Caleb Westphal – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com Music, culture, gentle sarcasm. Wed, 20 Jun 2018 20:21:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 http://milwaukeerecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/cropped-mrapp-32x32.jpg Caleb Westphal – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com 32 32 232 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Walleye Weekend (again) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/232-friday-fish-frys-walleye-weekend/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/232-friday-fish-frys-walleye-weekend/#respond Fri, 15 Jun 2018 05:15:12 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=51486 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday night fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. [Editor’s note: The following piece is identical to last year’s piece on Walleye Weekend (except for the final photo of the fish) because Walleye Weekend is wonderful and Walleye Weekend never changes. Caleb’s fish fry streak remains unbroken […]

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

[Editor’s note: The following piece is identical to last year’s piece on Walleye Weekend (except for the final photo of the fish) because Walleye Weekend is wonderful and Walleye Weekend never changes. Caleb’s fish fry streak remains unbroken at 232.]

This past week I traveled to my hometown, Fond du Lac, for Walleye Weekend, which is a free festival that claims to be the “World’s Largest Walleye Fish Fry.” The biggest draw of Walleye Weekend is to walk back and forth about a dozen times along the lakefront of Lake Winnebago, and see people that you haven’t seen in a decade. While folks are doing this they usually stack up plastic beer cups as high as possible, just to make sure that Fond du Lac doesn’t slide down in the following year’s “Drunkest Cities in America” list. There’s also the annual Mercury Marine fishing tournament, and of course the fish fry. The festival has been going on since 1978, and I’ve been going pretty much every year since the mid 1980s. From my perspective, nothing much has changed. That’s pretty much Fond du Lac in a nutshell. Nothing much changes there.

As I got to the park I bought a $2 wristband for beer at one of the information booths—yes, in Fond du lac information booths are used mainly to sell beer wristbands—and did a quick walkaround and grabbed a beer before heading to the fish tent. I’m glad I got in line when I did, because when I walked past again an hour later, the line had tripled in size.

The fish fry at Walleye Weekend has been exactly the same for every year that I can remember. In my view it is excellent, but that is probably just nostalgia taking over my brain. In reality it probably is not much better than average. There is an option to get one or two pieces of walleye with the meal (why on Earth someone would only want one piece of fish is beyond me), and it comes with some of the creamiest coleslaw and potato salad you can find. It also comes with a piece of rye bread. The fish, coleslaw, and potato salad taste exactly the same every year. It is my belief that I could come back to Fond du Lac 50 years from now and sit under the same tent, on the same picnic table, and eat the exact same food. Actually, if I don’t die from eating too many fish fries along the way, I’m sure it will happen.

After eating the fish fry I bought some cheese curds for dessert and thought I’d check out the bands. The headlining act at this year’s Walleye Weekend was cheesy late-’80s hair metal band Winger. I’m glad they played Saturday and I wasn’t there for that, because I just tried to listen to a whole song and now I’m going to have to blast the Ramones for three hours to cleanse my ears.

Most of the bands at Walleye Weekend are cover bands, and that is all that I “saw” on Friday. One band I saw was covering Van Halen songs, including “Panama,” and the singer was really trying to pull off a Bono look. Another band introduced Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by screaming, “Who wants to hear more cowbell?” Then they brought up someone to hit a cowbell obnoxiously during the song. The guy next to me in the beer tent exclaimed, “They do this every fucking time they play this song!” At one point I did hear a band cover Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta,” which is arguably the best radio hit of the late ’90s, but still, cover band after cover band just gets old.

It then dawned on me that with all the consistent mediocrity over the years, one thing has changed. As a child I remember Wally the Walleye. Wally was like Mickey Mouse at Disney World, except he drove a boat on wheels and reigned as king of Walleye Weekend. At that point it became my goal for the rest of the night to locate Wally. I asked at two of the information booths, and was probably getting in the way of people trying to buy beer wristbands, but they offered no information on Wally. I went to the merch tent and was told, “He’s probably around here somewhere.” I asked a police officer and he didn’t have any idea where Wally might be, either.

Finally, I flagged down the driving Walleye Weekend boat and asked them. It was apparent that the boat they were in was not the same one that used to be driven by Wally. They gave me the most disturbing answer of the evening by simply saying, “I think he’s dead.” I was broken. It was like telling a child that Mickey Mouse was dead when they’re at the Magic Kingdom. During my quest for Wally I saw three ATM’s inside of Porta Potties, four fish hats, a live bird on someone’s shoulder, and a few mullets. Later on I saw that a Facebook page related to Walleye Weekend was posting pictures of a little plastic fish and calling it Wally. Come on guys, you’re not fooling me. I remember!

Rating: Consistent halfway decent fish fry, people walking around with walleye hats, nice view of lake, lots of beer, a boat that drives, where’s Wally?, cover bands, cover bands, and cover bands. Do I dare return to Fond du Lac during the county fair where Ted Nugent is playing for the second time in less than a decade? I don’t know if I can handle that much Fond du Lac. 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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231 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Natty Oaks Pub & Eatery http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/231-friday-fish-frys-natty-oaks-pub-eatery/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/231-friday-fish-frys-natty-oaks-pub-eatery/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 05:40:38 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=51099 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ears ago, during my college days, I scoffed at craft beer and drank a lot of Hamm’s. Almost every Wednesday for a year or so, a friend and I would pick up a twelver of it, and maybe a […]

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

Years ago, during my college days, I scoffed at craft beer and drank a lot of Hamm’s. Almost every Wednesday for a year or so, a friend and I would pick up a twelver of it, and maybe a bottle of MD 20/20, and sit around and spin Fun House by the Stooges, Patti Smith’s Horses, and The Greatest Hits Of Eric Burdon And The Animals. Eventually the records got beer-splattered and scratched (I’m much more careful now), and I started drinking more expensive beer—not because I had any more money, really, but because I apparently wanted to appear more refined. Hamm’s never fully left my heart, though, and I return to it occasionally. This past Friday, I scanned for open seats upon entering a packed Natty Oaks Pub & Eatery (11505 W. National Ave., West Allis, 414-543-2255), and found one at the bar, next to an older guy in overalls drinking a Hamm’s Tall Boy, who was waiting for his to-go food to be prepared.

