Caleb Westphal – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com Music, culture, gentle sarcasm. Wed, 19 Dec 2018 03:05:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.1 http://milwaukeerecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/cropped-mrapp-32x32.jpg Caleb Westphal – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com 32 32 The best Milwaukee-area fish frys of 2018 (from a guy who ate one every Friday this year) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/best-milwaukee-fish-frys-2018-guy-ate-one-every-friday-year/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/best-milwaukee-fish-frys-2018-guy-ate-one-every-friday-year/#respond Fri, 14 Dec 2018 06:20:14 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=59669 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. In April 2017, he began writing a weekly column documenting and reviewing his latest fish fry destinations. Here are his top places for 2018 (presented in alphabetical order), with excerpts from the full reviews. [Even though Caleb is taking the week off from writing, fish […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. In April 2017, he began writing a weekly column documenting and reviewing his latest fish fry destinations. Here are his top places for 2018 (presented in alphabetical order), with excerpts from the full reviews. [Even though Caleb is taking the week off from writing, fish fry #257 was a return visit to Fritz’s Pub.]

CAFE EL SOL (Milwaukee)
As I finished my third plate of food, I sat back and took in some of the live music. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear accordion playing and polka music at many Milwaukee fish frys, but at Café el Sol one hears Latin music with Spanish vocals. How great it is to know that people are enjoying fried fish and music of different flavors and varieties throughout the city. Here’s looking at you, Milwaukee.

Takeaways: Fish fry buffet!; a darn good margarita; a little heat in the coleslaw; the tartar and fish seemed meant for each other; served from 5-8:30 p.m. with live Latin music beginning at 6:30 p.m.; you aren’t in the wrong place, the restaurant is in the basement; no need to wait until Cinco de Mayo, this fish fry is worth checking out any time of the year.

THE CELLAR PUB & GRILL (Oak Creek)
As of late I’ve realized I’m usually a bigger fan of breaded fish than beer battered, but The Cellar has some excellent beer battered fish, of which I was given three loins of. Just as the coleslaw was reminiscent of an earlier time for my friend, the fish reminded me of some homemade fish I had as a child. The batter wasn’t too thin or too thick, or too soft or too crunchy, and had a great flavor on its own, even without the tartar.

Takeaways: Homemade slaw and fish that elicits memories and tastes great; solid potato pancakes; chowderberg; a building that dates to the time of the Civil War; the place is known for its pizzas, and they are probably good on days of the week that don’t start with an “F,” while it’s no Clifford’s, Pat’s, or Randy’s, and there is no all-you-can-eat option, I still think I’ll recommend it.

CLIFF’S BOATHOUSE (Racine)
From the moment I spotted the building, I had a feeling it had been a good choice. On one hand it is unassuming, with its diminutive size, solid-white paint job, and hand-painted signs, but at the same time the red-lettered signs loudly proclaim the goodness within: “HOME OF THE SECRET RECIPE POTATO PANCAKES” and “FISH FRY ALL-U CAN EAT.” Inside, mounted fish such as perch, salmon, and blue marlin cover the wood-paneled walls, as does a patchwork of other things, like sports memorabilia, an advertisement for a lost dog, some old pictures, a piece of paper reminding everyone that drinking during a pregnancy can cause birth defects, and a chalkboard sign saying “CASH ONLY.” A large bell hangs on the door and rings when a customer comes in. The place actually feels like a boathouse, or maybe a juke joint, and there are less than 10 tables in all.

Takeaways: What a home cooked fish fry should taste like; family owned and they’ve been doing it for over three decades; amazing all-you-can-eat potato pancakes—I think the secret recipe mainly includes butter; above average fish; cash only; open Thursday-Sunday; the place is small, which means you may need to put in your name and wait, but it is a pretty cool building to get a fish fry in.

FIRESIDE THEATRE (Fort Atkinson)
After finishing my meal off with a dinner-included coffee, my companions and I began wandering around The Fireside like children at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. We found a room which I will call the Forest Room, as well as a Fire Room, and a few rooms upstairs inside the original pyramid, where miniature, model hot-air balloons hung from the ceiling. Finally, we settled into the sunken-down lounge area and pulled up a seat at the bar. I saw a lady having a cocktail with a colorful fan in it, and asked the bartender to make me whatever she was having. So it was I ended my slightly psychedelic evening with a Mai Tai and a giant colorful fan. Who would have thought that journeying to Fort Atkinson would have been a trip in more ways than one?

Takeaways: It used to be a cornfield, and it’s in a city with less than 13,000 people, but it showcases professional theater productions and people come from miles around; there is a room that looks like an ocean, and one that looks like a forest, and one that looks like a fire, and they are given boring names like “room G”; there were some crazy frequency lights by our table and I couldn’t tell if I was tripping or having a stroke—it turns out it was just the lights; Baby Bear’s chowder; super crispy pancakes; tastily greasy beer battered cod; cinnamon stick in the Old Fashioneds and multicolored fan in the Mai Tai; unlimited top-notch bread and coleslaw; bread and other fresh baked good available for purchase at bakery; multiple gift shops that I avoided, so you’ll just have check them out yourself.

FRITZ’S PUB (Milwaukee)
Fritz’s has some of the best beer battered cod you will find anywhere within the city limits of Milwaukee. The fish is cut before deep frying, so when it is served to you it resembles a butterfly fillet, even though that is not the case. The quality, well-coated fish wasn’t overly greasy, but you could still tell there was no way you were eating something that was healthy. This isn’t the kind of fish you cut with a fork, this is the kind that you pick up and rip apart with your hands before dipping in tartar.

Takeaways: It’s a family-run business, started by Fritz, and now operated by his children—Maria, Stephen, and Joseph; they are closing exactly 40 years to the day after when they opened; the food is homemade, and the flavors are of high quality and distinct; especially high marks for the fish and tartar pairing, as well as for the coleslaw; you may have to wait awhile for a table, or to get your food, but it’s worth it; they make comedic posts about this and other things on their Facebook.

JACK PANDL’S WHITEFISH BAY INN (Whitefish Bay)
The fish had a light flavorful breading, and the fish itself had a nice, flaky texture. To me, whitefish has a flavor not unlike catfish, which would not be my first choice. I’m more of a perch or cod kind of guy, but considering the circumstances of where I was, I felt I had to do it. It was paired with some great homemade tartar, which I asked about, and was told, “Well, there is some carrot…and pickle…and the rest is a secret.”

Takeaways: Hearty chowder; delectable rye breadsticks; coleslaw made with care; solid potato pancakes; friendly service; the price is a few dollars more than many fish fry places, but besides a solid meal you get to dine in a refined, historic setting and get multiple forks; one of their specialties are German pancakes, which I may need to come back for at some point; the waitstaff wears matching white shirts; my waitress boxed up and let me take home all the extra bread chips; stay strong old tree; although I’m not particularly a fan of whitefish, this place has enough charm, history, and solid food that I feel it deserves a recommendation.

NITE CAP INN (Palmyra)
All of the food together had an understated magnificence to it—a certain balance. Each part seemed to complement the other, and the setting seemed to perfectly match the food as well. In total I had seven pieces of fish and five potato pancakes. I was offered a dessert on the house, and although I was appreciative of the offer, I didn’t want any special treatment, and I turned it down. In hindsight I should have seen if I could have just gotten some more fish and pancakes to take home as my dessert. I could sure go for some right about now.

