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 #528: Brass Key Restaurant & Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Located in Milwaukee on Forest Home Avenue, in the stretch between Oklahoma Avenue and Morgan Avenue, Brass Key Restaurant & Lounge (4952 W. Forest Home Ave.; 414-321-7090) has been in business since the mid-1980s and has been owned by George Tsaousis for most of those years. As its name indicates, it’s part restaurant (a Greek family restaurant, to be more specific), with 20 or so booths, a few tables, and a back banquet room; and part lounge, with a more dimly lit and alluring bar section. There I found a number of people enjoying cocktails when I arrived, not necessarily because they were waiting for a table on the brighter side of the building—which was only about a third full—but maybe because they just wanted a Friday drink.

George was running front of house and directed me to one of the booths, where I started looking over a menu. There was a whole page devoted to seafood, which was divided into five sections: Surf & Turf, Seafood Combos, Lobster and Shrimp Combos, Lobster Specials, and Seafood Specials. While I did find baked, broiled, and pan fried cod on the page, along with some other fish that would work for a Friday fish fry, I didn’t think I had located the Friday fish fry. When I asked my server I was directed to an entirely different page, which I glanced at quickly while being told the Friday fish fry special was a three-piece beer battered cod dinner ($13.95) that came with a choice of soup or salad, and with rice or a choice of potato: baked, mashed, boiled, or french fries. I went with the seafood chowder and french fries, and ordered an Old Fashioned ($5) as well.

The Old Fashioned was done up non-muddled with brandy, a light mix, and some soda, and with a few cherries tossed in on a cocktail pick. While I wasn’t in the lounge, I could see it from my seat, and the drink pulled me towards it. But the chowder came out about a minute later, grounding me back in the restaurant. This little jokester of a chowder had a mighty seafood taste, but scarcely presented any identifiable seafood, mainly being loaded with potatoes, celery, and carrot. I couldn’t determine the source of its formidable seafood flavor, but that didn’t stop me from loving it.

After about 15 minutes (enough time to notice the people in both the booth in front of me and behind me had also ordered fish frys), my fish fry arrived. The slaw was juicy, with the smallest of shreds of cabbage, and with a shred of carrot here, and a shred of carrot there. Some sort of seeds—celery, as far as I could tell—were more than noticeable, too. There was an uncommon flavor to the slaw that at first I thought was off-putting, but soon found myself intrigued by and trying to pinpoint, not being able to before the cup was gone.

The french fries were likely the same fries used throughout the rest of the week with every sort of meal, so they needed to be versatile and yet have enough heft behind them to not be an afterthought. For such heavy lifting they needed to be workhorse french fries, and that’s exactly what they were, both in this figurative sense, but also literally, being sturdy and strong, not soggy, not overly salty, and not calling too much attention to themselves, either for being too good or for being bad.

While the cuts of cod were less flaky than desired, they did have more built-in flavor than cod regularly has. As for the batter, it was thin and light and on the softer side, and didn’t have much seasoning or flavor. The tartar abounded with pickle chunks, which made it impossible to be anything but pickle-forward.

“Low-key at the Brass Key” is one of the better ways to sum up the fish fry experience at the Brass Key. The vibes were low-key all around: It wasn’t overly busy, the sounds of the restaurant seemed to be coming through in muted tones, and nothing was particularly flashy. The listing for the fish fry on the menu was so low-key that it drew absolutely no attention to itself and I couldn’t even find it. Overall, the food was pretty low-key too, from the workhorse french fries to the mild-flavored fish. But this isn’t necessarily a bummer thing; it’s all about what you are looking for. If you want a chill and pleasant dining experience at a family restaurant that’s not trying to be anything it’s not, just turn the Brass Key and enter. It’s as simple as that.

Takeaways: Reasonable prices; little lovable jokester of a seafood chowder; workhorse french fries; mild-mannered cod; passion for pickle tartar.

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Enjoy Every Fish Fry: Wisconsin fish fry reviews

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.