As much as it would fit the narrative to say that I ordered a Hamm’s, I did not; I ordered an Old Fashioned. It was hand-muddled in a small Old Fashioned glass, and had a balanced flavor to it, being a pretty standard representative of the drink. I perused the seafood menu, which had a decent amount of options. Beer battered cod is available at $9.95 for a two piece meal, or $11.95 for three pieces. And for those who are able to arrive before 5 p.m., the two piece is only $7.95. The other seafood options are pan fried perch ($13.95); baked cod ($12.95); shrimp ($13.95)—battered or grilled; the Big Kahuna Sandwich ($10.50), which is almost a whole fish fry in a sandwich, including two pieces of cod, tartar sauce, and a potato pancake served on rye bread; and the sampler platter ($13.95), which consists of one piece of cod, two pieces of perch, and three battered shrimp.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, there is also a la carte fish: $2.95 for a piece of cod, or $3.95 for two pieces of perch. Potato options are chips, fries, sweet potato fries, baked potato (only after 4 p.m.), or potato pancakes for an extra $2.50. I put my order in for the sampler platter with pancakes, as well as a cup of clam chowder.

The clam chowder was a little peppery and had big potato chunks, and also had carrots, celery, and a moderate amount of clam. As I dipped into it, and waited for my fish to arrive, I took a look around. The setting was somewhat reminiscent of Coach’s: green was a prominent color, there was a sports bar vibe, and the dining areas could be seen from the bar (although Natty Oaks has a separate “lounge” that can be rented as well). I noticed a guy across the bar was wearing a T-shirt that said “Westallica” on it, and then noticed one for sale as well, hanging behind him on the wall. “I wonder if they say something on the back?” I thought. As the guy next to me was brought his food, he finished up what was at least his second Hamm’s. “Maybe one more Hamm’s,” he told the bartender, “and maybe a quick shot of Jack, too.” “From the land of sky blue waters,” I commented, “I used to drink a lot of Hamm’s.” He downed his shot and chased it with his Tall Boy.

The sampler platter arrived, and I could tell by looking at it that it was going to be good. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had shrimp with such enjoyable batter. Instead of being pre-breaded from a box, they looked to be hand-battered with the same homemade batter that was used on the cod. Both the shrimp and cod had a golden luster and light crisp to them. The cod also flaked well, and had an excellent flavor all-around. The perch had a very light breading and a moderately good flavor. I was expecting a bit more from it because the cod had been so good. It’s rare that I enjoy cod more than perch, but that was the case here. Perhaps it was because the perch was pan fried instead of deep fried, or maybe it was because the cod matched so magnificently with the tartar sauce. No matter the case, there wasn’t really anything lacking with the perch, it was just that the cod was a step above the cod you will get at most places.

The homemade potato pancakes were mild, and had an understated goodness to them. The coleslaw came in a small container—it was a cream slaw with an inviting strong cabbage taste. The fry also came with a fresh piece of marble rye. After finishing the meal I was quite satisfied, although I do regret not getting one more piece of cod a la carte, so I could have had more than one piece of it.

As I got up to leave, I took a few pictures of the bar and the dining area, and someone asked me in a very concerned tone if everything was okay. It turned out it was one of the owners, who shook my hand, and once again asked me if everything was okay, and if it was my first time at the place. I reassured him everything was just fine. I was going to let him know what I was up to, but then I noticed he had on one of the Westallica shirts, so I started asking him about that instead. It turns out the staff sometimes wears them, but anyone can buy them at the bar. He also showed that there is writing on the back, signifying the shirts are from Natty Oaks. And with that I was out the door, and ready to face another week, until the next Friday arrived.

Takeaways: Excellent cod with great batter and taste, and you can buy extra pieces whenever you want; batter on the shrimp was great as well; decent perch; homemade pancakes; early bird fish fry served 11 a.m.-5 p.m, where you get $2 off the two piece cod price; you can buy Westallica T-shirts here and they have the bar logo and name on the back of them; there is an outdoor patio for humans, and there is soon to be one for dogs; on Wednesdays they have yoga and all you can drink wine for $20; they have a decent amount of craft beers, but they also have Hamm’s Tall Boys, as well as Pabst 32 ounce big boy cans for $5.75; there was an older couple sharing a fish fry a the bar and it was adorable.

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230 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Oscar’s Pub & Grill http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/230-friday-fish-frys-counting-oscars-pub-grill/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/230-friday-fish-frys-counting-oscars-pub-grill/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2018 05:50:11 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=50657 Welcome to Food/Drink Week at Milwaukee Record, brought to you by Milwaukee’s new favorite import, Bofferding. From May 31 through June 7, belly up and enjoy a fresh smattering of restaurant visits, beer articles, booze videos, and some good old fashioned adventure food journalism.  Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow […]

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Welcome to Food/Drink Week at Milwaukee Record, brought to you by Milwaukee’s new favorite import, Bofferding. From May 31 through June 7, belly up and enjoy a fresh smattering of restaurant visits, beer articles, booze videos, and some good old fashioned adventure food journalism. 

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

Open since 2011, Oscar’s Pub & Grill (1712 W. Pierce St., 414-810-1820) is known for their reasonably priced half-pound burgers. I was there in 2014. I got a fish fry. I was there in 2015. I got a fish fry. I was there this past week, and I got a fish fry. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve told myself, “The next time I come here, I will get one of those burgers.” So far it hasn’t happened.

It was in the mid-eighties most of the day on Friday, and was starting to cool off a bit, so it seemed like the perfect night for a patio fish fry. As much as I wanted to sit outside on the docks of Barnacle Bud’s, I knew I had to head somewhere else. Arriving at Oscar’s around 6 p.m., I figured I’d have to wait for patio seating, but that was not the case.

There was one empty table remaining, right in the middle of the patio. Actually, there were two tables, which had been placed together to make a table for six. As it was just me and my friend, we decided to move the tables apart, to create a patio dining opportunity for another group, and so we didn’t look like inconsiderate assholes by taking up six chairs. But, a worker told us that the tables were to remain together, so we had to put them back. He said we could sit there, though, so that just meant more room for fish.