Takeaways: Everything is homemade; top notch potato pancakes with fish that is not too far behind; AYCE for a reasonable price ($12.95); family owned and operated for 30 years, and has been the Nite Cap Inn for even longer; timeless ambiance; get there early and plan on a somewhat long wait (I left my house in Milwaukee at 3:45 and got home around 7:45); they found out I was a “food critic” and I was startled enough to forget to order clam chowder or take better pictures of the food; besides fish and pancakes they are known for German cuisine; I saw a horse walk by outside while I was eating; this place is the real deal, folks—it’s totally worth the drive.

PAT’S OAK MANOR (South Milwaukee)
Pat’s Oak Manor is an excellent all-around fish fry experience that I highly recommend. The cod is great, you can eat as much of it as you want, and it is reasonably priced. An old hall that once housed a bowling alley, a guy playing a keyboard—these things are pure Wisconsin, and there is a certain warmth and familiarity that you feel when you are dining there. The only downside is that it takes a little while to get moving again after eating so much good food.

Takeaways: Top-notch all-you-can-eat fish; creamy and crunchy slaw; the clam chowder had a lot of clam; Tony plays the keys, make sure to tip him; excellent for families, just don’t let your kids eat pizza on Fridays; there is a chapel in the basement for weddings, and if anyone wants to marry me we can have this fish fry for our rehearsal dinner; I sat in a chair for an hour and a half without moving when I got home, but then I forced myself to walk up and down Kinnickinnic Avenue for a full hour to try to burn off some calories; the overall experience of Pat’s Oak Manor is what you want for a Wisconsin Friday night fish fry.

RANDY’S NEIGHBOR’S INN (West Allis)
What makes Randy’s Neighbor’s Inn a true gem is its fish. This is some of the best cod you will find anywhere, and you can eat as much of it as you want. It had a light breading but was strong enough to hold the fish together, had an excellent flake, and great flavor. It was good enough to eat plain, although the endless supply of tartar complimented it well. It turned out that Randy himself was in the back cooking the food, so you know that the fish leaving the kitchen had his own blessing.

Takeaways: Randy’s Neighbor’s Inn has some of the best AYCE fish around and they’ll bring it to you on a giant platter; get your kids started on fish frys young—ages 5 and under eat for free; ALL YOU CAN EAT—OF EVERYTHING; really awesome coleslaw; nothing too exciting with the potato options, but fries and potato salad are bottomless; great prices on food and drinks; down-to-earth working class vibe; bring cash to avoid ATM fees; someone recognized me from a movie about fish frys I was in while I was getting a fish fry and that was fucking interesting.

ST. PAUL FISH COMPANY (Milwaukee Public Market)
It was just about the perfect late-summer weather for eating outside, and we found a spot along the building on St. Paul Avenue. I opened the bag and was pleased to find both a fork and a soup spoon, some napkins, and some ketchup packets. The heavy bag did not disappoint. When I opened the box of food I found four butterfly fillets of perch. There was a hefty mound of fries, but for once they were buried under the fish, as they should be, instead of on top of it. I was also pleasantly surprised to find two containers of tartar. Hooray!

Takeaways: There is a bunch of fresh seafood in a case and I want to try all of it; also, you can buy fresh perch and cod and put it in your freezer just in case you ever need to make an emergency fish fry; they have an oyster bar and an outside bar; if you don’t have time to get a table in the dining room, you can sit upstairs or go outside; hefty portion of fish and fries; high quality perch; I got two tartars; you don’t get rye bread; very “Milwaukee”—I escaped that Hoan Bridge smell and saw a streetcar and the Milverine.

HONORABLE MENTION

5 O’Clock Club (Pewaukee)
Cafe Centraal (Milwaukee)
Carl’s Catering (Greendale)
Country Lanes (Franklin)
Crawfish Junction (Milford)
Jim Dandy’s (Oak Creek)
Juice’s Ghost Town (Grafton)
Landmark Inn (Mequon)
North Shore American Legion Post #331 (Shorewood)
Serb Hall (Milwaukee)
Slick Willies Bar And Grill (Milwaukee)
Victor’s (Milwaukee)

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257 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Butch’s Red Mill (Brookfield) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/257-friday-fish-frys-butchs-red-mill-brookfield/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/257-friday-fish-frys-butchs-red-mill-brookfield/#respond Fri, 07 Dec 2018 06:45:26 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=59388 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ave you ever gotten a fish fry in Brookfield? I hadn’t. Hell, I’ve barely ever done anything in Brookfield. After recently plotting out all the places I’ve gone to for fish since beginning this column, in order to […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Have you ever gotten a fish fry in Brookfield? I hadn’t. Hell, I’ve barely ever done anything in Brookfield. After recently plotting out all the places I’ve gone to for fish since beginning this column, in order to see which areas in and around Milwaukee I’ve been going to more than others, it was evident to me that I’ve been to a decent amount places to the south and southwest of the city, a healthy amount of places in the nearer west suburbs of Wauwatosa and West Allis, but never to anywhere in a few cities a little farther west, such as Brookfield and Waukesha. So, I decided to fill in a dot in a new area, and chose Brookfield.

Butch’s Red Mill (1005 S. Elm Grove Rd., 262-787-0622) has a scant online presence, with no website and almost no information on their Facebook page. Although a few other places in Brookfield looked like they might have a good fish fry, it was ultimately a picture of Butch’s that drew me there. The building looked like it had the potential to serve a good fish fry, or at least to provide an environment that wasn’t stale.

The first building on the land where Butch’s Red Mill now stands was put up in 1847, originally as a farmhouse. The structure has gone through many changes over the years. In 1937, the first floor was turned into a tavern, and it opened as the Garvendale Inn the following year. When some new owners took over in 1954, they added a restaurant and gave it the name The Red Mill Inn. It went through various owners over the years, until Butch Schettle opened it as Butch’s Red Mill in July of 2014. Butch has been the owner of a few other Milwaukee-area restaurants, including Butch’s Old Casino Steak House, which was located at the southwest corner of James Lovell and Michigan Street until closing in 2015, after more than two decades in business. Currently, he also has Butch’s Pub & Eatery in West Allis, which I just realized I had a fish fry at in March of 2016.

It was already dark, and a flashing neon windmill beckoned me off the road to the red building. Inside I found what felt like a casual supper club with eccentricities. A square bar was in the main room. On one side it was flanked by a dining area, and on the other side by an entryway to a dining room, which itself had another dining room connected to it. There was no central light source, and yet, light seemed to be emanating from everywhere. Various distinctive lamps were placed about, their shades giving off a cornucopia of colors to the rooms. White lights hung above the perimeter of the bar, multicolored Christmas lights hung on the front windows, and Schlitz globes and beer signs added even more glow.

Booths and high and low top tables were interspersed with no apparent uniformity. Pictures of movie stars such as Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Marilyn Monroe hung on the walls, as did a large, old painting of a scantily clad woman. A life-size statue of a Native American man in traditional clothing stood along a wall, and so did a Rowe AMI Laserstar jukebox from the 1990s. A statue of an eagle was perched on an unused bar in the second dining area, and a model of a boat sat next to it. It seemed that every ledge held knick-knacks, trinkets, and antiques. Many things seemed to contradict each other, but somehow they fit perfectly at the same time.

