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 #532: Birchwood Grill in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

A few months ago I came across an online flyer for a fish fry buffet, and it really hasn’t left my mind since. Now, I’ve been to some decent fish fry buffets before, such as at the Polish Center of Wisconsin and Café el Sol, but fish fry buffets have been few and far between, and it had been a long while since I’d had one. But more important in my decision to go to the one on the flyer, at the Birchwood Grill in Kenosha (7515 125th Ave.; 262-857-3455), was just how over the top and outlandish it looked.

The flyer listed a lunch buffet ($15.99), served from 11am to 3pm, as including broasted chicken, beer battered pollack, deep fried cod fillets, baked cod loin, jumbo fried shrimp, clam strips, hush puppies, popcorn shrimp, homemade coleslaw, mashed potatoes & gravy, and french fries. A dinner buffet ($18.99), served from 3 to 9 p.m., was listed with all the above items, with the addition of deep fried lake perch, seafood fettuccine alfredo, peel & eat shrimp, baked mostaccioli, and homemade apple cobbler. And if that wasn’t enough, the flyer said their soup and salad bar was also included.

To take on this buffet, I enlisted Tyler Maas, Milwaukee Record co-owner and author of “You had to know we would review the new Hong Kong Seafood Buffet, right?” who was probably finally starting to feel good about himself again after his leap day excursion “I ran the fast food gauntlet at Lake Forest Oasis.” We pointed the FRYFISHMOBILE south on Highway 94, until we came to exit #344, just two exits past the one for the Mars Cheese Castle.

Birchwood Grill—officially Birchwood Grill Northwoods Eatery & Bar—is located just west of Highway 94 on the southeast corner of 125th Avenue and State Trunk Highway 50. It’s an area that looks poised for development, with some already underway, but Birchwood Grill appears to be part of the old guard. In fact, the restaurant just celebrated its 20th anniversary last month. It was opened—and is still owned today—by Louis and Krystyna Tricoli, who also owned the now-closed Bombay Louie’s and Baker Street Restaurant & Pub. When the Tricolis took ownership of the building in the fall of 2003, they did some quick remodeling; the building reminded Louis of a northwoods cabin, so he gave his new restaurant a northwoods theme. Prior to opening as the Birchwood Grill, the building had housed the Taste of Wisconsin restaurant since May 1989. Taste of Wisconsin was owned by Michael Radigan, who was the second-generation owner of the also now-shuttered Ray Radigan’s supper club, which operated in Pleasant Prairie for 83 years.

There are a few wings to the Birchwood Grill, with what are considered upper and lower areas, as well as private rooms. We were seated in the lower bar area. There was no question as to what we were going to order, but I looked over the section of the menu that listed the buffet anyway. In contrast to the flyer, it noted that french fries were only part of the lunch buffet. It also said corn was on the lunch and dinner buffet, and it listed lightly breaded whitefish instead of deep fried cod fillets. (The first two of these turned out to be true, but I was unable to find the whitefish or fried cod.) While I didn’t even look at anything on the menu besides the buffet while I was there, Birchwood Grill does offer many other seafood options. They have four seafood dinners, which come with the soup and salad bar: grilled salmon served over rice with a side of veggies ($21.99), almond crusted walleye with a choice of potato and veggies ($21.99), hand breaded lake perch with a choice of potato and veggies ($19.99), and sweet & spicy garlic shrimp ($16.99). They also offer a fish & chips basket ($14.99), shrimp basket ($16.99), and crispy fish sandwich ($13.99) which all come with a choice of potato. Finally, they offer Alaskan snow crab (market price) and a salmon skillet ($19.99), both with a choice of potato and the soup and salad bar.

I ordered my usual Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet ($8) and we told the server we’d be getting the buffet. Once the Old Fashioned arrived, I took a quick sip before abandoning it momentarily, because it was time to get food. The drink was rather standard, being lightly muddled, with a sweet but tart flavor.

The buffet is at the center of the Birchwood Grill, in both geography and activity, and while it was only 4:30 when we stepped down into it, it was already starting to hum. Along with those getting food, there were a few workers at it who were swiftly replenishing salads and sauces. Another worker was up above, helping get plastic containers of whatever food was needed off a cart to the workers down below.

I began at the left and started moving clockwise. First up was the soup warmer, which held three unlabeled soups, and I inferred that the center one was clam chowder. I filled a cup and moved onto the salad bar, consciously skipping over the chips and salsa. (It’s possible I unconsciously skipped over much more during this and subsequent trips up to the buffet. There was A LOT going on.) There were so many kinds of salads, and I took a small scoop of a few of them. I took a bigger scoop of the coleslaw, in a nod to this being a salad bar for a fish fry. In their own nod to the importance of coleslaw at a fish fry, they had placed another coleslaw bin at the other side of the buffet, which I found out later. I put together a lettuce salad. I contemplated what life would be like if I accidentally ate too much of the salad bar, became full, and didn’t have room for any fish.