We ordered some Old Fashioneds, and watched as burger after burger, and not one fish fry, was carried past us. Whereas last week’s Old Fashioned almost got me drunk, this week’s seemed more bitters-centric than booze-filled, and was much more mild. It was served in a pint glass, and an orange and a cherry sat lifeless at the bottom.

On Oscar’s website, it says their fish fry—which is cod— is $7.50, with each extra piece of fish being $1. That seemed too good to be true, and it was, as the online menu did not match the real pricing. It actually is $9.99 for the fish fry, with each additional piece being $2. This is still not a bad deal, but I was a little disappointed with the inconsistency. “Well, I’m still going to get it,” my friend said. I mean, it was Friday, what the hell were we going to do? Get a burger? Nah.

When ordering the fry, I inquired as to how many pieces of fish came with it, and was told I would get three. I thought about ordering a fourth piece right away, but decided to hold off. But, I must not have been clear on this, and I ended up with a fourth piece right away anyway. The fish was crisp, firm, and thin—with not much excess batter. The beer batter wasn’t too greasy, although, when I eventually ordered a fifth piece, there was a small pool of grease on the plate underneath the fish. The taste and texture of the meat of the fish was pretty average, and it was paired with a somewhat-sweet tartar.

The fries were homemade and straight cut, had a little skin left on them, and were sprinkled with parmesan cheese. The coleslaw was very light and fresh—the cream coating was so light, it was hard to tell if it was cream or vinegar based. The meal came with one smaller piece of artisanal-like rye bread, without butter. And while I was not given a slice of chocolate roll for dessert this week, the fish fry did come with a doughnut hole.

Overall, Oscar’s offers a respectable take on the fish fry. While it’s apparent it’s not their main focus, it isn’t entirely an afterthought either. The fry consists of moderate quality fish with somewhat-original accompaniments, at a reasonable price. And there is an inviting patio where you can almost see the Milwaukee skyline as well. The next time I am there I am getting a burger, though. I am capable of this, I swear.

Takeaways: Alright fish for a burger place; homemade coleslaw and fries—high marks for the fries; doughnut hole dessert; they don’t have clam chowder; Old Fashioneds in pint glasses always confuse me; the online pricing for the fish fry was wrong; I explored proper patio table etiquette; the owners of Oscar’s recently opened a second location.

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229 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Schneider’s Food & Drinks (Schneider’s Colonial Inn) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/229-friday-fish-frys-schneiders-food-drinks-schneiders-colonial-inn/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/229-friday-fish-frys-schneiders-food-drinks-schneiders-colonial-inn/#respond Fri, 25 May 2018 05:40:24 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=50391 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. t’s easy to forget that there is more to Milwaukee than downtown and its immediate surrounding neighborhoods, or that the city is made up of almost 100 square miles of land. Do some of the outlying neighborhoods get overlooked […]

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

It’s easy to forget that there is more to Milwaukee than downtown and its immediate surrounding neighborhoods, or that the city is made up of almost 100 square miles of land. Do some of the outlying neighborhoods get overlooked because they seem to blend in with their adjacent suburbs? Or do they get passed by because they don’t appear to be the cultural heartbeat of the city? While some areas of town may seem to have a weaker pulse—not being home to many flashy restaurants, music venues, or other artistic institutions—some of them have places that have been beating just as long or longer than many establishments in the central part of the city.


Take Schneider’s Food & Drinks (3717 N. 76th St., 414-466-6590) for example. Built in 1931, in what was then the Town of Wauwatosa, it was a watering hole by at least the end of the 1930s, when it went by the name of the Blue Bird Tavern. Elmer Schmidt had it as Schmitty’s Tavern for a time in the 1940s, and by at least 1950 it was the Colonial Inn, a name it has had some form of ever since, while it has gone through various owners. It became Schneider’s Colonial Inn in 1994, but is more commonly now known as Schneider’s Food & Drinks. The city of Milwaukee annexed the land that it sits on in 1951, and it is part of the Nash Park neighborhood.

Besides reviewing fish, there are a few things I often attempt to do while writing this column. One is to possibly unearth a gem of a restaurant that has been forgotten or overlooked. The other is to try to capture the essence of such a place. After finding a Post-it Note I had scribbled “Schneider’s” on at some point, and looking at pictures of the place online, I headed there with hopes of finding the best fried fish in the world.

The parking lot at Schneider’s was completely full—a good sign—so I parked on Nash Street. The smell of fried fish wafted to me as I shut my car door. From the outside, Schneider’s looks like a giant house, and upon entering it doesn’t look unlike your average Wisconsin townie bar. I asked for a table, and was led to the back corner of the second dining room. From there I had a good view of what structurally looked like an everyday family restaurant. No one in the dining rooms appeared to be under 55, and most people looked to be about 70. At one table, a couple made the sign of the cross before eating, while at another, four biker-looking dudes drank beers and dropped a few f-bombs.

I ordered a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet and a cup of clam chowder, and looked over the fish options. There are four fried fish choices at Schneider’s—cod, perch, walleye, and bluegill—all of which are priced at $10.95, except for the cod, which is $8.95. I figured it had been too long since I had had perch (15 weeks, but who’s counting?), so that’s what I ordered. I asked if they had homemade potato pancakes. They didn’t, so I went with french fries.

The Old Fashioned was boozy with a bite. The more I drank of it, the boozier and boozier it seemed to get, until I wondered if I was drinking straight brandy. “Am I imagining this,” I thought. “Is it really that strong?” Perhaps it wasn’t straight brandy, but it seemed strong enough to cloud my perceptions of the clam chowder, either because its bite was overbearing my taste buds, or because it was giving me a buzz. The chowder was of a moderate consistency, and included clam and potato. It seemed to start out mild in flavor, but the more of it I ate, the stronger its flavor seemed to be, until it had what felt like a robust peppery taste. Again, maybe it was just the brandy.

