Despite Wisconsin’s fame and glory for being the nation’s Dairy State, Wisconsin is also home to a weekly tradition that has surpassed generations: the Wisconsin Fish Fry. Ask any visitor from another Midwestern state what they would like to eat on a Friday night, and they will likely choose their favorite burger, pizza, or gourmet restaurant du jour. Not so for the Wisconsinite, as all Wisconsin food lovers share the secrets of the Wisconsin Fish Fry tradition.
This time-honored tradition first became popular as German Catholics in Wisconsin observed meatless Fridays. It wasn’t until the Prohibition era when taverns created this social event weekly as a ‘marketing’ opportunity; business was slow, and they needed to come up with a catchy concept to bring patrons into their doors. Featuring a Fish Fry quickly became popular, and gained statewide attention to become the best Friday pick! Today’s taverns and grills in Wisconsin offer this classic fare composed of deep-fried fish (walleye, perch, cod, or other feature), beer-battered steak-cut fries, or other potato; and coleslaw and tartar sauce. Homemade tartar sauce has also become a competitive feature, and the taste of homemade is truly incomparable to any store-bought brand.
The heavily battered, deep-fried fish concept may have evolved from the famous British ‘Fish and Chips’, the standard served amongst Fish and Chip shops in classic newspaper. Although this concept has not profited well in Wisconsin (the east coast does boast a few of these classic versions), the eagerness and excitement associated with Friday Night Fish Fry is almost indescribable. Walleye, cod, and perch are plentiful in most of Wisconsin’s rivers, and so are a natural choice for this low-cost specialty. Ask any true Wisconsinite what’s for dinner on Friday, and they will more often than not respond with their tavern of choice. It has become a social and cultural trend that will likely not leave the state any time soon.
So where are the best places to find the famous Wisconsin Fish Fry? Since taverns and restaurants abound in Wisconsin’s capitol city of Madison, it’s a tough market. Every restaurant, tavern or not, usually offers a specialty fish entrée, if not an actual fried fish dish. Still, here are five top picks around Wisconsin:
6261 Nesbitt Road
Madison, WI 53719
Named best Fish Fry in Madison, Quivey’s Grove offers an all-you-can-eat Friday Night Fish Fry. The choices include pretzel crusted lake perch, beer battered cod, baked cod, lemon-dill-mustard butter and parmesan potato, coleslaw, and of course, house tartar sauce! This is one all-you-can-eat spot that won’t leave you disappointed.
512 W. Layton Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Phone: (414) 481-5520
This Milwaukee restaurant offers classic American fare in a contemporary Wisocnsin Tavern setting. Also home of the Half Pound Belly Burger, Beer Belly’s offers one of the most popular fish frys around, with steak cut chips or French fries, and a delicious selection of eleven different types of fish from their fresh catches of the day!
8152 Forsythia Street
This pub and live music club in Middleton, Wisconsin offers homestyle cooking full of Wisconsin’s signature and classic dishes. The Fish Fry draws in large crowds every week, so do make a reservation if possible!
Whitefish Bay Inn
1319 East Henry Clay Street
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin 53217
Jack Pandl’s is a Wisconsin favorite that has strong German roots and authentic recipes that have withstood generations. The Friday Night Fish Fry is one of a kind, offering a sumptuous lightly breaded French fried perch. Accompanied by German beer and a wide variety of beer on tap, this is truly ‘Olde Wisconsin’!
514 East Wilsonstrasse
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
The Essen Haus is Wisconsin’s authentic spot for German-American cuisine. Located in both Madison and Wisconsin Dells, the feature here is that the Fish Fry is offered on Wednesday nights! The always popular menu includes Bier Battered Cod, Lake Perch, and Salmon Filet. Also enjoy the ‘boots’ of beer, and great selection of German and Wisconsin beer on tap.
Take part in this classic Wisconsin tradition on your next excursion to the Midwest, and experience for yourself the incredible choices and homemade dishes at all of Wisconsin’s taverns. Don’t forget to sample the house tartar sauce; you don’t want to miss it!