I soaked this all in while slowly sipping a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet, first while sitting at a stool at the bar, and then while meandering around. The Old Fashioned was made with a few cherries and orange slices at its bottom, but was not muddled. I had at first considered eating at the bar, but decided it was worth the wait for a table, in order to get the whole experience.

I was eventually seated in the second dining area. The fish specials were beer battered cod ($11.95), baked cod ($13.95), and lake perch ($13.95). Potato pancakes were an option for a dollar more, but as they weren’t homemade, I decided against them. I ended up ordering the beer battered cod with fries, and a cup of clam chowder.

The chowder was served in a vintage cup and saucer set. It had healthy portions of fresh celery and potatoes, and a respectable taste. The fish fry, on the other hand, was served in one of those baskets you sometimes accidentally throw away at fast food restaurants. When it came to the fish, the gold tinted batter was a little on the greasy side, while the meat was a little too moist and a bit rubbery. The taste was fine, but nothing too exciting. There also was nothing particularly exciting about the tartar sauce. The fries had a satisfying texture, but I was not impressed with their flavor. The rye bread was soft, well buttered, and tasty.

Now, I probably haven’t had a Big Mac in a decade (my apologies to fellow Fond du Lac native Don Gorske), but as soon as I took a bite of the coleslaw, it tasted like I was eating one. I put it down and came back to it. Yep, it tasted like a mix of special sauce and lettuce. I’m not saying this was a bad thing, but it was a thing.

Butch’s Red Mill has an ambiance that will put you in a dreamlike state before you imbibe or ingest anything. It was this atmosphere, along with a solid cup of chowder, that had my hopes high before my fish fry arrived. While the fry wasn’t bad, it did not quite reach the standard of these other elements of the evening, and was a bit of a letdown. Still, I had an all-around enjoyable time. How can you not enjoy yourself on a Friday night in Wisconsin?

Takeaways: There were random antiques and lamps everywhere; my server was really nice; the chowder was of high quality; the fish and french fries could have been better; the coleslaw tasted like a Big Mac; do people even give a shit what I write about rye bread?; hey Don Gorske, I’ll eat a Big Mac if you eat a fish fry.

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256 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Café Centraal http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/256-friday-fish-frys-cafe-centraal/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/256-friday-fish-frys-cafe-centraal/#respond Fri, 30 Nov 2018 14:15:34 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=59082 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. hances are you’ve heard some variation of the joke, “When Riverwest hipsters get families or better jobs, they move to Bay View.” Like many jokes, there may be some truth to this one, but Bay View is so […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Chances are you’ve heard some variation of the joke, “When Riverwest hipsters get families or better jobs, they move to Bay View.” Like many jokes, there may be some truth to this one, but Bay View is so much more than craft beer, trendy restaurants, and coffee shops, and not everyone who lives there is between the ages of 25 and 40. There seems to be a parallel Bay View. It is a community built on tradition, where some families have lived for generations. It is a place where you can get a meal—with dessert included—for under $10 at Landmark Family Restaurant. And it is a place where you can see a concert in a house built in the 1870s—the Beulah Brinton house, which is also home to the Bay View Historical Society.

Named for Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, Café Centraal (2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-755-0378) seems to fit somewhere between the newer, hipper Bay View, and the older, historic Bay View. It is only a decade old, having opened in 2008, but it’s located in the Grange building, which was built in 1897. At the time the building was built, Bay View had only been a part of Milwaukee for a decade, and the Bay View Rolling Mill was still the bedrock of the community. From what I can tell, the building was either named for Richardson Grange, who had a hand in its construction, or his son William, who was a prominent Milwaukee real estate developer who had his offices in it. Grange Avenue just south of the city is named for him.

Starting in 1898, the part of the building that is now Café Centraal was a drug store. It was Prentice Drug for close to 90 years and then became a Gull Pharmacy. It then housed some dental offices before becoming Café Centraal. The Grange building also houses Freya Salon, Milwaukee Community Acupuncture, Cream City Chiropractic, and Saffron Yoga Center. Over the years, many other businesses, offices, and workers have been in these parts of the building, such as William Grange’s offices, lawyers, physicians, a lamp shade maker, the Bay View Dressmaking Shop, and the Wisconsin College of Music.

I was playing a show in Bay View this past Friday, and had to load in around dinner time, so it made the most sense to find some place nearby for fish. Over the years I have gotten fish at Café Centraal at least six times, but it had been more than two years since my last visit. The band piled in a vehicle, and we got the Johnny Carson spot outside the building.

It was dimly lit inside, and it was hard to tell if the place looked half empty because of that, or because of the rather large size of the room. One thing that could not be missed was the long bar, which has a base made of old Cream City brick. We didn’t find any fish fry menus at our table, but our waitress told us right away that fish was the special of the night.

Café Centraal serves fried cod ($11.95/$13.95 all-you-can-eat) all day on Fridays, which can be ordered “bier” battered or with a potato chip batter. Side choices are French fries—known as frites—or soup or salad. For a dollar more you can opt for sweet potato frites. We all ordered Old Fashioneds, and then the fish. I went with the all-you-can eat, and started with the beer battered. Sadly, they didn’t have any clam chowder; the soup of the day was squash soup, which somehow seemed fitting because it was the day after Thanksgiving, but I passed.

When our waitress brought our Old Fashioneds, she said she had accidentally made us “Who you calling Old Fashioned?” Old Fashioneds, and not regular ones. She said there wasn’t much of a difference between the two, but we never got down to exactly what was in them. The most notable difference was they had a purple tint that Old Fashioneds usually don’t have. Perhaps the color came in part from the cherries that were at the bottom of the glass, which may have been the sweetest dark red cherries I have ever had. After downing that, I ordered the beer of the month, a German pilsner from Luxembourg made by Bofferding.

The beer battered fish was mildly flavored with a balanced texture. It wasn’t too crunchy or greasy, and it held together well. Overall I was pretty impressed with it. The tartar had a thinner consistency, was light on relish, but heavy on dill. The frites were also of a very high quality, being some of the better ones I’ve had in awhile. The coleslaw was almost entirely made of green cabbage, except for a few small cuts of hot red peppers that were found here and there. It was unique in that it was made with sesame oil, instead of the usual vinegar or mayonnaise. It came with a half slice of light rye with a packet of butter—my only complaint being the butter was a little too cold to spread on the bread.

When I was about halfway done with my plate of food, I ordered some more fish, and my waitress said she would bring out more of each kind for the two of us who had ordered the all-you-can-eat. The potato chip battered fish was a little on the salty side, probably because, well, it was covered in potato chips. The chips also made the fish crunchy and bulky. The fish was fine, and I’m glad the restaurant has something nontraditional available, but I finished off with another piece of the beer battered.

For me, Café Centraal is the first place that comes to mind when I think of all-you-can-eat fish in Bay View. It is one of the better fish frys in a neighborhood that has a handful of decent ones, although I have yet to find a fish fry spot in Bay View that is at the far top tier of fish frys. Baby Boomers is respectable, and I remember Honeypie being so as well. Barnacle Bud’s and the South Shore Terrace are good options during the warmer months, and there are other places as well. Even Landmark Family Restaurant has a fish fry, and last time I checked it was under $10.