The best part of the meal was the fish. I was given five crisp, but light pieces of perch. They were perhaps a little on the salty and greasy side, but overall were satisfactory. They were paired with a light, mayo-based tartar that had a lot of pickle relish in it. The french fries were thicker straight cut fries, a little on the softer side, not unlike pint-sized steak fries. The meal was rounded out with two unbuttered half pieces of extremely light rye bread, and a small cup of standard creamy slaw.

“And this is for you,” my waitress said, as she placed a small paper plate in front of me, after I had finished my meal. “What is it?” I asked. “It’s a chocolate log…actually, it’s a chocolate roll,” she informed me. As I finished off the complimentary treat, I reflected on my journey to Schneider’s. Did I find the hidden gem of a fish fry I had hoped? Not quite, but I had a good time nonetheless, and was still glad I made the drive.

Takeaways: The name of Colonial Inn has lasted about 70 years through various owners; there wasn’t much Old Fashioned in my brandy; no homemade potato pancakes; good portion size of decent perch; complimentary chocolate roll slice; just a stone’s throw from Gard’s.

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228 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Fireside Theatre (Fort Atkinson) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/228-friday-fish-frys-fireside-theatre-fort-atkinson/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/228-friday-fish-frys-fireside-theatre-fort-atkinson/#respond Fri, 18 May 2018 05:40:08 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=50066 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. or those who prefer the taste of fried fish over magic mushrooms, but would still like to enjoy a slightly psychedelic and otherworldly evening, The Fireside Theatre (1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson, 800-477-9505) is the place to be. Unique […]

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

For those who prefer the taste of fried fish over magic mushrooms, but would still like to enjoy a slightly psychedelic and otherworldly evening, The Fireside Theatre (1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson, 800-477-9505) is the place to be. Unique architecture and a seemingly never-ending supply of visually stimulating rooms, make it reminiscent of the House on the Rock, and its theater and gift shops make it feel like a Medieval Times for grown-ups.

Designed by Helmut Ajango, who also masterminded The Gobbler, The Fireside was opened by Dick and Betty Klopcic in 1964. Originally a pyramid-shaped restaurant that could hold 120 diners, and named after the fireplace at its center, The Fireside has been expanded and renovated multiple times, and is now run by a third generation of Klopcics. In 1978, it was joined with a nearby building that was converted into a theater-in-the-round, and The Fireside became the Fireside Theatre. It has since showcased professionally performed musicals, with visitors coming by the busloads from in and out of the state. But on most Friday nights you won’t find a theater production happening at The Fireside. This is Wisconsin—on Friday nights people arrive to experience the only entertainment that is necessary: the Friday night fish fry. This past week I joined them.

Immediately upon entering The Fireside, I found myself in a multicolored-carpet-covered hallway that was flanked by numerous gift shops. Although a great amount of time could have been spent exploring, it was already around 7 p.m., so my group and I barreled past them. After the hallway twisted a bit and went past the theater entrance, it opened into the original pyramid-shaped room with fireplace and bar. We walked up to a desk that looked like it belonged in a hotel lobby and requested a table. Within a few minutes we were on our way to our seats.

We were brought past a few dining areas and seated in a booth. Panes of glass adorned with sea creatures were arranged throughout the area. Foliage and bricks held back a lit-up lagoon, and the whole room had a teal-hued tint to it.

“Are we in the Ocean Room?” I asked our waiter.

“No, this is room G,” he replied.

“How many letters of the alphabet do the rooms cover?” I pressed.

He paused for a moment, and tried to count them up in his head, coming up with 16 as an answer. I made a mental note to go exploring after the meal. We ordered drinks and perused the menu.

Fish options at The Fireside include deep fried beer battered cod, and steamed cod with peppercorn beurre blanc sauce. Baked chicken is also an option. For $13.95 you can get one of them, and for $15.50 you can get two or all three. Now, if I was doing a proper food review, I suppose I would have gotten all three. But doing a proper food review is not what this is about. This is about trying to maximize the amount of fried fish you can get, so that’s what I ordered. Potato options include french fries, potato wedges, baked potato, or potato pancakes. Besides clam chowder, Wisconsin beer cheese and French onion (topped with Wisconsin cheese, of course) soups are available. There are a few more options for the kids menu, but besides desserts, that is the whole Friday food menu. After realizing this, I looked around at all the people eating and thought, “IT’S POSSIBLE THAT EVERYONE I AM LOOKING AT IS EATING FISH RIGHT NOW.” As Wavy Gravy said at Woodstock, “We must be in heaven, man!”


As we waited for our food, I noticed that kids at nearby tables were all ordering funky non-alcoholic drinks. Some kid at the table next to us had ordered something that was called the Orange Dream, or something of that nature. I imagined a lot of these kids waited all week for these high calorie cocktails, just like I had waited for my Old Fashioned (a solid Old Fashioned, by the way). At about that time, I started getting distracted by the frequency of the lights. They were set in such a way that a trail was left behind your hands if you moved them too quickly. I started getting carried away with this, moving my hands every which way, as quickly as possible. Eventually I stopped after the kid drinking the Orange Dream and half of his table looked over at me, wondering what the hell I was doing.

Then came the clam chowder, and the bread and coleslaw. Just like Baby Bear’s porridge, the chowder was “just right,” having a perfect balance of flavor and texture. I do think a little more could have been fit in the cup though. Wrapped in a cloth napkin in a basket, the in-house bread was warm, and had a soft middle with a crispy crust. The juxtaposition of these textures enhanced the bread’s appeal, as did the fact that we were brought both rye bread and cheddar cheese bread. We were given two family-size bowls of coleslaw—a classic green cabbage and carrot creamy slaw.

Soon afterwards, the rest of the meal arrived. The fish, of which there were four pieces, was covered with a thin, tastily greasy beer batter, and was of moderate-to-good quality. The tartar had what was perhaps a hint of lemon and garlic to it. The potato pancakes were extremely crispy—so crispy that they had a thick outer shell and could be eaten as finger food. They were right on the edge of being burnt, but weren’t, and were quite good. They came with chunky and bright red apple cinnamon flavored applesauce. Fresh roasted vegetables were also included, consisting of green beans, red bell pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.

