Taking a mental note of the whiteboard that said the day’s specials were fish frys and $7 tall Old Fashioneds, and recalling seeing their is-that-in-good-taste-or-not Facebook post that said they had “Hand Muddled Double Tall Rail Old Fashion’s” (for $8?), I made a perfunctory effort to order a small Old Fashioned. “I’ll just take a small one,” I muttered towards the bartender as she walked away to make my drink.
But the die had already been cast. Not only does Kick Switch Bar And Grill in Okauchee Lake (N51 W34950, E. Wisconsin Ave., 262-468-4279) have the advertising for tall Old Fashioneds, they line part of their backbar with pint glasses pre-filled with cherries and oranges. By the time I looked over again, the bartender was already mixing my drink in one. Woe is me to start messing with their streamlined system—a tall Old Fashioned it would be. So, with fruit on the bottom but not on the top, brandy, and soda, I was given a no-frills, straight-to-the-point, pint-glass Old Fashioned.
Kick Switch is just up the hill on the southeast corner of Little (or Lower) Okauchee Lake—the body of water, that is—and has been owned and operated by Dee Dee and Joe Agathen since November 2016, with Dee Dee having managed it since 2015. Before becoming Kick Switch it had been the Okauchee Standard, and previous to that, Dock On The Bay. It has been home to other establishments, like Avenue’s Bar and Beverage Center, and dates to the turn of the 20th century, when it was built as Angler’s Hotel, the first hotel in Okauchee Lake, which was in operation for many decades.
With an Old Fashioned in hand and a little background under our belt, let’s get to the day’s other special, the fish fry. Choices for Kick Switch’s “Friday’s Catch” are baked or fried cod loins ($14), sautéed or fried perch ($15), sautéed or fried walleye ($16), sautéed or fried Canadian bluegill ($16), grilled or fried black tiger shrimp ($15), and a jumbo fried cod sandwich ($14). (Catfish was also listed on the menu, but crossed off.) Side choices are potato pancakes, fries, sweet waffle fries, tots, or a side salad. I went with the perch and potato pancakes. Clam chowder was listed under the seasonal soups section, where it also said “see server for availability.” My server told me there was no chowder, and I failed to follow up to see if there was any of the shrimp and cod bisque.
The coleslaw was crunchy, chilled, and largely benign in flavor except for what came from a scattering of celery seeds. A piece of soft, high-grade marbled rye made up the other half of the week’s we’re-not-fried-but-we’re-in-your-fish-fry-anyway components. From the outside, the potato pancakes looked like they wanted to bust out of their shell and transmogrify into hash browns. But while the stringy hash brown consistency was still remotely present on the inside, a soft, almost mashed potato-like quality won out over it, and was the dominating factor the pancakes presented, putting most mashed potatoes eaten the day before on Thanksgiving to shame. The flavor profile was close to a blank canvas, which some would grumble over while others would welcome—it was fine by me.
Instead of four or six smaller pieces of perch, as I’m accustomed to, I was given two big pieces. Besides the size, there were a few other aspects that made me question if I had been given walleye, not perch, or maybe another type of fish: their thicker meatiness and density, which was reminiscent of walleye, and their mild flavor, which lacked the intrinsic sweetness of perch. Still, I thought I detected some of the trademark perch stripes on the fillets. Hell, maybe the fillets were just from a really big perch. They were still clean, fresh fillets. Discussions about where perch is sourced from, whether from Lake Erie or from a farm, or if substitute fish are used, aren’t uncommon, and others can better speak to that than me. All that I could tell was that these were different from most (but not all) perch I’ve had, being bigger and milder in flavor.
The most redeeming feature of the fish was its near-perfect batter. Made primarily with Miller Lite, with Guinness mixed in, it was thin and light, with a delicate crispiness and enduring flavor. The tartar was relish heavy, demanding the spotlight whenever it made an appearance; in my estimation it overplayed its role, though others might view it otherwise.
According to my records, the last time I had a fish fry from Lake Country was when I caught and fried fish from Upper Nemahbin Lake and Lower Nemahbin Lake in July of 2020. There have been a number of Lake Country places I’ve been aiming to get to, like Foolery’s and Kick Switch. Some places I’ve been aiming for have closed before I got to them, like the Rustic Inn in Mapleton and Seven Seas on Nagawicka Lake (which will soon reopen as The Commodore. Fish fry establishments will come and go, but the lakes will remain. But if one fish fry establishment closes, another will open within it, for like the lakes, fish frys are forever.
Takeaways: Little lake, big Old Fashioneds; big (mild-flavored) perch; light and flavorful beer batter; mashed potato pancakes.