

hunt_back.jpg

After strolling around the grounds for a while, we settled at the bar, where I noticed these nifty little coaster holders:

hunt_napkins.jpg

So, you get the idea - hunting is definitely the theme at the Milford Hills Hunt Club. We were seated after a solid 45-minute wait, and we anxiously placed our orders - Lake Perch and Cod all around. The fish wasn't "all you can eat," and it didn't offer any options as far as side dishes went. Each plate came with: 2 potato pancakes, fries, and condiments (tartar sauce, coleslaw, and apple sauce).

The fish arrived after a bit - here it is:

hunt_fish.jpg


The potato pancakes were tiny and largely flavorless. They looked as though they should've been bursting with flavor - I could spy hints of green onion, carrots, and onion, but talk about disappointing. They were incredibly plain and lifeless - nothing to get excited or even interested in.

The fish? Again, nothing exciting. Bland, a tad greasy, and terribly "ordinary." A blind taste test between this fish and something from the freezer section (like Vande Kemps) would be a toss up...

The fries were decent - but they weren't great enough to carry the entire meal.

And then came the bill.... the Hunt Club sure is proud of its fish - our dinner was nearly $100 with a modest tip. That's ridiculous. The Hunt Club = FAIL. But, I'm glad we went - it was a good experience, and it's always great to hang out with Dan.


So with a bad fish fry under the belt, it was critical that the weekend see some culinary redemption. Come Saturday evening, the tummy was a rumblin' for something satisfying - perhaps a burger?

Headed down the road to the Oakcrest Tavern, where the burgers are legendary, the steaks a best kept secret, and the beers ice cold and reasonably priced. The place is rather smallish - it seats perhaps 50-60 people at the most. First up on the menu - cheese curds, of course:

oak_curds.jpg

The curds were exactly like the ones that are served at The Avenue Bar, which is a good thing. The Avenue's curds were a solid example of a good cheese curd; the Oakcrest apparently knows good curds, too.

Within a few minutes, the waitress brought out the main dish - a deliciously fresh, perfectly grilled, bursting with flavor cheeseburger. Not a hint of grease - expertly seared and cooked to a wonderful medium - the cheese perfectly melted, the bun light and toasted. This, my friends, is a real meal: an Oakcrest burger.

oak_burger.jpg

The fries were equally wonderful - super crispy, light, airy, and full of potatoey flavor. Ahh, what a great meal - way better than the previous night's fish fry, and a fraction of the cost. A burger at the Oakcrest is $4.75. Not bad. Oh, did I mention they make the burgers by hand from steak trimmings that they get from the butcher shop that's located directly across the street? Yeah, that's probably part of the reason why the burgers are so delicious.

Speaking of steaks, I noticed my fair share of people dining on some incredible-looking steaks. The tenderloin appeared to be unreal - thick, juicy, and once again perfectly cooked. The prime rib looked equally excellent - cooked to a perfect medium rare. There'll definitely be more trips to the Oakcrest, if not for a burger, then a steak or six.

So there you have it... the weekend in food. Until next Friday, this is your friendly neighborhood fish fry hunter signing off.

I have a new love.

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And they're called potato pancakes. And they're from The Nite Cap Inn in Palmyra. Yummo!!!

fish_fry.jpg

Mark, my friend from work, convinced me to drive to Palmyra for fish on Friday night. Fully aware of my quest to find the best fish fry in Wisconsin, Mark was certain the Nite Cap Inn would be a successful venture. Turns out he was partially right.

Truth be told, he raved about the potato pancakes and said that the fish was "decent." So, we hopped in the car and drove an hour to Palmyra, where we easily found The Nite Cap:

nite_cap_inn.jpg

The Nite Cap is a true Wisconsin Supper Club. Definitely attracts the older, local crowd - I saw more than a few Brandy Old Fashioneds being served up. We put in our name and had a seat on the porch. While sitting on the porch I spied this little gem:

snow_mobile.jpg

Within an hour or so, we were seated and ready to dig in. Here's Mark as we prepared for the feast:

mark_before_dinner.jpg

Notice the Old Fashioneds? Yeah, when in Rome...