After finishing my meal off with a dinner-included coffee (tea and milk also are included), 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 (where the bartenders are sunken down even farther, being eye level with you as you sit). 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. RECOMMENDED

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227 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Café el Sol http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/227-friday-fish-frys-cafe-el-sol/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/227-friday-fish-frys-cafe-el-sol/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 05:25:05 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=49663 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ast year Cinco de Mayo fell on a Friday, and I made a trip to Café el Sol (1028 S. 9th St., 414-384-3100), with hopes of trying their Latin-inspired fish fry buffet. It turned out that the United Community […]

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

Last year Cinco de Mayo fell on a Friday, and I made a trip to Café el Sol (1028 S. 9th St., 414-384-3100), with hopes of trying their Latin-inspired fish fry buffet. It turned out that the United Community Center (UCC), which houses Café el Sol, was having their annual anniversary dinner that evening, so I ended up eating at Muskie’s Gourmet House instead. This year Cinco de Mayo fell on a Saturday, so I thought I’d attempt to go to Café el Sol on Cinco de Mayo Eve. The UCC’s anniversary dinner had been held the week before this year, so the restaurant was open to the public.

Cinco de Mayo is widely misunderstood in the United States, and it is often celebrated in ways that are culturally insensitive, to say the least. It commemorates the victory of Mexican forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. No, this wasn’t part of the Mexican fight for independence—that fight was against the Spanish, and began in 1810 and ended in 1821. Rather, it was a battle against the French, who were trying to establish a foothold in the country at the time. Today Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in Puebla, and in some parts of Mexico, but it is much more widely celebrated in the United States, by Mexican Americans in honor of their heritage and culture, and by a wider American population, that tends to be ignorant of what they are celebrating.


As a white American living in the “build the wall” era, I reflected on the best way to celebrate the holiday. Certainly it is not by wearing a sarape and sombrero and downing shots of Jose Cuervo. Nor is it probably best done by eating a taco bowl at Trump Tower and then tweeting “I love Hispanics.” It seems to me showing a bit of deference and an intent to learn is the best approach. It was with that mindset that I headed to Café el Sol.

Café el Sol specializes not only in Mexican food, but in Puerto Rican cuisine as well, and has been open since 1984. They have been serving fish frys for at least a few decades. As I entered the UCC, I wandered around for a minute, until I was pointed to an elevator by someone behind a desk, and told the restaurant was in the basement. Upon leaving the elevator there is a small bar to the right and a large dining area ahead and to the left. I inquired about a table and the buffet, and I was told I could sit anywhere I would like. Surprisingly, only a handful of tables were occupied, and the whole place was pretty empty. I was brought some salsa and chips, which supplanted rye bread for the night, and I ordered a margarita on the rocks instead of an Old Fashioned. I also confirmed I was getting the fish fry buffet and headed to check it out.

The buffet consisted of coleslaw, lettuce salad, Puerto Rican rice, white rice, pork, chicken, broiled fish, and fried fish. Although the pork and chicken looked great, eating them would have meant less fish, so I decided not to take any. The coleslaw was almost all red cabbage, had a little bit of cilantro, and had some heat from some small cuts of hot red peppers. The broiled fish was a nice option, and was prepared with peppers and onions. A light yet crispy breading with a Latin-inflected seasoning covered the fried fish. The fish itself was a little on the dry side, but not necessarily in a bad way. It could still stand on its own without tartar, but it was almost as if it was calling out for its condiment companion. The tartar managed to be both tangy and sweet, and gave the fish a real punch.

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. RECOMMENDED

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226 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Nite Cap Inn (Palmyra) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/226-friday-fish-frys-nite-cap-inn-palmyra/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/226-friday-fish-frys-nite-cap-inn-palmyra/#respond Fri, 04 May 2018 14:32:13 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=49475 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. ‘m hoping that Wisconsin’s winter season is finally over. A blizzard hit us the second weekend in April, and then we had another dumping of snow the following Wednesday. This year, winter seemed to last about six months, and […]

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

I‘m hoping that Wisconsin’s winter season is finally over. A blizzard hit us the second weekend in April, and then we had another dumping of snow the following Wednesday. This year, winter seemed to last about six months, and at some point I thought it was going to suffocate me. It eroded my ambitions, and some days got pretty bleak. But in the back of my mind I kept having visions of winding and hilly Wisconsin country roads, lush fields, rolled down windows, a warm shining sun, and blaring rock and roll music. Would a destination even be desired in such a scenario? Probably not unless you realized that small towns dotting the Wisconsin countryside have restaurants that serve cherished Friday night fish frys. The sun may not have been fully cooperating this past Friday, but being that there were droplets of rain coming down and not flakes of snow, I figured it was time for a fish fry on the road.

The Nite Cap Inn in Palmyra (227 S. 3rd St., 262-495-2659) had been suggested to me a few times, and everyone who had brought the place up always raved about their potato pancakes. A guy I used to work for first told me about them, and most recently a guy randomly messaged me online saying I should go there. I figured I’d heard enough about it, and had to check it out for myself.

I left Milwaukee about 3:45 p.m., and put on John Prine’s new album as the soundtrack to the journey. As I drove the stretch between Mukwonago and Palmyra, I passed rolling fields, pine trees, and a stretch of blacktop painted with “turtle crossing.” My stomach grumbled as I went by the Brookwood Pub and Grill, which had a sign that said “The best fish fry.” I went past a picturesque scene of an old red barn with an American flag hanging off of it, and past Horseriders Campground, where horses could be seen tied up at camp, giving me the feeling I was passing a western movie. Finally I made it into Palmyra, which felt like a sleepy old town with the exception of one thing: Night Cap Inn.

It was about 4:45, and it was anything but sleepy inside the restaurant. I was on my own for the evening, but being that I had driven so far to a place of such promise, I decided there was no way I was going to do my usual eat-at-the-bar-when-I’m-by-myself move. I put my name in with the hostess. Then, in what has to be the best way to order food in the world, she said, “Fish?” “Yes,” I replied. “Pancakes?” “Yes,” I affirmed again. It was that simple. Who would think of choosing differently?

