In the immortal words of my born-and-raised Wisconsin grandfather, “What are you doing? Put that chicken back in the freezer! It’s Friday, I’m goin’ for fish.”
Friday fish frys are one of Wisconsin’s most beloved traditions, and everyone has his own opinion of which dive does it right. Although my first choice is my grandparents’ cottage in northern Wisconsin, Club Tavern in Menasha, Wisconsin, takes the cake when it comes to the restaurant crowd.
Smoky taverns and bars have always been the best place to take the whole family to a fish fry, but since the Wisconsin state ban on smoking in bars and restaurants went into effect on July 5 this year, these pubs clog only your arteries, not your lungs. General rule of thumb: The more dilapidated the building, the better the fish. (Club Tavern hasn’t changed a bit in 20 years, with the exception of the flat screen over the bar.)
The typical order is perch or pike, both of which are caught (usually that day) in Wisconsin’s freshwater lakes and rivers. Perch is a smaller, meatier white fish while pike is larger, flakier and tastes slightly “fishier” if you’re used to eating halibut. You can order the plate, which comes with sides of cole slaw and rye bread, and your choice of fries, onion rings or potato salad at Club Tavern. Other places usually also offer a baked potato with sour cream and butter as a side. The fried and breaded fish can be dunked in tartar sauce with your hands like chicken fingers, or cut with a knife and fork.
If you’re nowhere near Wisconsin and hope to try your own fish fry at home, any fresh-caught freshwater fish can be fried at home. My grandmother used to soak the skinned perch in buttermilk for a few minutes to get rid of the “fishy” taste before dunking it in Italian breadcrumbs and dropping it into a frying pan full of vegetable oil or olive oil. When both sides are browned and a little crispy, blot the fish with a paper towel to remove excess grease. It’s ready to eat!
Club Tavern, 56 Racine St., Menasha, Wisconsin. (920) 722-2452. No reservations or credit cards accepted, so bring cash or your checkbook!
–Tara for TKGO
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