So on to the chow. The fish? The baked fish was unreal. Easily the best baked fish I've had in quite some time. It was light, wasn't slathered/covered/drowning in butter (in fact, it was totally dry), flaky, flavorful, moist, and seasoned with a great mix of herbs and seasoned salts. Oh, so good.

The fried fish was average - nothing too great to write about. Good, solid fish, but not amazing.

The potato pancakes: WOW. WOW. WOW. I've never been a huge fan of potato pancakes but these were beyond amazing. I simply can't explain them - they had a great flavor (mix of potato, onion, and mild seasoning). They were crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. No hint of grease anywhere. We ate dozens of them, and I could've ate dozens more. Holy cow.

Turns out (after chatting up the waitress) that the potato pancakes are an old family recipe that involves a meat grinder (for shredding the potatoes and onions) and some 100+ year old cast iron pans. Whatever the secret is, it works. They're so good.

So after dinner, I was happy:

done_eating.jpg

...but full. So, it was off to ride and run this morning. I managed to get in a ton of miles this morning - I wound-up literally in the middle of nowhere, so I took a few photos of Wisconsin's gorgeous (and ample) farmlands:

side_of_road_left.jpg

side_of_road_right.jpg

bike_road.jpg


I rode for about 3 hours, then took a quick run to help loosen up the back. Spent the rest of the day cleaning the bike, only to discover a major problem with my frame... I'm lucky it didn't break. I believe the repair shop over-torqued the new bottom bracket that I bought from them, and it appears to have cracked my frame. If that's the case, and they won't take responsibility for the crack, I'm out a *lot* of money for a new frame.

Carbon fiber can't be fixed - it has to be replaced, so that means I'd need a new frame... and that would stink big time, because I can't afford to buy a new frame. I'm going to visit with the shop tomorrow and will see what they say. I'm not sure I'll sleep much tonight... the idea of spending 3 mortgage payments worth of money on a replacement frame has me feeling quite ill. :-(

Alright, I've calmed down a bit, and am going to give this entry one more try. If it fails anywhere along the way, you won't be reading this, and I'm shutting down my blog for good. I can't tell you how maddening it is to spend nearly two hours on an entry only to have this horrible software wreck the post and mess-up the pictures. So without any further ado, here we go...

Q: What's the only thing worse than a Texas driver?

A: A Wisconsin Road.

Q: What's the only thing worse than a Wisconsin Road?

A: A Wisconsin Sidewalk.

I'm dead serious when I say that Wisconsin roads are the worst roads I've ever driven on. And it doesn't make any sense to me - Wisconsin property taxes are through the roof, and yet the roads make even the worst dirt roads from Arkansas seem as smooth as glass.

And it's not just side roads or back roads; nope - it's I-90, I-94, The Beltline, East Washington Avenue, University Avenue - all of the "regular" roads. They're awful! I challenge anyone to try to drive on those roads with a cup of coffee (without a lid). You'll burn and/or stain yourself within the first 100 yards of driving, I guarantee it. Potholes, heaves, ruts, missing sections that are more than 10" in diameter - it's unreal. And people just fly over these crappy roads like they're driving down a Californian boulevard...

And the sidewalks? Forget about it. I really am surprised that the cities around here haven't had their pants sued off over the poor quality of the sidewalks. It's not uncommon to find sections of a sidewalk that stick up 4-6 inches higher than the previous and/or following sections. Chunks of cement are missing from the sidewalks; rebar is exposed - it's ridiculous. I smell a letter or six in my future - I just have to figure out who to write to with my observations and complaints about the road and sidewalk quality (and lack thereof).