Takeaways: They have a really long bar, but it’s not as long as the one at Buck Bradley’s, and it doesn’t have clam chowder behind it; in fact, clam chowder wasn’t an option at all; our waitress was awesome; from what I remembered from previous visits, Café Centraal had a pretty pricey fish fry, but that actually was not the case; they have a lot of beers, or biers; I liked the beer battered fish a lot more than the potato chip battered, but I’m still glad they have both—I can’t think of another place that does potato chip batter; unique coleslaw as well; really great frites; I don’t like butter that is not soft; make sure you have like four hours after eating an all-you-can eat fish fry before playing a rock and roll show.

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255 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Johann’s Bar & Grill (Richford) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/255-friday-fish-frys-johanns-bar-grill-richford/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/255-friday-fish-frys-johanns-bar-grill-richford/#respond Fri, 23 Nov 2018 13:21:49 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=58816 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. stream of light flashed into a cornfield, emanating from the Amish buggy in front of me. It was the night before opening day of deer hunting in Wisconsin, and the driver was doing some last minute deer shining. […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

A stream of light flashed into a cornfield, emanating from the Amish buggy in front of me. It was the night before opening day of deer hunting in Wisconsin, and the driver was doing some last minute deer shining. Although I would be hunting too, deer weren’t really on my mind—I was more concerned about getting to a fish fry. I looked at my speedometer: 15 miles per hour. I looked back at the road: double yellow lines. I had less than two miles to go to reach my destination. Eventually dashed lines appeared, and I sped my 136 horsepower Ford Focus around the one-horse buggy. A few moments later, Johann’s Bar and Grill (N1257 County Rd B, Coloma, 715-228-2500) came into view.

A roadside tavern, Johann’s is located in the town of Richford, right on the Ice Age Trail, where the Mecan River crosses County Highway B. Besides being a bar and grill, Johann’s also sells leather jackets and other leather accessories. It’s owned by Steve Johannes, who goes by the name “Johann” himself. Wearing a camouflage baseball cap, overalls, and a T-shirt supporting the Second Amendment, he was there, working behind the bar, sitting down next to people at tables to take their food orders, getting the pool tables to work properly, and cracking jokes. It’s apparent that he is well-liked by his patrons.

Johann tells it how he sees it, and has no hesitations in speaking his mind. Upon noticing that I was wearing a Willie Nelson T-shirt, his scratchy voice broke into a rendition of “On The Road Again.” He then segued into a joke about a voice-activated radio, in which Willie, Waylon, Elvis, and Chubby Checker appeared. “Pelosi and Hillary” showed up in the punch line, and were not portrayed in a positive light. Richford is a solidly red town—Hillary Clinton only received 21.5% of the vote there in 2016—and it doesn’t seem far-out to infer that Johann’s is a solidly red bar.

I was last at Johann’s for fish on deer hunter’s eve two years ago (last year I went to the nearby Moose Inn). Fish options include beer battered cod ($9.95 for 3 piece/additional pieces for $1.50), perch ($11.95), walleye ($11.95), smelt ($8.95), and poor man’s lobster ($11.95). Kid’s plates are also available. The potato choices are baked potato, American fries, French fries, or potato salad. A salad bar is also included. I put in an order for the cod with fries and headed straight to the salad bar.

For a smaller bar and grill, the salad bar at Johann’s is quite extensive. I loaded a plate with coleslaw, tuna pasta salad, potato salad (no need to get it as your potato option when it’s on the salad bar too), lettuce salad with various toppings, and candied beets. The high quality coleslaw was juicy and sweet, and of course, it was bottomless. I got a second plate of various salads, and a third of just coleslaw.

I decided three salad plates was enough, and the rest of the food soon came out. The batter on the fish was golden and the beer flavor came through well. The batter was also perhaps a tad on the greasy side, but not too bad, and the meat of the fish was commendable. That tartar sauce was pretty standard. The meal came with quality crinkle cut fries and a piece of rye bread, which was buttered, cut in half, and sandwiched together.

One of the main reasons I go hunting is to experience life a little differently than I usually do. It allows me a change of scenery—pine trees and fields instead of tall buildings—and allows me to come into contact with people who may think a little differently than I do in some respects. It’s my belief that getting into nature and sitting down with people with different perspectives are both healthy things. But there is one thing that doesn’t change in Wisconsin whether you are in a city with a 42-story building or in a rural area with Amish farms, or in a blue county or a red county. If it’s a Friday night, there’s a good chance you’ll be eating fish.

Takeaways: I had to pass a buggy to get there; salad bar with satisfying coleslaw; decent fish and fries; Johann was keeping the place going; besides fish, Johann’s serves breakfast, daily dinner specials, and homemade pizzas; there was a gun hanging from the ceiling that could be won; you can pick up some leather goods while you are there; they deliver fish frys, but I’m not sure how far out their radius is.

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254 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Serb Hall http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/254-friday-fish-frys-serb-hall/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/254-friday-fish-frys-serb-hall/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 13:15:49 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=58629 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. hree days after the midterm elections, I headed to American Serb Hall (5101 W. Oklahoma Ave., 414-545-6030), a place that has long been known for two things: fish frys and politics. Located on the corner of 51st Street and […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Three days after the midterm elections, I headed to American Serb Hall (5101 W. Oklahoma Ave., 414-545-6030), a place that has long been known for two things: fish frys and politics. Located on the corner of 51st Street and Oklahoma Avenue, Serb Hall has been a stop for almost everyone who has ran for president since it opened in 1950, with some candidates even partaking in its Friday fish fry, which began in 1967.

John and Jackie Kennedy campaigned at Serb Hall two days before the Wisconsin primary in 1960. On Good Friday in 1972, the Friday before Wisconsin’s primary, four Democratic contenders showed up at Serb Hall’s fish fry: Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, John Lindsay, and Ed Muskie. The Milwaukee Journal reported that Humphrey was the only one of the candidates to sit down for a full meal, although the paper did include a photo of Muskie stuffing his mouth with fried fish while standing. George Wallace had rallied there the previous evening; Hunter Thompson had been there for it, and wrote in Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72 that Wallace had “jerked this crowd in Serb Hall around like he had them on wires.”

The list of candidates who have stopped at Serb Hall goes on and on. Ronald Reagan campaigned there in 1980. George H.W. Bush bowled—and slipped and fell onto—one of its lanes in 1984. John McCain was there in 2008, and Mitt Romney made a stop in 2012. In 2016, Ted Cruz and John Kasich gave speeches there at an event that included a Friday fish fry; Cruz was headquartered there the following week when he beat Donald Trump in the Wisconsin primary. Stops at Serb Hall for campaigning, a fish fry, or a little of both have been a part of state and local candidates’ routines as well. Even Mayor Barrett has gotten in on the fun.

American Serb Hall often shows up on “best of” lists for Milwaukee fish frys, and it is one of the largest—if not the largest—fish frys in the city. Not only is fish served in one of the building’s large halls, but it can be picked up to-go at a drive-thru and walk-up window as well. Fish frys are a daylong event, being served from 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

When I arrived around 6:30 p.m., I was immediately brought into the Wisconsin Room and given a seat at one of the 40 or so tables that were covered with green tablecloths. The south half of the room was closed off for some other event, but being that the capacity sign for the whole room said 1086, you can imagine the size of the place. A little under half of the tables were filled, and people were spread out around the whole room. A PA system was set up in the northeast corner.