The Night Cap Inn has been standing since 1857, and has mainly been a hotel, restaurant, bar, or combination of those things over the years. From the 1870s into the early twentieth century, it went by names such as The Commercial House and The Commercial Hotel. It was purchased by William and Lily Braasch Reich in 1915 and became “Reich’s Hotel.” Their son Bill and his wife Isabelle took it over in 1938, and Isabelle restarted the restaurant part, which had been dormant for years. It appears food has been a part of the building ever since. It changed hands a few times over the following decades, until John and Betty Betenz bought it in 1974. Betty, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 93, was already known for her potato pancakes at the time, and her legend continued to grow until she became known as the “Potato Pancake Queen of Palmyra.” After John died in 1986, Betty ran it for another two years on her own; Helmut and Sue Nestler bought it in 1988 and have owned it since.

If last week felt like a trip to the 1970s, this week seemed to take me somewhere timeless. As I hovered around the bar, it wasn’t out of reach to imagine myself waiting for a meal in the early 1960s, or even in the late 1980s, during the time when I was a child. The best Wisconsin establishments have this timeless quality, where even though winds of change blow outside, the inside stands sturdy in tradition. Red swivel chairs encircled the keyhole-shaped bar. Thin red curtains covered a few windows, and a thin red cloth covered a piano that Helmut used to often play. Red carpet with a blue lined pattern covered the floors, and when I ordered an Old Fashioned, the bartender grabbed a glass from one of the many hanging from the ceiling. It is remarkable just how intact the Nite Cap Inn appears after so many years of use.

As I looked around, most people weren’t playing on their phones, but were actually talking. The age demographic was older, but even the young bartender seemed as if he was from a different time. I heard phrases such as “It’s how I remember it” and “Some good things don’t change” being used in conversation. People kept asking the hostess when their table would be ready, and because it was so packed she would jovially say things such as “You’ll eat when you eat” or “Who knows how long it will be?” In between, she would call out names of ready tables over the loud bar conversation.

After I had been there for awhile I left the bar area and sat on a chair that overlooked the dining area.

 Shortly afterward, the hostess pointed out a table that had just been cleared right inside of the dining area, and said it would soon be mine. Dishes of tartar, coleslaw, and applesauce were placed on the table. A few minutes later a plate and silverware was set, and a few minutes after that I was told I could sit down. As I settled into my seat I saw a framed fish fry article on the wall that was titled, “Fish fries worth some extra miles.” I thought this was pretty ironic, considering I had just driven pretty far myself, so I tried to take a picture of it. “No paparazzi!” a voice startled me from behind. It was my waitress who had brought my food—a plate with three pieces of cod and two potato pancakes, and a basket with a piece of dark rye bread. 

After she had left I took a picture of the setup, and after doing so the hostess walked back over to me. “You’re not a food critic, are you?” she queried me. My brain started racing as I had never been in this predicament. Just then a comedic moment took place, and I thought I wouldn’t have to answer the question. A whole group of people she had just called came up to be seated. They ended up having to go back in the bar area, because she had called a table for Bill and they were a table of Phil. She came back and pressed me again. I waffled, and I rationalized in my mind, “Well, you aren’t a food critic, you are a fish fry critic, and you really aren’t even a critic, you are just a guy who rambles about random shit.” Then I panicked and blurted out “No.”

I started eating my meal, but I knew there was no way I could enjoy it, or review it properly, with this cloud hanging over me. I pride myself on trying to be truthful and having integrity, and this was not going to stand. There was no way in hell I was going to sully the impeccable name of the Milwaukee Record either. I had been found out and I needed to fess up.

“So, you were right.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, about the food critic thing.”

And just like that my tenseness subsided. She brought out some old pictures of the building for me to look at, and then the owner’s daughter, Michelle, came out to talk to me. Michelle told me what history she knew. You could tell she was very proud of the business being in the family for thirty years and that they made all of their food from scratch. It turned out that her daughter was my waitress—the third generation working at the restaurant. Is this how food reviewing is supposed to work? You just say who you are and you get the inside scoop on a place? It seemed much easier than my usual under the radar approach.

The cod was lightly breaded with a great texture—it wasn’t overly crunchy and it held together nicely. It had a somewhat mild flavor that went well with the straightforward homemade tartar. The coleslaw was an above average creamy slaw. The pancakes had a perfect balance of texture: they were thin, crisp edged, and had a moistness inside—but not too much. Just like the fish, their flavor was rather mild, but in a good way. Michelle told me that the pans being used to make them dated back many decades. The tradition of good pancakes that was started by Betty Betenz continues into the present day.

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; their 30th anniversary party is May 11…that’s a Friday; this place is the real deal, folks—it’s totally worth the drive. RECOMMENDED

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225 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Victor’s http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/225-consecutive-friday-fish-frys-victors/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/225-consecutive-friday-fish-frys-victors/#respond Fri, 27 Apr 2018 14:08:47 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=49147 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. hen I was choosing a fish fry location this past week, I had two boxes I wanted to check off on my list: “a place close to downtown,” and “all-you-can-eat fish.” I was not aware that by eating at […]

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

When I was choosing a fish fry location this past week, I had two boxes I wanted to check off on my list: “a place close to downtown,” and “all-you-can-eat fish.” I was not aware that by eating at Victor’s (1230 N. Van Buren St., 414-272-2522) I would also be checking off “going to Milwaukee’s premier cougar bar.” I’d been there once before for fish, about six years ago, shortly after moving to Milwaukee. When Victor’s resurfaced in my mind as I thought of places to go to last Friday, I remembered it being pretty unique inside, but was completely ignorant of its reputation. After mentioning to a few people that I was planning on going there, they sort of chuckled and filled me in. “Ah, what the hell,” I thought, “this might get interesting.” So, just as Benjamin Braddock sheepishly wandered into the Taft Hotel in The Graduate, I made my way into Victor’s.

