Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a Friday fish fry since 2013. Follow his never-ending adventures—sponsored by Miller High LifeHERE. This week, fish fry #540: EJ’s in Hubertus, Wisconsin.

A gentle wind drifted through EJ’s (3535 S. Shore Dr.), seeping in through the cracked-open windows on the building’s west side, where a pool table sits in the center of a room a half step up from the main barroom. The sun from the clear blue sky brushed aside any remnants left of last night’s alcohol-induced malaise that anyone was still feeling, and chatter rose in groups of twos and threes, some eating, most just drinking, as another Friday night dawned in a small Wisconsin bar. Out the front windows, Bark Lake rippled in the distance. “WHERE THE HELL IS BARK LAKE,” EJ’s asks in their tagline. I didn’t know the answer before last Friday, but I do now.

EJ’s opened in 1991, in a building that previously housed such establishments as Smith’s Bark Lake Resort and Sharon’s Shanty, and was originally run by Erika and James Freeman. (I didn’t ask, but it seems obvious where the name EJ’s comes from.) Erika passed away in 2009, with James following in 2014. Today, EJ’s is listed under the name of Shelly Serchen, the daughter of Erika and step-daughter of James.

Standing at the horseshoe shaped bar, I put in an order for a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet and looked over the fish fry section of the menu. EJ’s offers fried or grilled haddock ($11), perch ($12.50), and walleye ($12.50), a fish sandwich ($6), breaded or coconut shrimp ($9), and scallops ($9). Each comes with a choice of french fries or potato pancakes along with coleslaw and rye bread. After vacillating between haddock and perch, I called it for haddock, propped up the fish with pancakes, and took my Old Fashioned to one of the three small tables beneath the windows from which Bark Lake could be seen.

The Old Fashioned, non-muddled and non-garnished, was a light fare, bound together with brandy, mix, and maybe a dash of soda—its exact measurements unknown because I had been staring down the menu when it was put together. Soup was out of season, so there was no possibility of chowder sitting sidecar to my cocktail, so I just sipped—strongly—letting the brandy, small conversations, and airy ambiance roll over me as I waited for the fish fry.

A pastel-toned plate with floral ornamentation arrived promptly, adding to the homespun appeal around me and ushering in another round of the meal that never gets old. The bread, a yin and yang of light rye and heavy caraway, was halved and buttered for quick consumption. Creamy but not seasoned, the coleslaw was typical on its surface, with crunchy green cabbage and a bit of carrot. But just like last week, something I couldn’t identify was thrown into the slaw equation. Were those a few chunks of tart cherries buried within? It couldn’t be an olive, right? (While I had planned to ask what it was before I left, I got distracted while contemplating if the sign above the bar that said “No $$$ No Service” meant I couldn’t use a card to pay, and forgot. [Cash only. ATM located near the bathroom.])

The pancakes were soft throughout and slightly crisp around their edges. Consistent, thin, and mild—without alliums or much added seasonings—they were similar to so many other pleasant pancakes. There were five thick chunks of haddock of moderately good quality. The batter, distinctly homemade, and almost like a thin breading, did not have much flavor; if there was beer in it, I couldn’t detect it. If only there was something that could be added into the mix to boost…Enter: tartar sauce. Thick, sweet, and tangy, it was born to do its job, strengthening the weak spots in the fish and ensuring it would be remembered fondly.

There was something so simple about EJ’s. It wasn’t like being in someone’s home bar, but felt adjacent to it. The haddock left me pining a bit for the perch I had almost ordered, which undoubtedly held its own flavor that would have really twirled with the tartar. But being critical of the haddock at EJ’s would be like being critical of your mother’s meatloaf. You don’t question it. You accept it. You love it. In addition to that, the prices at EJ’s might be unbeatable. The haddock fry was $11, and with an Old Fashioned and pint of Spotted Cow it came out to $19 plus tip. Is it possible to get a fish fry with two drinks for under $20 anywhere else? I don’t know the answer to that, but I know where the hell Bark Lake is now.

Takeaways: Homespun appeal; right next to Bark Lake; yin and yang rye; who knows what lies below the slaw’s surface; pleasant pancakes; moderately satisfying haddock; born to boost tartar; a fish fry and two drinks for under $20, but if you show up on your birthday you can drink all night for $10.

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About The Author

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Originally hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin—home of Walleye Weekend, the self-professed "World's Largest Walleye Fish Fry"—Caleb Westphal has not missed a Friday night fish fry since sometime in 2013. He plays saxophone with the surf-punk-garage outfit Devils Teeth. He also spins classic 45s and would love to do so at your roller skating party, car show, or 50th high school reunion.