To give you an idea of just how bad the roads are, I had to spend nearly $300 fixing my bike last week as a result of the bad roads. The potholes are so many and so big that I wrecked my headset. I put on more than 3500 miles on my bike in Arkansas and Texas without incident; my first 100 miles in Wisconsin cost me $300. Unreal.


Ok, rant over. Now let's talk about work. It's going well - still busy, and my projects are cranking along. I've been becoming more familiar with the layout of the building - it's 13 stories in total and has some cool features, but it is a bit tricky to navigate at times. My office is on the third floor, where there are 17 conference rooms alone - the main conference room that we use overlooks the entryway/atrium:

work_confroom.jpg

As I mentioned, my "office" is on the 3rd floor, but it's not really an office. Most of the building is set-up as a big cube farm, and there aren't many real offices to speak of. Executive-level management has offices along the window sides of the building, but most everyone else is in a cube. Here's part of our cube farm:

work_cubes.jpg

I'm in the second cube on the left, and my workspace looks like this:

work_mycube.jpg

Nothing too exciting. But, I did manage to score a nice new HP laptop and a new HP 19" LCD, so that's nice. Our cubes are also near one of the half-dozen or so break areas that are on each floor. These break areas are pretty great - each has several refrigerators, vending machines, filtered water, "Filter-Fresh" coffee machines (the machines custom make you a cup of coffee on demand), pizza makers, iced tea, and so on. Everything is free except for the candy machines. Here's what a typical break area looks like:

work_breakroom.jpg

Oh, there are also free newspapers and magazines in the break areas as well - it's nice to be able to grab a quick peek at the headlines or to look at the "weekend" section of the paper to find something to do.

We also have our own full service cafeteria, complete with a full kitchen that offers a full menu, along with daily lunch specials. Rumor has it that Monday's Sloppy Joes and Friday's burgers are fantastic; I haven't had lunch there yet, but I do stop down fairly regularly for a snack. Here I enjoyed a Diet Coke, a Vitamin Water, and a yogurt:

cafeteria_snack.jpg

I usually grab a snack like that (they also have things like fruit salad, fresh fruit, cookies, and so on) about once or twice a week - it's a nice change of pace and only costs $2.05. Here's what the main entrance to the cafeteria looks like:

cafeteria.jpg

The building also has a free, full-service health club, but I didn't take any pictures as there were people working out in there, and I would've felt weird snapping a picture of them. So, as you can see, the office is a pretty decent place.

I've also managed to make friends with a few folks at work, and one of the coolest people that I've met there so far is a guy by the name of Mark. Mark is a few years older than me; he grew up in the metropolis of Palmyra, and we've managed to hit it off. We go to lunch and/or dinner fairly regularly, and it's always a good time. He's got a bunch of senior level project management experience, so with any luck I'll pick up some tips and tricks from him as well.

Last week, we decided to grab a late lunch at Roman Candle Pizza on Williamson Street. It was the day before our Fourth of July break started, so we left work a little early and grabbed some 'za. It was fantastic - they have a "firecracker sauce" which has a little bit of a kick to it, the crust is reminiscent of a New York pizza, and the toppings were fresh and tasty.

While enjoying our pizza and Spotted Cow, we kicked around the crazy idea of running over to Summerfest to catch Judas Priest. So, on a whim, we hopped in his 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee (lovingly nicknamed "Nitschke") and drove over to Milwaukee. We managed to find a parking spot (for only $20) near the festival grounds, and within a matter of minutes were walking the Summerfest grounds.

We stopped by the US Cellular stage, where I believe Le Disko was playing:

sf_uscellularstage.jpg

And then we headed over to the Harley Davidson stage to see an aging Rob Halford and Judas Priest perform. The show as loud, bright, and entertaining, even if we couldn't really see the stage from where we were standing... there were thousands of people crammed into the stage area, and mullets were everywhere. This photo is the best I could do:

concert.jpg

It was pretty fun to watch a classic band like Judas Priest crank out some familiar hits, and they didn't sound bad at all. With a better sound system, they probably would've been really fantastic to watch, which is surprising when you consider they're all probably in their sixties.

