I was in an ebullient mood, with none of the doldrums of last week creeping about. The night before I had been informed that my cholesterol, which had been borderline high when I got it checked last year, had dropped to normal levels, from 230 to 165. I attribute the success to increasing my oatmeal intake to at least five mornings a week, the addition of barley to my diet, and a few other small life tweaks. So, take it from me, a weekly Friday fish fry does NOT need to be removed from your diet to lower your cholesterol, even if you’ve been at it for 10 years. In fact, if you have high cholesterol, I encourage you to exercise regularly, eat some oatmeal and barley daily, and have a fish fry every Friday. It’s the good life.
There were two reasons why I was heading to Brewski’s Sports Club (304 N. 76th St., 414-475-0500). One, they are located in the Milwaukee city limits and it had been seven weeks since I’d had a Milwaukee fish fry, and two, bluegill appeared to be on their menu, and it had been even longer since I’d had bluegill. When I arrived, the open sign wasn’t lit, and for a moment I thought they were closed, but that wasn’t the case.
Open since 2009, Brewski’s Sports Club is located a half block south of West Bluemound Road on 76th Street, and is owned by Kevin Nugent and Brian Young, who also own Milwaukee Steakhouse. (The pair is looking for a new home for the steakhouse, and are even considering moving it to Brewski’s space.) According to the January 18, 1979, edition of the Milwaukee Journal, Brewski’s building, which is owned by Wisconsin Mortgage Group, was built in 1908 and originally located around the corner on the 7500 block of West Bluemound Road. The building was first home to a private automobile club, with a ballroom upstairs. It was shuttered during the onset of Prohibition, and then the whole building was moved around the corner to its current location on 76th Street where the first floor was divided into four stores: a barbershop, drugstore, grocery store, and dress shop. With the lifting of Prohibition in 1933, the dress shop was turned into a bar, and there’s been a bar in the building ever since.
Brewski’s Sports Club stays true to its name, hosting Packers parties and running shuttles to Brewers and Bucks games. Sports have long played an important role in the building’s history. For a time in the 1940s and ’50s it was home to the Sport Bar, and World Series pennants were hung on its façade in September of ’57, when the Braves were making their way to the World Series. Joseph Stremke bought the bar the following year, expanded it, and renamed it the 76 Club.
Baseball wasn’t the only sport followed in the building over the years. When the Packers played the Rams at County Stadium for the Western Conference Championship on December 23, 1967, a media blackout in Milwaukee brought fans to bars, who picked up the game from other cities using antenna towers. About 100 fans cheered the team to victory at the 76 Club that day. The next game the Packers played was the legendary Ice Bowl, and then they finished their season by beating the Raiders in Super Bowl II.
Following its long run as the 76 Club or something similar—like Club 76 and 76 Supper Club—the short-lived Pub & Patio went in the building in 1990. My Place was in operation in the spot by 1992. In 2009, Jo Jo’s Pub & Grill opened at the location, but soon after it became home to Brewski’s.
“What’s this?” I babbled, not knowing what else to say when a basket of some sort of fried meat was held in front of me. That doesn’t look like fish. Where is the coleslaw and the rest of the fixings?
“Oh, it must be someone else’s,” I managed to say, while pointing away from my table and likely making odd facial expressions in the process.
I had been waiting for some time for my Old Fashioned ($8), and was getting restless by the time the chicken strips arrived instead. Thankfully, it wasn’t much longer and I had the drink in hand. When ordering I had been asked if I wanted the house or muddled Old Fashioned, and had said muddled. While last week’s Old Fashioned was “lighter on bubbliness, heavier on brandy,” this week’s was even more so. I inspected it. Was this the muddled Old Fashioned or the house Old Fashioned? An almost mirror image of the cherry and orange slice garnish was found deeper in the glass. The cherry in the deep looked like it had been nudged once and then left to be. In the end, an Old Fashioned is an Old Fashioned, and I took it down.
Brewski’s Friday specials are hand breaded or beer battered cod ($16), hand breaded lake perch or bluegill ($18), poor man’s lobster ($15), and a cod sandwich ($11). Homemade potato pancakes are available for an upcharge. As planned, I ordered the bluegill, and upgraded to the potato pancakes.
The meal arrived after another rather long wait, and while the cooked portions were still somewhat warm, they were quickly making their way towards room temperature. Two half-slices of light rye speckled with caraway seeds and a dressing-laden slaw performed their requisite roles. The potato pancakes were thin, soft, and brittle, and easily fell apart when touched. They had more black pepper in them than any pancakes I’ve ever had, which naturally became their defining characteristic, although green onions were evident as well. While the pepper was at times a bit overwhelming, it also brought intrigue to the pancakes, which kept my attention.
A panko-like breading, filled with character but not overbearing, covered the five pieces of bluegill. More often than not the flavor of bluegill is powerfully potent, but there was a subtlety to these small-but-meaty pieces. The tartar hit with a tang, but was otherwise modest, not having much relish or relish flavor—or other ingredients at its forefront—and went well with the fish overall.
While the wait for both my drink and meal seemed long, particularly since the 30 or so high-top tables in the dining area were mostly empty, and while the food wasn’t piping hot, there were enough redeeming qualities to the fish fry to overlook both. For one, despite being overly peppered, the potato pancakes were memorable. For another, and more importantly, the bluegill—the part that mattered most—was close to what I had hoped for, in large part because of its breading, but also for the fish. If you’re looking for bluegill with more of a subtle taste with great breading, Brewski’s might be for you. Brewski’s might not have a homerun fish fry, but it’s at least a hit. Hits sometimes lead to runs batted in, meaning Fridays at Brewski’s can still be victorious.
Takeaways: They have a muddled and house Old Fashioned and I think I had the muddled one; soft, brittle, and very peppery pancakes; subtly flavored bluegill with first-rate breading; initially tangy but otherwise modest tartar; Shoot to Win and Beer Ball arcade games on premises, as well as a breathalyzer machine.