Wisconsinites love their Friday fish fry for lots of reasons, not least that a good fish fry is a festive and boozy end-of-week blowout. The preferred libation in many traditional places is Wisconsin's unofficial state drink, the brandy old-fashioned, made of brandy, a slice of orange, bitters, soda or 7UP, a maraschino cherry, and an optional (I say go for it) hit of sugar. I like to mash the sugar and orange with the butt of a butter knife in the bottom of my glass before putting in the rest of the ingredients. But in places such as Lakefront Brewery, where we ate last evening, beer is the beverage of choice. In any event drinking precedes eating at a Wisconsin fish fry. One judges a fish fry most of all by the atmosphere, the kind of happy togetherness inspired by the venue and the crowd.
The fish at a Wisconsin fish fry is generally acceptable but not really better than that. After two or three old-fashioneds, one's standards of what makes a meal bad, good, or great are relaxed. In a state bordered on one side by a huge lake and on the other by a famous river, with hundreds of smaller bodies of water in between, one would expect that an institution like the fish fry would offer impressive local products. But the fish at the fish fry is most often North Atlantic cod. Perhaps there are fish fries around the state with excellent fresh Wisconsin fish, but they're not typical and I haven't been to them.
(Wisconsin is mostly protestant and although there have been large numbers of Poles in Milwaukee for many years, it seems unlikely that their Roman Catholic fish-on-Friday tradition would have spread across the whole state. Why Friday, then? I think just because it's the end of the week.)
Lakefront is one of the only truly local beers left in Milwaukee. They have a huge hall in the brewery where they hold this weekly event with seating for several hundred and a three-piece polka band (accordion, banjo, drums) playing all the favorites. I had a pint of a hopsy pilsner called Klitsch, and there's something really nice about drinking beer in the building in which it was brewed. The scene was like a giant family party but unlike any party my family has ever thrown there was tons of beer.
I can't rave about the food. It was fine for what it is: battered or breaded fried fish, potato pancakes, rye bread, coleslaw, tartar and cocktail sauces for the fish and shrimp, applesauce for the pancakes, wedges of lemon. This is the combo platter of cod, lake perch, blue gill, and shrimp. It was all hot and tasty. Our kid danced to the polka band's tunes and was so excited that he tried to give all the little girls hugs. Smart girls, they declined his advances.
1872 N. Commerce St.
Milwaukee, WI 53212