I started looking over the menu as the music started up. At first I tried to figure out whose version of “The Girl From Ipanema” was playing, but when I turned around to face the PA, I found the song was being sung by a karaoke lounge singer. I turned my attention back to my menu. The fish options at Serb Hall are deep fried haddock ($10.95 for 4 piece/ $13.95 for all-you-can-eat); deep fried, baked, or Serbian style Icelandic cod ($12.95 for 3 piece/ $10.95 for 2 piece/ $8.95 for 1 piece); “classic” cod ($12.95 for 3 piece); surf & turf ($12.95 for a choice of 2 piece cod or 4 piece perch, and 2 chevaps); and deep fried lake perch ($11.50). The potato options are french fries or mashed potatoes. Homemade potato pancakes can be purchased for $2 each from the à la carte menu. Clam chowder is also available. I ordered the all-you-can-eat haddock with french fries, a cup of clam chowder, and an Old Fashioned.

I soon had my drink and a bowl of clam chowder (I’m pretty sure I had ordered a cup, but I will not turn away extra chowder). The chowder was hearty, dense, and filled with clam, carrots, potatoes, and plenty of seasoning. It reminded me a bit of my grandmother’s cream of cauliflower and cream of broccoli soups, and was almost a meal itself.

Although I was dining alone, everything else was still served family style. I was brought a medium-sized bowl of coleslaw, a basket with three pieces of bread, and a plate with four tartar sauces and five lemon slices. The coleslaw tasted fresh and was vinegar-based with a mild flavor.

Moments later, a plate with four pieces of fish arrived. The breading had a high quality texture, and overall the fish was decent, although the most salient aspects of it seemed to be the breading was a little salty and the meat was a little dry. The tartar had a heavy lemon flavor, and wasn’t too noteworthy beyond that. By the time the basket of french fries (perfect texture inside and out, mediocre flavor) and another plate with four more pieces of fish came out, I started questioning my judgment in ordering all-you-can-eat.

I must have sat at my table for about an hour. I listened to the singer go through a series of songs from the Great American Songbook, such as Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris.” He ventured off the traditional path with a cover of Dion’s “The Wanderer” and a jazzy version of The Boxtops’ “The Letter.” I slowly ate. I looked up at the chandeliers and embraced the anonymity that could be felt in such a large room. That feeling allowed me to drift far away and envision myself somewhere else. I took in the music and imagined I was in Rick’s Café in Casablanca. My waitress came by and said, “You look like you are struggling.” I was struggling. There was just so much food.

My waitress returned again and asked if I would like a chocolate cupcake. “I think I can get that down,” I replied. The fish was a battle, and I never did get all the way through the fries or coleslaw. But, as I thought would be the case, I destroyed the cupcake.

The fish fry at American Serb Hall is above average, but I expected it to be even better considering the sterling reputation it has. In particular, I was hoping for a little more when it came to the fish and tartar. But, the classic hall environment was great, the food was largely satisfying, and I came away fully satiated.

The politics are gone for now—there are no more television ads and most of the yard signs are down. But the fish frys remain. You may sometimes feel like you aren’t getting enough honesty, integrity, or fulfilled promises from politicians, but one thing is for sure: you can always count on getting enough food with your fish fry at American Serb Hall.

Takeaways: I ate like two fish frys for the price of one; food is served family style; I was given four tartar sauces to start with; the clam chowder was like a meal before the meal, and it was good; the fish and tartar were decent, but I was expecting more; fresh coleslaw; so many fries; awesome chocolate cupcake; karaoke singer; tons of politicians have stopped here, and some of them even had a fish fry; Al Roker once worked the drive-thru window and was trying to joke with customers when someone told him, “I want my fish, don’t joke with me.”

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253 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Juice’s Ghost Town (Grafton) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/253-friday-fish-frys-juices-ghost-town-grafton/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/253-friday-fish-frys-juices-ghost-town-grafton/#respond Fri, 09 Nov 2018 15:04:25 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=58368 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. n the past, when I’ve thought of noteworthy history about the village of Grafton, I’ve thought of how it was the home of Paramount Records, the label that recorded blues artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

In the past, when I’ve thought of noteworthy history about the village of Grafton, I’ve thought of how it was the home of Paramount Records, the label that recorded blues artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, and Ma Rainey in the 1920s and ’30s. But with this week’s fish fry, I learned there is much more of note that happened in the area. It all started coming into focus after I came across Juice’s Ghost Town (990 Ulao Rd., 262-376-9003), where I ended up going with two of my friends who live in Grafton.

The ghost town referred to in the restaurant’s name is Ulao, which also was known as Port Ulao. Located between Grafton and Lake Michigan, Ulao sprang up in 1847, on account of James Gifford, who created a place for settlers to sell wood they had cut down while clearing land for farms. He built a 1,000-foot pier into Lake Michigan, and a chute that carried wood from the bluffs above to the beach below. Gifford sold the wood to the crews of wood-burning steamships that traversed the Great Lakes.

Shortly after Gifford started selling wood, a plank road was built from Ulao to just west of the Milwaukee River in Grafton. This is now where Ulao Road (County Highway Q) and Highway 60 are located. Juice’s Ghost Town is on Ulao Road.

In 1850, Captain John Randolph Howe took over Gifford’s operation. One of his sisters, Jane, was married to Luther Guiteau. They also lived in Ulao and had a young son named Charles. Charles Guiteau would later become infamous, after he shot President James Garfield in July of 1881. Garfield lingered for a few months before dying, and Ulao’s most noteworthy former resident was hanged the following year.

The village gradually began being abandoned following the Civil War. The main factor in Ulao becoming a ghost town was that steamships no longer needed wood for fuel, as the shift to coal was made. Yet, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some buildings were still being built, including the building that is now Juice’s Ghost Tavern, which was built in 1902. It was the Ulao Tavern and Dance Hall until about 1928. Since then it has had many owners and has gone by a few names, such as Ghost Town Tavern and the Ulao Inn. It has been Juice’s Ghost Town since 2005, when it was taken over by Mike “Juice” Gannon.

My friends and I arrived at the restaurant around 6:30 p.m. to find it completely packed. We squeezed through a crowd of people to get to the far side of the bar to put a name in, and were told it would be about a 45-minute wait. After getting an Old Fashioned—which had the largest cinnamon and spice flavored mushrooms I’ve ever had for a garnish—the coziness of the place took over. It was almost as if we were insulated from the outside world, with the carpeted floors and wood-covered walls protecting us.
Over the bar hung three green lamps; the one in the middle had a Packers logo on it, while the two on the ends were covered with dairy cows. People were eating at a few tables in the bar room, as well as in the small dining room connected to it. Unbeknownst to us, there was another, even smaller dining room near the kitchen, that couldn’t be seen by looking into the main dining room. It was in this smaller dining room where we were seated after about an hour wait.

Fish options include breaded or beer battered perch ($14.50/ extra piece $4.00), breaded or beer battered haddock ($11.50/ extra piece $2.00), and breaded or beer battered walleye ($14.50). The fish is also available broiled or pan fried. Potato options include french fries or baked potato, or homemade potato pancakes for an extra dollar.

I ordered the haddock, and asked if it was possible to get both beer battered and breaded with the order. I was told this may be possible, but there wasn’t any guarantee. (In hindsight, I should have ordered either one or the other, and then ordered an extra piece of the opposite type for $2.) I went with the potato pancakes, and added on a cup of seafood chowder.

The chowder was pretty typical, but unique in that it had yellow, red, and green bell peppers. I ended up with two pieces of breaded fish, and traded one of them for a beer battered one from one of my friends. The breading was made with the smallest of crumbs, and both types of fish had a similar, mild flavor. The fish was appetizing, and I ordered a third piece, but there was nothing particularly remarkable about it to set it above the pack. The tartar sauce was okay, but again, there was nothing that made it memorable.

