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 #548: South Bound Again in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

The repetitive, trance-inducing pulse of Dire Straits’ “Southbound Again” looped in the vehicle as I made my way to South Bound Again in Oak Creek (9504 S. Chicago Rd.; 414-762-6255). This wasn’t the first time I was heading to a fish fry at an unfamiliar-to-me business at the corner of South Chicago Road and East Ryan Road. After going to the Cozy Inn for the first time in 2021, I assumed I had the intersection covered for fish frys, but I was mistaken. Just like the inimitable Cozy Inn, which is almost directly across the street from it, South Bound Again does not draw attention to itself. Rather, at first glance it looks like a truncated strip mall. But what the corner lacks in conspicuousness it makes up for in comfort food and hospitality.

After looking over the fish specials on the display board between the kitchen and the bar, I ordered an Old Fashioned ($5), grabbed a menu, and walked back to the main room, where I took a seat at one of the world’s tallest picnic tables. (After swinging my feet for a few minutes, I eventually realized there were foot rests.) I couldn’t find fish frys on the menu, but the display board was still in view, and when my server returned with my drink, she was able to clarify any outstanding questions, too. South Bound Again offers cod ($12), perch ($14), or a cod and perch combo ($14). Both can be breaded and fried, and the cod can also be ordered baked, either Cajun style or lemon pepper. Each comes with a choice of french fries or potato pancakes. I ordered the fried cod and perch combo, and went with the french fries, because the potato pancakes weren’t made from scratch.

I asked if South Bound Again is named after the Dire Straits song, and was told that no, the name has to do with an agreement with the previous owner of the business—who they said still owns the building—and the current owner, where “South Bound” had to remain in the name after he took over. Hence, what was known as South Bound (or Southbound Saloon and Eatery) became South Bound Again. Upon further research, I found that South Bound was run by Debra Hall from 1982 until her passing in 2011, and that her daughter Aleshia Lynn then took the helm. In the Spring of 2022, Tim Wishman, who also now owns Tipsy Turtle Patio and Grill in Muskego, took over ownership, and South Bound Again began. Signage and decorations from the old restaurant remain, including a sesquicentennial license plate on the wall that says “SOBOUND,” and exterior signs that are now fastened to the ceiling.

Served in a New Glarus pint glass, the Old Fashioned wasn’t balanced at first sip, but I gave it a swirl and it came to life, with notes of cherry and orange and brandy moving to where they should be, to create a low bubble, high sweetness cocktail. The food arrived quickly. “Oh, worthy of a photograph!” one of the cooks said, as he walked by and brought someone else a meal as I took a picture of my fish fry. Not only was the fish fry worthy of a photograph, it proved to be worthy of eating and a positive review, too.

The rye slice was soft and thick, and was about as good as it could be given its limited parameters. The slaw was tangy, with a sharp cabbage flavor—the cabbage made its presence known, but was inviting, not off-putting. As the plate landed, the potent aroma of the french fries had wafted to me. It stemmed from a robust seasoning that did even more for taste than it did for the olfactory receptors. What it amounted to were fries that were more than an add-on, instead being thought-out and dialed in. So far, so good, but the best was yet to come.

The combo came with two pieces of cod and two pieces of perch, which succeeded both because of the breading and because of the quality of the fish itself. The breading was thin and light, allowing the fish to move how it wanted, but still held together well. With a microscopically rough texture and a modicum of savory-meets-sweet taste, the breading lacked nothing. The cod pieces were sizable and chunky, and juicy but not watery or rubbery, while the perch fillets were fresh and flavorful, and benefited greatly from the style of breading above them. Both could have been eaten sans tartar, but why do that if tartar was available? It was thick, and hugged the fish with a sweet and tangy vengeance.

South Bound Again is a rather small operation. The bar was almost full, with a dozen or so people at it, but no more than two tables besides mine were occupied in the dining area. The bar is a step up from a dive bar, and although there seemed to be some camaraderie, the atmosphere was less loud and boisterous than it was relaxed. I got my food in about 10 minutes, and my experience was simple, pleasant, and altogether satisfying. This was in part because of the ambiance, but mainly on account of the cod and perch, which were near impeccable.

Do I have the corner of South Chicago Road and East Ryan Road covered now, or is there yet another business that serves fish frys there? I think this is it, but if not, I’m at least certain that the Cozy Inn and South Bound Again are there, and I’ll rest easy knowing at least one part of Oak Creek will never be without fish on a Friday night.

Takeaways: soft rye; sharp slaw; robustly seasoned fries; first-rate breading and well-sourced cod and perch; if you go on a busy night, there is always a place you can get fish across the street, and vice versa.

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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.