By Mary Bergin
Rare is the Wisconsin restaurant that ignores our state’s long-loved Friday tradition, the fish fry. VFW posts, supper clubs, corner bars, brewpubs and bistros all make room for it, typically serving slaw, fries and a slice of rye with deep- fried filets.
If you don’t have a Friday favorite, or seek a change, check the helpful database of 1,400-some reviews at madisonfishfry.com, which is being updated with current closures because of the coronavirus pandemic. The work of Michael Seidel, with an assist from Gabe Krambs, began in 2004.
Which fish fry is best to you depends upon what matters most. Cod or perch? A beer batter or light breading? Deep fried, pan fried, baked or broiled? Price, quantity or quality?
Sides count. So does the setting. Here’s a look at how wide-ranging Friday choices get. (All restaurants are in Madison unless otherwise noted).
Editor’s note: While most restaurants were closed to sit-down service at press time, many are offering carry-out or delivery. Call ahead or check online!
Hiking or camping at Blue Mound State Park? Scoot over to the no-fuss Hooterville Inn in Blue Mounds for jumbo shrimp, cod or a combo. Be sure to request their buttery red spuds. This village bar/grill’s name is a nod to 1960’s sitcoms like “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction.”
hootervilleinnwi.com (Currently offering carry out.)
Tap It, West
At Oakcrest Tavern, cod and lake perch dinners are not one-size-fits-all. The “hungry” version of perch is a heaping helping (five filets is standard). Add potato salad from Knoche’s Market (located across the street). Truly a neighborly vibe.
Take It Out
Pick up a single-serving or family-size meal at the Seafood Center (Whitney Way location) for snarfing at home. On the fried-to-order fish menu: cod, lake perch, catfish (plus shrimp, scallops, clams and calamari).
The fry comes with chic surroundings at Tempest Oyster Bar, best known for its menu of mollusks from East and West coasts. Get there for happy hour. Nibble on sourdough bread while you wait for your lake perch or bluegill to arrive.
Tap It, East
Walleye and cod share top billing at Tip Top Tavern, a humble spot that’s rich with hipster style inside. Expect from-scratch attention from the tartar sauce to coleslaw. Their house Old Fashioned is a concoction of bourbon, bitters, fruit and ginger beer.
German entrees and décor are a specialty at Dorf Haus in Roxbury, but haddock draws a crowd on Fridays. Diners get house-made fritters and German potato salad is a side option. The eats are served family style.
For a deep dive into all things Wisconsin, including the fish fry, The Old Fashioned is quintessential.
The owners find and champion the best products from the smallest of towns. Their skinny shoestring fries are a popular accompaniment for cod, lake perch and walleye.
Soak in daylight or sunset views of Lake Waubesa at the laid-back Green Lantern in McFarland—
it’s a popular dock spot for boaters and others craving cod. Baked salmon and crab-stuffed halibut are Friday options too.
Surrounded by farmland and woods is the Hilltop Inn near Cross Plains, a classic supper club with a tasty cheeseball at the bar. A few traditional, Wisconsin-themed choices pop up in their fish fry accompaniments, including rice pilaf with dried cranberries and scalloped au gratin potatoes.
thehilltopcp.com (Option to order online and pick up.)
House-brewed ale goes into the batter for haddock at The Lone Girl in Waunakee, where pretzel-crusted walleye is another fish choice. An unconventional take is their HushGuppies (shrimp, cod and risotto) rolled in herb-spiked panko that’s flash-fried and served with dill slaw and lemon-mustard aioli.
thelonegirl.com (Offers carryout, including beer.)