Rounding out the meal, the potato pancakes had an amazingly soft inside, almost like mashed potatoes. They had a crispier outside, with a varying shape. The coleslaw was of high quality, being extra creamy and thick. The meal came with a pretty decent piece of marble rye as well.

I was feeling pretty satisfied and relaxed by the end of the meal, but I knew there was one more thing I had to do. I drove about a half mile down Ulao Road and turned around in the driveway of the Guiteau family home. Is this something people often do after their meals at Juice’s? Probably not, but I wasn’t going to pass up the chance. It’s not every day you get a fish fry in a ghost town.

Takeaways: The restaurant is located in a ghost town; the ambiance is hard to beat; decent fish and pancakes; so-so tartar; a fine creamy slaw; after your fish fry, you can drive by a house where a presidential assassin lived as a child.

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252 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: North Shore American Legion Post #331 http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/252-friday-fish-frys-shore-american-legion-post-331/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/252-friday-fish-frys-shore-american-legion-post-331/#respond Fri, 02 Nov 2018 13:00:43 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=58091 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. n the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns of The Great War fell silent. It was exactly 100 years ago this month. And while the souls that perished at Marne, Verdun, and […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns of The Great War fell silent. It was exactly 100 years ago this month. And while the souls that perished at Marne, Verdun, and Somme may seem far removed from us now, and those who lived through the war are now all gone as well, their legacy lives on.

One example of this is through the American Legion, which was formed by veterans in the wake of the war. Today the group has about two million members, with over 50,000 of them being in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is home to more than 500 American Legion posts, and Post #331 is in Shorewood (4121 N. Wilson Dr., 414-961-2123). Organized in 1932 with 50 original members, Post #331 built a new clubhouse on Wilson Drive right about the time the world was once again at war, after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.

Almost eight decades later, this clubhouse is still Post #331’s home. In its basement you can find a tavern, and on the tavern’s Friday menu you can find a fish fry. If it wasn’t for a few newer beer signs and televisions, one could easily envision themselves being in the 1940s as they sit at one of the tables or at the U-shaped bar. On the menu is cod ($12), bluegill ($14), perch ($15), and walleye ($16). There is also a kids cod fry ($6). Potato options are french fries or homemade potato pancakes. All dine-in fish frys also come with a complimentary pint of Riverwest Stein.

Arriving around 6:45 p.m., I started with an Old Fashioned, which was well-muddled with dark cherries and orange. Clam chowder is made from scratch each week, and it was my intention to have a bowl of it, but to my dismay I was told they had run out. They said not too many people had ordered it the week prior, but that this week it seemed that everyone had. I soothed myself from this loss by ordering the cod fry with potato pancakes, and I found some solace in knowing I would be getting a free Riverwest Stein.

The meal came with three pieces of beer battered cod. The moist, quality meat almost melted in my mouth, while the beer batter wasn’t too greasy, but was delicate, coming apart with the lightest touch of my fork. The homemade flavor of the fish held its own, but was augmented by the thin, sweet tartar.

The homemade potato pancakes were well-browned and crisp on the outside, with a mild flavor. I didn’t detect any onion, but some seasoning was evident, although I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was. The coleslaw was a pretty standard light creamy slaw except that it was topped with a healthy dash of paprika. The bread was a soft, thick, marble rye. I was given an end piece, but it still was of great quality.

After being spoiled for a few weeks with clam chowder and all-you-can-eat fish, I was left a little hungry this past Friday. But, being left wanting something more is also a sign that something was good in the first place, and that can be said about the fish fry at Post #331. And as I reflect on the 100th anniversary of the close of World War I, it is not lost on me that the legacy of its veterans lives on not only in the American Legion and Post #331, but in something as grand, yet simple, as a Friday night fish fry.

Takeaways: Great deal considering you get a Riverwest Stein with your fish fry; old school ambiance; when in doubt, make extra chowder; there should be an all-you-can-eat option, but that should be the case everywhere; melt-in-your-mouth fish with a satisfying batter; there was paprika on top of the coleslaw; they have other food specials on other nights of the week.

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251 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Carl’s Catering http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/251-friday-fish-frys-counting-carls-catering/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/251-friday-fish-frys-counting-carls-catering/#respond Fri, 26 Oct 2018 05:45:02 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=57826 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ish frys tend to be served at a few types of locations: taverns, sit-down restaurants, supper clubs, and halls. A week after returning to Pat’s Oak Manor for a celebratory 250th consecutive Friday fish fry, I was still […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Fish frys tend to be served at a few types of locations: taverns, sit-down restaurants, supper clubs, and halls. A week after returning to Pat’s Oak Manor for a celebratory 250th consecutive Friday fish fry, I was still in a hall type of mood. There are a handful of other halls nearby that I’ve been to for fish—The Schwabenhof, Serb Hall, and Emerald City come to mind—but I was on the hunt for someplace I had never been. Perhaps I could unearth a gem, a spot under the radar and often passed over that was of high quality. I remembered a place I had come across during the summer: Carl’s Catering (5110 W. Loomis Rd., 414-421-6550). Their website said they had a Friday fish fry from October until May. It was now the third week of October. Perfect.

Carl’s Catering is just a half mile down Loomis Road from Ray’s Butcher Shoppe, on the edge of historic Greendale. It has been at its current location since 1994, and has been serving all-you-can-eat fish frys there just as long. Prior to being on Loomis Road, Carl’s was located in Wauwatosa, where it opened in the early 1970s.

The building that has housed Carl’s since 1994 has a long history of serving fish frys. From the early 1960s through 1993 it was Jolly’s Cocktail Lounge & Restaurant. An advertisement for Jolly’s from shortly after they opened said they were an ideal place for parties, receptions, and meetings; they offered free dance lessons every Monday; and they served “A Whale Of A Fish Fry” on Fridays. Another advertisement claimed they served a “Kings Cuisine at Peasant’s Prices.” In the late 1950s, prior to being Jolly’s, it was Club Aberdeen. For some years prior to this, a beer depot and tavern was at the address.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when arriving at Carl’s, as they hadn’t made a post on their Facebook page in over two and a half years, and I wasn’t even sure if their website was up to date. As I got out of my car, a restless wind blew the smell of fried fish across their expansive parking lot. “Off to a good start,” I thought.

After walking through a foyer, I found myself in a large banquet hall. About a dozen or so eight-top tables were covered in white tablecloths, and a bar lined one of the walls. My friend and I were seated in a smaller, adjoining hall, where the tables were a little bit smaller, but still pretty big. There were very few tables for small parties to be found anywhere. In short, Carl’s Catering is either a place to eat with your whole family and a bunch of friends, or a cool place to change your seat multiple times while eating alone, to really confuse your server.

Fish fry options include beer battered or breaded cod ($9.95 for 1 piece/ $12.50 for 2 piece/ $13.95 for 3 piece/ $16.95 for all-you-can-eat), baked cod ($14.95), breaded Lake Erie perch ($16.95 for 6 piece), and a Fisherman’s Platter ($17.95 for 1 cod, 2 perch, and 3 shrimp). They also have a child’s fish fry ($7.45). The all-you-can-eat does not include extra sides. The potato options are french fries, sweet potato fries, cheesy hashbrown potatoes, homemade potato pancakes, parsley buttered potatoes, and baked potato. For those who don’t want one of these 35 potato options, “vegetable du jour” is also available; I’m just going to assume it’s a potato. I ordered the all-you-can-eat cod with the potato pancakes, as well as a cup of clam chowder ($2.00) and an Old Fashioned.

