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 #530: The Sawmill Inn Restaurant & Pub in Richfield, Wisconsin.

Have you ever been to Cabela’s? The one in Richfield likely makes up most of the village’s square footage, as if trying to align itself with all the overcompensation jokes about big trucks that have percolated throughout culture over the past few decades. Standing in the parking lot is like standing in the lot at American Family Field, and looking at the building gives you an idea of how Dorothy and company probably felt as they strolled up to Emerald City. Inside there’s an airplane hanging from the ceiling, with a whole army of taxidermied animals and a headless mannequin wielding a sledgehammer below it. If they got a whiff of the 1990 made-for-TV movie A Mom For Christmas and came alive like Olivia Newton-John, the whole place would be a wreck. If I had been there when it happened, I wouldn’t be alive to write this.

I was there to buy a fishing pole for a birthday gift, a Shakespeare Ugly Stik similar to the one I used when I was a kid. While the fishing pole section had enough poles to jig Lake Michigan dry of salmon in a day, I somehow found the pole in about a minute’s time. But, I’ll admit, I didn’t just drive to Richfield to buy a fishing pole. There was another important reason I had decided to drive there from Milwaukee, and it also had to do with fish. I was there for a Friday night fish fry.

Last year I included the Sawmill Inn Restaurant & Pub in my year-end recap “The best Milwaukee-area fish frys of 2023.” After making it out of Cabela’s alive while also avoiding being pressured into becoming a CLUB member, I made my may to the Sawmill Inn for my second visit ever, and my first in just shy of a year. The Sawmill Inn (1729 Wolf Rd., 262-628-4128) opened in 1982, an enterprise of the late Don and Ruby Zimmermann, who brought lumber to the site to be milled. So, first there was a sawmill at the location, and then it transformed itself into the Sawmill. The business has changed hands a few times over the years, with George and Holly Boggs being the current proprietors, but the artistry of the builders’ work has remained on full display both outside and inside the building since the beginning.

After walking partway around the perimeter deck, which is partially enclosed for the winter months, and being urged by signs on more than one door to continue walking, I found the one labeled “main entrance.” I came upon an ice cream dipping cabinet and cash register just inside to the left, and was seated in one of the booths just beyond them, across from a dining counter with a much older cash register and a kitchen window behind it. Past this is a large dining area with a pub at the far end of it. There’s also another large dining area on the other end of the building, where I was seated the last time I was here, and the Sawmill Inn also has a private party room.

I quickly had a menu in hand, and not long after that, a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet ($5.25). It was muddled to a cloudy complexion, with a sharp, tart, and orange-forward flavor, and was smooth to the tongue, not being very effervescent. I found “Fish Fry” listed on the menu, which is the Sawmill Inn’s three-piece breaded cod fish fry ($16.99) that is available on Wednesdays and Fridays. The menu informed me that additional pieces could be added for $2.99 each, and the potato choices include potato pancakes, German potato salad, and battered fries. Also available under the “weekend features” and “seafood entrees” sections of the menu are fresh lake perch ($19.99) with “two hand-breaded perch filets,” the seafood combo ($21.99) with a “hand-breaded perch filet and breaded shrimp,” southwestern salmon ($22.99), a cider battered shrimp basket ($14.99), and poorman’s lobster ($16.99). I picked the cod and potato pancakes, and also added clam chowder.

The menu lists a ladle full ($5.99) and a hearty bowl ($6.99) as chowder options. While a dollar difference seemed worth it to go for the bowl—which I was told held two ladle fulls—I restrained myself and only ordered one ladle. I was later pleasantly surprised when it was explained to me that I was only charged $3.49 for the chowder, it having something to do with me ordering it as part of a meal and not on its own. The ladle full ended up being served in a cup that could have passed as a bowl, leading me to question what size of ladle they were using. Yes, the chowder was plenty flavorful, but what came to the forefront was just how meaty it was. Not only was there clam, there also were a number of big bacon pieces, about a half inch or so in length. But what were the large square chunks that looked like potatoes when they sat on my spoon? They tasted like meat. Were they chicken? Wait, were they jackfruit? That stuff is everywhere these days. I was thinking of asking, but then the fish fry showed up and I quickly gobbled the rest of the chowder up and left it at that.

The top-notch presentation is what caught my eye at first glance. Everything appeared to be made from scratch, except for the roll and applesauce, but even they appeared unique, and I found out as I ate them that they too had their own distinct characteristics. The crusty rye roll, a little on the tougher side, not only popped with flavor from the seeds on its exterior, but when I ripped into it, there was plenty of goodness inside, too.

The coleslaw was exceptionally juicy, with cabbage and carrot shredded to the bone. No pepper or other seasonings were visible, but it was packed with flavor anyway, defying the visual evidence. Forget cream cheese and butter, this thin slaw could easily be slathered on anything in the world to improve it—hell, I’d probably eat it on an old shoe. It could give all the other slaws in the county a fight for a ribbon at the county fair slaw-off. Even the dish it came in made me swoon.

The pancakes appeared light and innocent, like little Saturday morning cartoon breakfast pancakes ready to help you start your weekend. But no, these thin and delicate flapjacks were not the same ones your mom made you back when you still had so much childish wonder and hope in your heart, before it all got lost along the way. There’s something going on here—these pancakes aren’t that simple, and they teach you that life isn’t that simple either. There is a robust onion zing, mixed with god knows what else, and it is amazing, and now you are growing and learning, and life isn’t as smooth as you thought, but you are better for it. And you know what? They come with warm cinnamon applesauce too, which must have been spooned hot into the container. You can keep your Saturday morning cartoons—I’ll take a gritty pancake with a side of cinnamon sauce instead.

The cod fillets were not so much thick or chunky as they were clean and consistent. The surface of the breading had character, and the breading had some inherent flavor, but it was more subtle than serotonin-rocketing. The tartar had a balanced amount of relish and a tanginess to it. While it was satisfactory, I wanted some ingredient to bring it a bit in another direction, to something glorious, but I can’t pinpoint what that could have been. Regardless, I ordered a second cup of tartar when I ordered my bonus piece of fish. While the menu said additional pieces were $2.99, I was only charged $2.49 for mine.

Whether you need to make a trip to Cabela’s or not, the drive to Richfield is worth it just for a stop at the Sawmill Inn. Home cooking is the norm, not the exception here, and while not every component of my meal was beyond reproach, most of it was, and the distinct characteristics of each part made the experience memorable. Taken as a whole, this fish fry is a winner. Including the Sawmill Inn on my best fish frys of 2023 list was the right choice, and I’m sure it will be there again in 2024.

Takeaways: Meaty clam chowder; slatherable slaw; crusty rye roll; pancakes with a robust onion zing to help you grow up; warm cinnamon applesauce; clean and consistent cod with breading of character; extra pieces available if you are still hungry.

Note: Fish fry #529 was a return trip to Clifford’s in honor of Friday Fish Fry Day. The fundraiser for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin is running through Lent, and you can donate HERE and vote for your favorite fish fry after doing so.

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

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.