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Fish Ahoy!

April 3, 2010

Wisconsin is known for many things. Milwaukee, for example, was the birthplace of both the typewriter and kindergarten. UW-Madison is where the concept of vitamins and nutrients in food and the Social Security System, among other things, first evolved. When it comes to creativity, residents of the Badger State have not been slackers.

But Wisconsin’s most ubiquitous invention, undoubtedly, is the Friday night fish fry. Credit it to the central European Catholic heritage of many residents and their religious restrictions on gustatory practices if you like. Or blame it on the fact that the state is littered with lakes and bounded on three sides by the two of the largest Great Lakes and America’s longest river, and the prevalence of fish available in those waters. It was a combination that could only lead to fish fries.

We were headed somewhere else when we saw the sign advertising a “fantastic fish fry” outside of Byrd’s Pub and Grill, a relatively new restaurant that’s part of the relatively new retail development at the front end of Middleton Hills, the late Marshall Erdman’s homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideal of a sustained, convivial community. What’s constitutes a fantastic fish fry? We wondered, so we stopped in.

Byrd’s typifies the family-friendly style of neighborhood sports bar that seems to be popping up all over. To our surprise, the Friday crowd was light, so we sidled into a booth. Our waiter was a little tardy in showing up, but once he realized we were his, he was prompt and friendly, epitomizing the theme of the place.

Fish fries used to be all-you-could-eat deep-fried whatever-they-had, and that meant usually cod. Byrd’s had cod, baked or fried, in two-piece ($9.95) and three-piece ($11.95) portions. But these days there’s more to a fish fry than cod (and the all-you-can-eat aspect seems to have disappeared as well.)

And we weren’t really in the market for cod. There was also Lake Perch or Bluegill ($12.95 each), Cajun catfish ($9.95) and even cocoanut shrimp ($13.95). But being good Wisconsin natives (Yah der, hey) we ordered Walleye ($12.95). And a Capital Maibock to wash it down wit’, doncha know.

(Sorry, had a Wisconsin relapse just now. It won’t happen again.)

The beer was cold, the fish tender and a batter shell that was cracker-crisp that flaked faster than the fish. The cole slaw was just runny enough to bring back fond memories and the waffle fries ample and tasty. Clearly, it was more than religious obligation that kept the locals coming back each week. It was just darn good.

Was it fantastic? Well, if the criteria included memory triggers and that reopened our vision to a culinary tradition unique to our home state and visions of countless Friday nights spent with family and friends eating that exact same dish at key moments and through different phases of our long lives, then I would say that Byrd’s fish fry fit the bill and was just purty darn good at that.

Doncha know.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2010 1:53 am

    lmao fun story bro.

    • Mike and Jean permalink*
      May 14, 2010 12:06 pm

      Thanks! Stay tuned for more.

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