We had already been brought bread and coleslaw, and had that to eat while waiting for everything else to come out. The bread was a soft marble rye. The coleslaw came in smaller plastic cups and was creamy, with large chunks of cabbage. It became sweeter as I got farther towards the bottom of it.

The chowder soon came out, followed by the Old Fashioned. The high quality chowder had a balanced creamy texture with a heavy seafood flavor. It had large potato chunks and lots of clam. The Old Fashioned was a pretty standard non-muddled cocktail.

I had asked for a mix of breaded and beer battered cod, and my friend had ordered the three piece cod. But when we got our food, I was just given beer battered, while my friend was only given two pieces of fish. We alerted our server, who quickly brought another piece of fish for my friend, and put an order in for additional fish for me. This initial mixup in the kitchen was an anomaly, as our amiable server was superb in service throughout our meal.

The potato pancakes were very hashbrown-like, with a soft interior and a small amount of onion flavor. The cod had a light batter with a pleasant, mild beer flavor. They were decently sized full fillets, and the meat of the fish was of satisfactory quality. At first glance I didn’t think the tartar was going to have what it took, but I was wrong. Its thick consistency and dill-tinged flavor went well with the fish.

A second plate of fish was brought, with one piece of breaded cod and one piece of beer battered cod. When I looked down at it I found a Friday fish fry miracle: the beer battered piece was shaped like Wisconsin. There wasn’t anything strikingly original about the breaded piece, but perhaps it just seemed that way because I was so enthralled with my Wisconsin shaped fish.

I decided to keep my composure and not order any more fish, but I was not yet done eating. At Carl’s, each fish fry is ended with sherbet ice cream. While it was no chocolate log, the chilled orange and lime treat was a good ending to the meal.

So is Carl’s Catering a hidden gem of a fish fry? I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but it’s definitely worth stopping at if you are looking for a new place to check out. The beer battered fish and tartar sauce are commendable, the potato pancakes are decent, and the food is enjoyed in a classic hall atmosphere. You can get clam chowder for two dollars, you get to eat some sherbet, and if you’re lucky, you will get a piece of fish shaped liked Wisconsin.

Takeaways: They serve Friday fish frys from October thru May from 4-7:30 pm; they have large tables; solid chowder, and it’s only two dollars; AYCE does not include extra sides; decent beer battered cod, tartar, and pancakes; I got a piece of fish shaped like Wisconsin; friendly staff and good service; if you don’t feel like cooking for Thanksgiving you can pick up a meal here; I received a stamp card that says I can get one free fish fry valued at $8.95 if I eat 10 fish frys, but their cheapest fish fry besides the child’s one is $9.95, so I think they are trying to trick me.

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249 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Ray’s Butcher Shoppe http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/249-friday-fish-frys-counting-rays-butcher-shoppe/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/249-friday-fish-frys-counting-rays-butcher-shoppe/#respond Fri, 12 Oct 2018 05:35:45 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=57238 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. rowing up in Fond du Lac, I wasn’t brought to Milwaukee too often as a child. My only recollections of being in the city in the 1980s and ’90s are of a few trips to the Milwaukee County […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Growing up in Fond du Lac, I wasn’t brought to Milwaukee too often as a child. My only recollections of being in the city in the 1980s and ’90s are of a few trips to the Milwaukee County Zoo, a school field trip to a church, and annual Brewers games at County Stadium. Each year, my uncle would buy me and my cousins tickets for a baseball game; my dad would come along as well. I don’t remember much about the games—most of my memories of going to County Stadium consist of everything else that happened besides baseball.

Each year’s ritual went something like this: We would arrive in Milwaukee and park on Dana Court, off of Hawley Road, next to a strip club called Monreal’s Encore. (I checked the city directories going back to 1982, and it can be confirmed that this strip club has existed since at least the last time the Brewers went to the World Series, meaning it definitely was Monreal’s Encore when I was a kid.) I had no idea it was a strip club at the time. In fact, I probably didn’t even really know much of what happened in a strip club, or that they even existed.

After we would park, we would eat cold sandwiches in the car, and then crawl below the Dana Court bridge and walk under power lines between two cemeteries, heading east towards County Stadium. There was always garbage and graffiti everywhere. Eventually we would find a specific spot in the fence where the bottom was cut, and we would shimmy up through it and walk to County Stadium. During the 1990s, this was my basic conception of Milwaukee—a strip club, graffitti, garbage, and finding the right spot in a fence so you could crawl through it.

At the stadium, we always had seats in the bleachers. I remember using binoculars, and my dad or uncle would always bring a small portable radio in order to listen to Bob Uecker. Being that we were so far away, these were the things that helped us better understand what was going on with the game.

This past Friday, in honor of the Brewers winning their division, and in honor of my childhood memories of the Brewers and of Milwaukee in general, I decided to go on an adventure. After seeing that Monreal’s Encore had a fish fry, my initial thought was to get one to-go from there and eat it outside of the place, just like I ate those cold sandwiches all those years ago. I called them and asked if they had “food to-go for takeout,” and they said they didn’t. I suppose they probably don’t get that request too often, and maybe they didn’t even understand what I was asking. I then thought maybe I could just go there, order food, and then say I was full and have it boxed up so I could go outside. I also thought maybe I could just eat inside of the strip club. In the end, I came up with another idea.

I left my house one-and-a-half innings into the game, turned Uecker on in the car, and headed to the Pick ‘n Save on Holt Avenue. I scanned the non-alcoholic beer section. They had one of my favorites, O’Doul’s, but it just wouldn’t do. The Brewers were competing in a playoff game and I needed a non-alcoholic beer made by Miller. I needed Sharp’s.

I headed to Oklahoma Liquor and picked up a cold 12-pack of Sharp’s. I drove past Fritz’s and saw their open sign was on (they are staying open on Fridays until they find the right buyer), and I drove past Grainger’s. Eventually I arrived at Ray’s Butcher Shoppe (4640 W. Loomis Rd.; 414-423-1322).

Opened by Ray Konkel in the late 1970s, Ray’s Butcher Shoppe was originally on Howell Avenue. It has been at its current location on Loomis Road since 1989. It is a full-on meat market, with steaks, ribs, homemade sausages and brats, jerky and beef sticks, and just about every other meat you can think of. They cater pig and chicken roasts, and party trays and salads are also available. I had been there once before, for Sunday hot ham and rolls. They’ve had a Friday night fish fry for as long as they’ve been at their current location.

When I ordered, I was asked if I wanted a two piece or three piece meal, and I went with the latter. I was also asked if I wanted french fries or steak fries, and what type of soup I wanted. Since seafood chowder was an option, I quickly chose that.

To-go orders are put in big paper bags, names are called out, and if no one claims them right away they are set on a cart. While I was waiting I checked to see if they had Sharp’s beer in their cooler. Nope. At least I hadn’t wasted my time by making multiple stops. After about 10 minutes, my name was called and I was out the door.

I circled the city, following I-894 to the west and then to the north, and then heading east on I-94. Uecker was in the background on the radio. It was the fourth inning. I hit some traffic caused by an accident as I got closer to Miller Park, and I began to get antsy. I had to get to my destination before it got too late.

