Like many Wisconsinites, Caleb Westphal likes Friday night fish frys. But few (?) can match the Fond du Lac native’s obsession: to date, he’s eaten 168 consecutive Friday night frys, stretching back to 2014. He’s indulged in his streak in Milwaukee, of course, but he’s also kept it going in places like New Orleans, Nashville, Portland, and New York City (where he enjoyed some fish fry at the same building George Washington gave his farewell address to his officers.) He’s contacted the folks at Guinness World Records about his accomplishment (they didn’t seem to get it) and sees no end in sight.
Before Milwaukee buckles up for another fishy Friday night, we talked to Westphal about his singular quest, a few close calls, and the best places in town for Friday night fish fry.
Milwaukee Record: Before we begin, how about some raw stats? How many consecutive Friday night frys are you up to now?
Caleb Westphal: I started keeping track beginning in 2014. I’m at 168 straight weeks. I don’t know how far back in 2013 I went without missing any. I think that year I missed three, maybe. So 168 for sure.
MR: You’re originally from Fond du Lac. Is it safe to say you grew up with the Friday night fish fry tradition?
CW: To some extent. It wasn’t every week or anything. I went with my parents sometimes, and my grandparents usually went every week. But it really wasn’t until I got to Milwaukee that I started going every week. I was a history major in college, and fish frys are really rooted in tradition, so I think it kind of went back to that.
MR: It’s definitely something that’s unique to Wisconsin. It’s easy to forget that if you’ve lived here your entire life.
CW: Right. You can find them throughout the country but it’s a little more difficult. Here you can just, you know, walk. [Laughs]
MR: Did you set out to start this streak, or it just something that happened?
CW: It just kind of snowballed. I moved down here in the beginning of 2012, and it dawned on me later: “Wow, there are probably more fish frys here in Milwaukee, at least Friday night ones, than anywhere else in the world.” Wisconsin is based on the Friday night fish fry, and Milwaukee’s the biggest city in the state. But no, it wasn’t a conscious thing at all. Once I figured out I was really doing this a lot, I figured I might as well keep it going and expand it. I just went with it.
MR: You mentioned you’ve had some pretty close calls in the past.
CW: This past summer I was at my cousin’s wedding, and it was the day before the wedding. The plan was that we were all going to go and get fish that night. It was getting late and I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone—I always think I’m going to be a burden if I’m with other people. We had to pick up some flowers the next day at a Copps food center. I was like, “Well, I hate doing this, but I can still count it.” So yeah, I just got one from Copps. It was horrible. I ate it in the back of a car. It got the job done, I guess.
MR: And you’ve contacted the folks at Guinness?
CW: I went online. You apply for it. I think I paid five bucks. You make your own category if they don’t have your category, so I had made one up and they said they’d contact me in a couple months or something. I got an email back, something like, “We don’t really think that’ll work, but how about you try to go for an ‘individual cooking marathon.'” So obviously they didn’t get it.
MR: So what’s the best fish fry in Milwaukee?
CW: There’s a place, actually in West Allis, called Randy’s Neighbor’s Inn. I know it appears on some lists, but this place is like…I think I could be wrong on the price, but I think it’s like $8.95 for all-you-can-eat, which is unheard of anywhere. It’s not only all-you-can-eat, it’s actually good all-you-can-eat, with coleslaw and french fries, too. The beers on tap are $2 or something. It’s got character. Some of the places that are downtown, or trying to be hip, they’re just kind of stale. I like places with character.
I was at a place last week in South Milwaukee called Pat’s Oak Manor. It was all-you-can-eat, too. It was pretty good and it was packed to gills…uh, a pun there. [Laughs] There’s this 70-year-old guy who plays a keyboard. He’s playing old pop standards and Beatles songs, and you have to kind of sit there and figure out what he’s doing. I asked the waitress, and she said, “Oh, I used to come here 25 years ago, and he’s been playing this whole time.”
Another interesting place is Crabby’s Bar & Grill in Bay View, on the corner of Oklahoma and KK. If you don’t walk in, you wouldn’t even know it was there. The owner, I think he’s owned it since the ’70s, and he remodeled it in the ’90s and called it Crabby’s. There’s no Facebook presence, no anything. I’ve eaten there maybe three times, and one of the times there was nobody in there. It’s like a time warp. You sit at the bar area and there’s no indicator that it’s not 1980. Even the TV are these old-looking TVs. The fish is pretty good.
Fritz’s Pub tops a lot of people’s list, too. Clifford’s. Riverwest has Klinger’s East, which is pretty good. Pitch’s has kind of an old supper club feel. With a lot of these places, it helps if they have clam chowder. I’m always into clam chowder.
MR: So where are you going to be this Friday?
CW: [Laughs] That’s the thing, I usually don’t plan ahead too much. Maybe I should. I kind of wait, and if it’s getting late I get a little antsy trying to figure it out. I don’t know yet. Who knows? I could be anywhere.