At just after 5:30 p.m., the place was almost empty, which stands in contrast with many places on the periphery of the city, which tend to pack up by 5 p.m. on a Friday. The small amount of people inside was underscored by how big Victor’s is. There is a humongous bar right as you walk in, and beyond it many black leather booths line two walls, countless tables are set up, and there is another bar. Blue string lights reflected off the dance floor, and cast a blue-hued glow on the rest of the otherwise carpeted Victor’s. The trippy lounge vibe was further magnified by mirrored walls, and dormant lights and speakers hung from everywhere, just waiting to kick Victor’s into nightclub mode. Besides the flat screen televisions above the bar, you would have no way of knowing that you weren’t dining in the 1970s. The general ambiance of Victor’s floats somewhere between refined and tacky, and it’s enough to make you feel dislocated from your normal spatial surroundings.

In fact, the history of the place starts well before the 1970s. Victor Jones, now in his late eighties, has had the establishment at its current location since 1966. Prior to then, Victor’s was located at 613 E. State St., just a few blocks from where it currently stands. Jones took over his father’s tavern there in the late 1940s, while he was still a teenager. While digging through the city directories, I was able to confirm that his father, Lawrence “Casey” Jones, ran a tavern in Milwaukee since at least the end of Prohibition. Today Victor has many children involved in the business, so the thought of a century of Jones-run businesses in Milwaukee doesn’t seem far-fetched.

The fish fry options at Victor’s are pretty simple. All-you-can-eat cod—either beer battered or baked—is $13.75, and single plates of hand breaded perch are a dollar more. There are no potato pancakes, but fries, cheesy hashbrowns, and loaded baked potatoes are available. I went with the AYCE beer battered with fries, and ordered seafood bisque because there was no clam chowder.

We were brought a warm loaf of freshly baked bread topped with melted butter. It was served with a side dish of butter, which I made sure to use, in order to properly prepare myself for the onslaught of fried fish to come. Within minutes a massive plate of fish arrived. My bisque had been forgotten, but after I inquired to my waitress about it, I had it in short order. With the bread, bisque, fish fry, and an Old Fashioned in front of me, there wasn’t much room for anything else. I paused to take it all in, and then began the Friday ritual.

I enjoyed the bisque, but I suppose trying to critique it is a little out of my wheelhouse, as I’m more of a chowder guy. It was true to the menu, having scallops, shrimp, and some type of crab. It was tomato based and was topped with fresh parsley. There were three ginormous pieces of cod on the plate, one of which protruded off of it, illustrating just how much fish there was. They had a light, crisp batter, with a little bit of seasoning. Quantity took precedence over quality, although the fish was actually pretty good—just not great. It was as if Victor’s was saying, “Yeah, it’s all you can eat, but I bet you can’t even eat what’s on your plate.” As I was eating, I saw a waiter at an adjacent table wholeheartedly ask his customers, “Are you ready for some more fish!?!” One of the guys eating looked up with a defeated stare, and then back down at his plate.

As I powered through the meal, which included some decent straight cut fries and coleslaw that seemed like an afterthought, I started worrying that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the fish. About halfway through the meal I gave up on the idea of getting my usual two or so extra pieces. My friend got his leftovers boxed up. I sat there. I ate a bit more. The waitress came by and asked if I needed it boxed up. Absolutely not. I sat there some more. I ate a bit more. A different staff person came by and asked if I needed a box. Nope. Finally I was able to finish off the fish.

As we were heading out, the tables were starting to fill up, and I got the feeling Victor’s was getting closer to morphing into a nightclub. I chatted with a bartender for a bit, and he encouraged me to stick around and eat for a few more hours, and then hit the dance floor. At that point I could barely walk, let alone dance, so there was no way in hell that was happening. So I left, and I never found out if Mrs. Robinson showed up.

Takeaways: Excellent fresh baked buttered bread with a side of butter; all-you-can-eat fish, but really what’s on your plate is all you can eat; the place has the ability to shift your perceptions of time and space; I got cod, not cougars.

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224 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Amelia’s http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/224-consecutive-friday-fish-frys-and-counting-amelias/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/224-consecutive-friday-fish-frys-and-counting-amelias/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 05:50:05 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=48870 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. melia Earhart, the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared in 1937 while trying to complete a flight around the world. Her plane was lost near Howland Island in the Pacific, where she was […]

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

Amelia Earhart, the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared in 1937 while trying to complete a flight around the world. Her plane was lost near Howland Island in the Pacific, where she was planning on stopping before making the last leg of her journey. Some say she landed on nearby Nikumaroro Island and met her fate there. Others started freaking out last year when an unearthed photo supposedly showed her as a hostage of the Japanese in the Marshall Islands.

Other theories exist as to what happened to her, and all of them are rubbish. She actually flew to Milwaukee, kept a low profile for decades, and then opened Amelia’s (724 E. Layton Ave., 414-483-0345). By naming the place after herself, she figured no one would ever guess the place was actually hers. She decided to open it near the airport so that she could watch planes fly in, and so she could quickly take off just in case she was ever found out.

Besides a chance encounter with Earhart herself, three other things drew me to Amelia’s this past Friday. One: All-you-can-eat fish is an option. I had gone five weeks without it. Two: Smelt is available. Did you see smelt on your fish fry menu last week? I didn’t think so. Three: You can mix smelt with cod. Variety is fun.

My friend and I arrived and put our names in for a table, grabbed a few drinks, and started looking at the airplane-related decorations on the walls. Fittingly, there is a section devoted to Earhart. There even is a biplane that hangs from the ceiling in the center of the main room, reminiscent of Earhart’s own Kinner Airster. Soon our table was called, and we were seated in the back party room.

The all-you-can-eat cod and smelt is $13, and for $10 you can drop the all-you-can-eat part from your order. Hand-breaded walleye or perch are also available. The menu is a little unique in that it doesn’t list potatoes as coming with fish frys. Three potato pancakes can be purchased for $4, and other sides such as french fries and tater tots can be added on for $2. In hindsight I should have gone with the pancakes, but being that I was a little thrown off by the menu, I just went with fries. I topped off the order with a cup of clam chowder.

The chowder had a robust, sweet flavor, with almost a little spice to it. It was moderate in both its consistency and the amount of clam and vegetables it had. The fries were straight cut and pretty standard, and both the creamy coleslaw and marble rye bread were pretty standard as well.