And then I was there, at a spot I hadn’t been at in about 20 years—the spot that was my original understanding of what Milwaukee was. I parked outside of the Encore, and grabbed my paper bag of fish, a Sharp’s beer, and a small portable radio. I laid out my spread on the concrete guard of the bridge I used to climb underneath, and I turned on Uecker on a little radio, just as my dad or uncle had done when we used to sit in the bleachers of County Stadium.

I tried hard to focus on the food in front of me, and on the game, but my thoughts kept drifting back to my childhood, and the mosquitos started attacking with a fierceness I hadn’t anticipated. Instead of three pieces of fish, I was actually given four. They were short in length, but thick and juicy. They were covered with a thin and rather tasty batter, and came with quality tartar sauce. The french fries weren’t anything special—just some plain crinkle cuts that made me pine for what the steak fries might have been. The coleslaw came in a small container, had a light cream, and had small cuts of cabbage with a piquant bite. The roll was satisfactory, and the seafood chowder was smooth and flavorful, and even had some shrimp in it. The Sharp’s almost tasted like a beer, and was better than I remembered from past experiences.

I thought about walking under the bridge and trying to find the spot where the fence used to be cut, but the pathway to get below the bridge looked even more treacherous than it had in the 1990s, and the mosquitoes were getting really annoying. As the sixth inning began, I packed up and headed home. Uecker was on the car radio in the background, the rhythm of his voice following the rhythm of the game, just as it had when I was a kid climbing through fences and sitting in the bleachers of County Stadium.

Takeaways: Ray’s Butcher Shoppe’s fish fry would be good for eating at a picnic in a park or at a beach on a nice day—it is also good for eating on a bridge outside of a strip club next to some cemeteries; decently priced at $9.95; Rays has six and 12-piece fish buckets so you can bring all your friends; Sharp’s beer is okay, non-alcoholic beer is okay; Did anyone else used to park next to the strip club and crawl through that fence? Was this a well known thing? Does anyone still do this? Please message me if you have any information about this.

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248 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Benno’s (West Allis) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/248-friday-fish-frys-bennos-west-allis/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/248-friday-fish-frys-bennos-west-allis/#respond Fri, 05 Oct 2018 05:30:56 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=56913 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ueled by the popularity of craft beer, the number of breweries in the United States has more than doubled in the past five years. There are now over 6,000 breweries in the United States, mostly microbreweries and brewpubs. […]

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Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here.

Fueled by the popularity of craft beer, the number of breweries in the United States has more than doubled in the past five years. There are now over 6,000 breweries in the United States, mostly microbreweries and brewpubs. Things didn’t always look so promising. In the late 1970s, there were less than 100 breweries in the country, the lowest number there had been since beer brewing had been illegal in the 1930s. While it may not have appeared to be the most auspicious time to open a beer bar, a few forward-looking people in West Allis decided to go for it. They called their bar Benno’s (7413 W. Greenfield Ave.; 414-453-9094).

With 12 taps flowing, Benno’s opened on the corner of 73rd Street and National Avenue the same month Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. They moved to their current location, on Greenfield Avenue just west of 74th Street, in 1989, and soon expanded to 30 beer taps. That number has now grown to 40. They also serve a Friday night fish fry.

Alone, on what happened to be National Drink Beer Day, I made my way into Benno’s. I saw a spot at the bar, but forced myself in the direction of the dining room instead, and requested a table. There was one small table left.

Benno’s is a mix of townie bar, refined beer bar, and cozy sit-down restaurant. A partly open concept between the bar and the adjacent dining room allows jubilant beer burbling to mix with dinner conversation. Besides a few newer televisions and a framed collection of keg collars, there isn’t much in the dining room to indicate it’s not the 1980s. A few vintage photographs—including one of County Stadium, a sign for Trek bicycles, and an old projector screen—hang on the wooden walls. To the room’s north, near the front of the building, is a more secluded, smaller dining room that could be closed off if its accordion door was utilized. South of the dining room is a small room with a pinball and claw machine.

Last week I pointed out that I received my Old Fashioned in a pint glass. As if to play a joke on me, this week my Old Fashioned came in a glass that was a little shorter, but still wasn’t a lowball Old Fashioned glass. Mildly muddled, the drink was pretty standard.

Although there is no all-you-can-eat fish fry option at Benno’s, there are plenty of choices, and they are reasonably priced for what you get. The following are available: beer battered Alaskan cod or baked Alaskan cod with almonds ($8.99 for 3 piece/ $11.79 for 5 piece), baked garlic romano cod ($10.29 for 3 piece/ $12.99 for 5 piece), breaded Great Lakes perch ($10.99 for 4 piece/ $14.99 for 6 piece), baked cajun catfish ($9.99/$13.99), and southern fried catfish ($12.99). Shrimp and salmon round out the Friday seafood options, and clam chowder ($3.29/$5.79) can also be purchased. Fish frys come with a choice of fresh cut french fries, baked potato, wild rice, homemade potato pancakes, homemade pasta, or homemade potato salad. I went with the five piece beer battered cod, pancakes, and chowder.

Whereas I almost always come across a common variety of New England clam chowder, the chowder at Benno’s deviated from the norm and was quite original. It seemed to have the same core ingredients as New England chowder, but was much more stew-like, and had a bold flavor—a trifecta of sweet, salty, and spicy. When I ordered it I was told it was almost gone, so I may have gotten the end of the batch, which could have impacted the taste and texture.

Most of the fish fry was homemade, and it looked the part. The five piece ended up being more like a seven piece, and was made up of medium- to small-sized cod loins. The fish was beer battered to a golden tone, not being too soft or too crisp. The batter was mildly flavored and the loins were of average to a little above average quality. The homemade tartar was relish-heavy and great for loin dipping.

The potato pancakes were very soft and almost a little bland, but had some character in their appearance. The coleslaw was crunchy and extra creamy. As it wasn’t in a container, its juice would have run into the fish and pancakes if it wasn’t for the plate’s small dividers, which held everything in place. Finally, there was nothing remarkable about the rye bread.

My usual ritual is to have an Old Fashioned before my meal, and a lighter beer, such as a pilsner, with my fish. I would be remiss not to mention just how hard it was for me to order a beer, and that it took me until I was about halfway done with my fish fry in order to get one, even though I had finished my Old Fashioned before my fish had arrived. I mention this in part because I find it pretty ironic, and almost comical, being that I was at a bar that specialized in beer and it was National Drink Beer Day. I’m not going to get into specifics, but I eventually did get a 3 Floyds Gorch Fock.

I thought maybe the wait had been some sort of fluke, but then it took about 10 minutes after my plate had been cleared to receive my bill, at a time when the dining area was no longer that full. The issue seemed to come down to that neither I nor the three people who had served me during my meal knew who my official server was.

Besides these lapses in service, which may not be representative of the norm, my time at Benno’s was well enjoyed. The fish fry had character, was filling, and was reasonably priced, while the environment was cozy and nostalgic. I wouldn’t mind going back and spending a longer amount of time there, likely while having a beer flight.

Takeaways: they were into craft beer before you were into craft beer; 40 beers on tap, and you can order a BFF, which is a beer flight with all of them; unique chowder; solid homemade fish fry; the kids menu also has a fish fry; the mayor of West Allis goes here sometimes; they have patriotic and informative placemats.

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