On Monday night, with the apartment still in complete disarray, I learned that my friend John was in town and that he wanted to get together. John brought his new dog, Teddy, down with him to visit, so it was over to Lake Mills to check-in with John and to meet Teddy. Teddy is a wonderful dog - a German Sheppard mix of some type, and he's super sweet and docile. Here he is sitting and waiting patiently for a treat:

john_teddy.jpg

And here's John holding Teddy like a baby - told you he was docile!

john_teddy_hold.jpg

Had a nice dinner with John; we went to Ken's Towne Inn Pizza in Jefferson, where we enjoyed half-priced pizza night. John is such a great guy - it's always fun to chat with him, and I'm looking forward to hopefully spending more time with him as we now share a closer proximity to one another.

This past weekend, it was down to the Capitol Square to check out Art Fair on the Square. Ended up meeting with Jed, one of my old friends from a previous job, his wife Jamie, and Mark and his girlfriend Karen.

We had a really good time, despite the fact that there were probably 30,000 people jammed around the Capitol all looking at overpriced art. I say overpriced, but it's really just because I can no longer afford to buy anything cool... For example, there was an artist who had some awesome paintings of various animals, but at $150 for a small print, I just couldn't justify buying anything.

Here's what part of the square looked like, as shot from the steps of the Capitol:

artfaironsquare.jpg

The weather last weekend was awesome - low 80s, low humidity, and lots of sun. And after spending far too many hours in the sun, it was over to my favorite place for some refreshments and lunch:

great_dane_bar.jpg

Yep, that's The Great Dane Brewery. Enjoyed a sampler platter of seasonal and newer beers and then wolfed down a seared tuna salad. All in all, a perfect day. Sorry, no food pictures from The Great Dane - I forgot to take photos as the conversation at the table was too much fun.

You will be pleased to know that I did score some pictures of the fish fry from Flannery's on Friday night. Flannery's is a german-style pub that's located in New Glarus, and came highly recommended by a coworker who knew of my passion for a good fish fry.

Here's Flannerys from the outside:

flannerys_outside.jpg

Started off with some cheese curds, which were ok - not nearly as good as the curds from Ken's Towne Inn.

flannerys_curds.jpg

After the curds came the soup - a delicious french onion soup, complete with nice big hunks of whole wheat croutons:

flannerys_soup.jpg

And then there was the fish: fried haddock, which was very lightly breaded, fried to perfection (no excess grease), and perfectly flaky and light. Quite easily the best fish I've ever had. Believe me that this picture doesn't do the fish any justice; it was really dark inside Flannery's, and my iPhone doesn't talke the greatest pictures:

flannerys_fish.jpg

That big hashbrown-like thing on the left is called a "Rosti" (pronounced "Roosty"). It sounded interesting, but in reality, it wasn't very good. It was very bland and flavorless, despite featuring shredded potatoes, egg, onion, peppers, and cheese. It literally had no flavor at all... but the fish was excellent, so it didn't really matter.

With my belly full of fish, I had a wonderful bike ride on Saturday morning - I rode nearly 50 miles (two laps around the lake, a lap around the capitol, followed by a spin out to the airport and then back down to the campus area) and ran 8 miles. I figured that with all of that exercise I could treat myself to some Greenbush Bakery donuts:

greenbush_donuts.jpg

Two cake donuts (blueberry) and an "Oreo donut" - it had crumbled Oreos on top and a buttercream filling, and was heavenly.

I felt guilty after eating 25,000 calories worth of donuts, so on Sunday I rode the bike up to Mazomainee (about 38 miles) and followed it up with a 6-mile run. My gut still feels overly stuffed - I need to stop eating so irresponsibly, but there are so many good things to try that I can't resist it. I really need to get things back under control, though...

So, that's about it. I hope this post "works" - if not, I'm going to be really upset! Stay tuned for more food photos and stories...

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Fish Fry category.

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