I was given two pieces of cod and eight smelt (not that numbers matter since it was AYCE). It’s been years since I’ve had smelt, so my frame of reference for what consists of quality may be lacking. As a youngster I dropped nets for them with my dad at the Port Washington Breakwater Lighthouse, but my biggest memory of those trips is being afraid I was going to fall into Lake Michigan, not the smelt being netted. Smelt are a little bit of a fishier tasting fish, and I thought Amelia’s prepared them quite well. They had a thick, hearty breading that allowed them to be dipped into the tartar sauce like glorified fish sticks. The tartar was homemade and very creamy, almost having the texture of whipped butter. Large pickle chunks were easily found, as were small red onion pieces. The cod had a light and crisp beer batter that was of decent quality. Most times I use phrases like “it flaked well,” but in this case not all the pieces I had did, and some bites were a little on the chewy side. Nonetheless, the fish wasn’t too bad overall, so of course I ordered a few more pieces.

Amelia’s is noteworthy for both its ambiance and its all-you-can-eat smelt option. If you are a fan of aviation, this place is for you. There is not only a neon-lit airplane out front and an airplane inside, but the building itself is shaped like the nose and wings of a plane. Similarly, if you’ve been looking for a smelt fry, I’d recommend stopping here. There aren’t too many places nearby that have it on the menu (Barnacle Bud’s and Lakefront Brewery come to mind), and it was prepared in a way that made me glad I tried it.

Takeaways: robust clam chowder; didn’t find a 120 year old Amelia Earhart but found smelt; mix and match AYCE option; the rest of the fry was pretty standard; there is an airplane hanging from the ceiling and the building looks like an airplane.

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223 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: The Cellar Pub & Grill (Oak Creek) http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/223-friday-fish-frys-cellar-pub-grill-oak-creek/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/food-drink/223-friday-fish-frys-cellar-pub-grill-oak-creek/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 14:03:01 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=48524 Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow along with his never-ending adventures here. fter musing last week about how I never get to Cudahy for fish, I started thinking about my relationship with another Milwaukee suburb: Oak Creek. Sure, it has a newer Pizza Man and BelAir, but I rarely make the […]

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

After musing last week about how I never get to Cudahy for fish, I started thinking about my relationship with another Milwaukee suburb: Oak Creek. Sure, it has a newer Pizza Man and BelAir, but I rarely make the trek to them because, well, there are closer locations in Milwaukee. And don’t even start talking to me about the soon-to-be-open IKEA store. I suppose I have gone to a few classic film screenings at the South Shore Cinema, but in all likelihood, 50 Cent probably spends more time in Oak Creek than I do, and I guess I’m okay with that. But a friend of mine works in the city, and we were planning on getting fish this past week, so I figured it was an opportune time to make a stop back.

In a somewhat rural section in the southwest corner of the city, in an area that was once known as Oakwood, I found The Cellar Pub & Grill (812 W. Oakwood Rd., 414-762-9844). The imposing three-story building has been standing since around the time of the Civil War, and was once the heart of Oakwood. The restaurant’s website says it was established in 1863. For over a half century it was known as Henry Studer’s Oakwood Hall. Studer’s name is listed at the location on a plat map from 1876, and it is still listed as such on a map from 1928. It was a meeting place of sorts, and all three floors were utilized. It housed a general store, a saloon (with large pool tables and card tables), living quarters, rooms for boarders, a restaurant, and a dance hall known as the Grand Ballroom, which was located on the third floor. After Studer passed away, his son-in-law, Louis Goelzer, continued to operate it for a time. The ground floor became a tavern in the 1950s, fittingly known as The Cellar, and it still has that name today.

With such an imposing exterior, I was surprised to find the inside rather modest in size. The entrance opens into the bar area, from which the back dining area cannot be seen. The walls, ceiling, and bar are made of wood, and the floor is carpeted. I took a seat at the bar and ordered an Old Fashioned while I waited for my friend. The cocktail was muddled in front of me with sugar, bitters, cherry, and orange. Shortly thereafter, my friend arrived, and we went to the back dining area. The back area isn’t particularly large either, with a few booths and eight or so tables of varying sizes.

We were given two menus, one of which had the specials of the evening. Both menus listed deep fried cod and bluegill, as well as baked cod. The “specials” menu also listed lake perch. I was thinking of going for the perch, but I’ve been on such a cod kick lately that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In reality, I should probably start ordering two fish fries at once, or at least see if I can order a few pieces of a different type of fish on the side. That should be possible, right?

While waiting for the fish, I was visited by my trusty friend clam chowder. Its base was very thin, almost water-like, but its taste was excellent. The carrots, celery, and clam stuck out like an iceberg in a chowder sea. About 90 percent of an iceberg is located underwater, and at The Cellar, more than 90 percent of the chowderberg is under the surface, too. There may have been more carrots, celery, and clam in this chowder than in any I have ever had.

Soon the meal arrived. The main menu said that potato pancakes were only available during Lent, but I thought I’d double check, and it turned out they were still available. They were soft, and almost moist, but were in no way soggy, and were made with fresh green onions. My friend tried the coleslaw and said it tasted exactly like the kind his grandma used to make. “It’s amazing how you can not taste something for years,” he said, “and it can take you right back to that time and place.” I tasted it too, and his grandma must have made some pretty good coleslaw. What was most noticeable to me was there were a few small green pepper pieces in it. The bread was a nice piece of marble rye. There was a discrepancy, as the main menu had said that there was to be a bread basket, but I asked, and was told the fish frys just came with a piece of bread.

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 of too crunchy, and had a great flavor on its own, even without the tartar. The tartar wasn’t particularly memorable, but was definitely above average.

Is it worth it to drive all the way to Oak Creek for a fish fry? Well, it’s always worth it to drive anywhere for a fish fry, but I was particularly pleased with how my experience at The Cellar turned out. This may be attributed to the homelike feel of the dining room, and the handmade food being served there, which is able to take you back to a time and place you have long since forgotten.

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. RECOMMENDED.

The post 223 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: The Cellar Pub & Grill (Oak Creek) appeared first on Milwaukee Record.

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