Back at my seat, I went for the chowder first. Although all chowder is good chowder, this chowder was somewhat underwhelming, in part because it had a very small amount of clams. Maybe I hadn’t dug down deep enough in the soup warmer? It was unique, however, in that it was cheesy. At first I thought I was imagining this, so I asked Tyler, and he confirmed that yes, it did have a cheesy base. The lettuce salad was great! The other salads were all pretty good, too! But, I’ll admit, the salad bar portion of the meal was a bit of a blur, feeling more like an obligatory journey before making it to the hot food than something to be closely studied. This is further evidenced in my audio note I recorded about the coleslaw later in the evening (which is typical for how my brain works after eating a big meal): “Uh, god, what can I even say about it, I forgot already, it’s such a blur.”

Coming back for round two, I skipped a return trip to the salad bar, bypassed the bread and whatever else was at 12 o’clock, and went straight to the hot food at 1 o’clock. The first to hit my plate was shrimp mixed with rice and vegetables, which wasn’t even on the menu. Then I added some mashed potatoes and gravy, a baked cod loin, a piece of fried pollack (or was it actually fried cod?), two fillets of fried perch, an assortment of fried clams, popcorn shrimp, and jumbo fried shrimp, and a hush puppy.

The baked cod was butter-forward with a hint of lemon, and reminded me of how my dad used to make white suckers on the grill when I was a kid—except this fish was far better than sucker. The fried clams, popcorn shrimp, and jumbo fried shrimp all were on the mark, with a flavor and texture as good as anywhere that serves them individually and not on a buffet. While the breading on the pollack was more than adequate, the texture of the fish was not that inviting, being more mushy than white and flaky. But even more noticeable was the subpar flavor. Tyler agreed, deadpanning one of his usual comical wordplays: “Jackson Pollock…kind of spotty.”

Thankfully, the perch redeemed the fried fish. Imbued with more of a modest perch flavor than a rich one, it was covered with a breading that recalled chicken breading, except it was thin and didn’t have the excess crunch that could have overwhelmed the fish. While the pollack was just okay with the tartar, the perch excelled with it.

I should be specific on the tartar, because there were two. One was more traditional, a thick, mayo-based concoction made with relish. The other was thinner, and I was told real pickles were ground to make it. Just like you can’t be too critical of the Stones for Dirty Work since they had already delivered Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St., it’s not really fair to be too critical of one tartar if there are two options and one is to your liking. That being said, I liked the thicker, more traditional tartar quite a bit.

I decided to go up for a third plate. I did another round of the shrimp and clam strips trifecta, took three more perch fillets and put a dollop of the thicker tartar straight on the plate, and rounded it out with some new additions: seafood fettuccine alfredo, peel & eat shrimp, mostaccioli, and apple cobbler.

The alfredo, which was made with imitation crab, used the same noodles as the mostaccioli, so it actually was seafood mostaccioli alfredo, not seafood fettuccine alfredo. Both of these mostaccioli dishes were more than filler, but not crucial either. The same could be said for the apple cobbler. Were they necessary? No. Was I still happy I had tried them? Sure!

After dabbling in or clearing the rest of the plate (definitely clearing the shrimp and clams!), I cozied up with the perch and tartar. There had been no rush to get a new plate all night, and there was no rush to finish this one. This was a buffet. Time meant nothing. But it was the perch and tartar at this moment that completely obliterated time, along with whatever shortcomings of the week were rattling around in my brain. This was peak Friday. And that’s how I ended it. While there was a whole dessert section on the buffet, perch and tartar were the only desserts I needed.

Most of the offerings on the Birchwood Grill fish fry buffet are average or above average, or at least don’t dip in quality because they are on a buffet, especially one that has so many options. Nothing was off-putting except for perhaps the pollack, and even that was edible. At $18.99, it’s a great deal. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage making a long drive for it, and wouldn’t point you to it if you are in search of exceptionality in any specific type of fish, but if you are looking for a fish fry buffet with almost limitless options that is pretty respectable across the board, this one is for you.

Takeaways: Buffet with 5 billion choices; spotty pollack; decent perch; at least one great tartar; tasty clam strips and shrimp; they had a $20 AYCD Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar, but that would have been just too much; they have a buffet every day of the week they are open, and they are open every day except Monday; the coleslaw was decent, but this was all a bit of an overload—who am I kidding, this was a blur, so go check out all the salads and everything I else I missed and rate them yourself.

Note: The Friday Fish Fry Day fundraiser through Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is running for a couple more weeks. Once you donate there’s an option to vote for your favorite fish fry. The fish fry with the most votes will be announced at the end of the campaign. Help out some folks in need and help get your fish fry spot to the top of the list!

Want more Caleb? Hire him for all your 100%-vinyl DJ needs and follow him on Patreon.


Enjoy Every Fish Fry main page

Enjoy Every Fish Fry: Wisconsin fish fry reviews

Enjoy Every Fish Fry: The best Milwaukee-area fish frys of 2023

171 consecutive Friday night fish fries and counting: Polish Center of Wisconsin

227 consecutive Friday fish frys and counting: Café el Sol

About The Author

Avatar photo

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.