On Sunday, September 20, 2015, I attended the 7 p.m. screening of the 1960 Hitchcock horror classic Psycho at the South Shore Cinema in Oak Creek. I didn’t purchase a ticket in advance, thinking the showing was unlikely to sell out, but I did arrive somewhat early, just in case. To my surprise, I was the first person to buy a ticket. I took my seat and waited. No one else came in. Eventually I realized that the theater had forgotten about me. It was 10 or so minutes after start time and not even the previews had started running. I went to the ticket area and asked a worker if they could start the film.
For a moment I considered getting a refund and leaving, but it dawned on me how cool it was that I’d be seeing a film in a theater all alone, and even cooler that it was going to be Psycho. The Packers were playing at 7:20 p.m. and I realized that must have impacted turnout. But I still couldn’t help thinking, why is NO ONE here? I later reflected on how glad I was I had stayed, and this remains one of my favorite movie theater experiences.
Why is NO ONE here? was the same thought I had when I was seated in the 16-table dining room in Steak House 100 in West Allis this past Friday (7246 W. Greenfield Ave., 414-727-2222), and it was the same thought I had 45 or so minutes later when I walked out of the room. (Okay, it was about 4:30 when I arrived, and some people were in the separate bar room when I left, but still.) Located on the northeast corner of Greenfield Avenue and South 73rd Street in West Allis, Steak House 100 has been at its current location since 2001. But it has a history that dates well back into the 20th century, when it was located at the southeast corner of Highway 100 and Greenfield Avenue. Its former location gave it its name, of course. Today it keeps a low profile, not having much of a social media presence, and from what I can tell, not being talked about much by culinary connoisseurs in general.
The room was frozen in time, glowing cherry red while folded napkins, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and candles sat atop the undisturbed tables. I was given a menu and ordered a Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet ($4.50).
“Fruit? Cherries? Mushrooms?”
“Sure, I’ll take fruit and mushrooms.”
Two cocktail picks were stirred in the drink, one with two mushrooms and the other with a small orange slice with a cherry on each side of it. Bitters, brandy, soda, and a splash of juice or mix were present. It glowed like the room and warmed me with more than just brandy, but with its whole essence.
The menu listed a number of “from the sea entrees,” but only one “Friday Fish Fry” ($15). I inquired what kind of “fish” the fry came with, and was told cod, and was told that it came with three pieces, but that I could order more if I wanted them. The potato choices were french fries or potato pancakes. I asked if the pancakes were homemade and was told “we fry them here, but we don’t make them here,” but also that they were very good. I almost agreed to them, but my waitress could tell I was hesitant, and told me I didn’t have to have them just because she told me to. I ultimately decided to go with the fries. I also ordered a cup of clam chowder ($4).
The chowder, which arrived in moments, was smooth and thick, a hearty display of textural superbness buttressed with clam and potatoes. Not overpowering, but with some seasoning, it was modestly successful in matching its texture with flavor. It was presented with a bread basket containing two half slices of rye, made with a light flour but bursting with flavor from caraway seeds.
Not surprisingly, the fish fry landed in front of me in no time. Crunchy and fresh, with green and red cabbage and carrots, the slaw was heavily marinated in a unique oil and vinegar blend. On first glance—and with first bite—it was evident this was more than your usual plastic cup, afterthought slaw. The french fries were square cut, with granulated edges. There was something familiar about them, which turned out to be even more the case with the fish and tartar.
Three pieces of thick, meaty, and flaky-white cod were covered with a fried-till-flawless breading. On the softer side, but not soggy or greasy, it held together well, elevating the fish beneath it, not only with its composition, but with the flavor it contributed. One more layer could be added to this combo: some thick, tangy, and sweet tartar. What struck me the hardest was just how reminiscent the fish and its breading, tartar, and french fries were of those from Randy’s Neighbor’s Inn, which had been located a mere seven blocks away and closed earlier in the year.
I was asked if I wanted another piece of fish, and I decided the fish was so good I had to have at least one more. I didn’t realize until later, when I was paying my bill and asked why I wasn’t charged for the fourth piece, that there’s no additional charge for pieces four or five. That’s right, the Steak House 100 fish fry is neither a three piece fish fry nor an all-you-can-eat fish fry. It’s a “start with three pieces and if you want a fourth for no charge you can have one, and then you can have a fifth one for no charge, but you can’t take any of the extra pieces home” fish fry.
Some people wait for the second coming of Christ, while others dream of the second coming of Randy’s Neighbor’s Inn fish. This might not have been it, but it was so uncannily close I could taste it, and I could believe it, if I really wanted to. And yet, Steak House 100 stands on its own. Despite its decades-long existence, frozen-in-time ambiance, and evocative fish fry, Steak House 100 lives in the present and so does its fish fry.
So, in that spirit, if you are looking for a breaded cod dinner, Steak House 100 is worth a try, their mediocre Yelp reviews be damned. Do they have the human infrastructure for an immediate deluge of customers? Well, they do have a banquet room, which they must have the staff for when they use it. Being in an empty or full theater or dining room may shift your viewing or dining experience, but the most critical component is the film or food itself, and I think in this case, except for the lack of homemade potato pancakes, Steak House 100 has their fish fry right where it needs to be.
Takeaways: Timeless steakhouse ambience; typical yet alluring non-muddled Old Fashioned; hearty chowder; pleasant and uniquely marinated vinegar and oil slaw; up there with the best triads of cod, breading, and tartar; three, four, or five pieces of fish for the same price: $15.