Special to TravelWisconsin.com
The Wisconsin fish fry is more than a meal: It’s a beloved Friday tradition. We gather in church basements, saloons, diners, trendy bistros and fancy restaurants to indulge. Naming the best fish fry is like asking for a fight; passionate Cheeseheads stay true to an amazing range of favorites, especially in the Northwoods, where gorgeous settings invite us to linger.
The classic meal is fish, a potato, slaw and rye bread. Where to go depends on who you’re with: Grandma, girlfriends, toddlers, teens or all of the above. Consider the diversity at these destinations.
Look for neon signage on a 1930s log cabin, dwarfed by lofty evergreens and just outside of town. The New York Times found and wrote about Al-Gen in 2011, but the woodsy restaurant has long drawn crowds for all-you-can-eat haddock. House-made walnut-raisin bread is another hit.
Expect traditional and gourmet treatment of the local catch, whitefish, which comes from the area’s commercial fishermen. Saffron rice pilaf is a standard accompaniment, and the menu lists local farms and other businesses that provide key ingredients. Match the meal with beer brewed on the premises.
Hand-breaded yellow perch arrives with potatoes and a spiced, creamy slaw at the remote, reconditioned 1940s Silk City diner inside Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Add choices of walleye, salmon, whitefish and whatever other options become available, as fish is flown in from Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Next to bike and snowmobile trails near the Michigan border is an eclectic business that is one part artisan products shop, one part gathering space (for card playing, yakking) and one part restaurant. Pan-fried walleye with house-made potato pancakes is the Friday special.
Cafés specialize in breakfast and lunch, but that’s no reason to ignore the weekly fish fry. The Friday midday meal of haddock is served until closing time, 2 p.m. Sit in a booth made of logs, overlooking a park whose ponds raise lots of walleye.
Kick back to simpler and more serene times at this old-time resort with five cabins and a 1923 lodge, where the Friday all-you-can-eat, broiled or beer-batter-fried cod is served family style with fried potatoes and coleslaw. All-you-can-eat fish is available to kids on any day.
The rural roadside bar and grill makes German and American potato salad to go with haddock on Friday, and the indecisive can order the Fisherman’s Platter, a mix of deep-fried and baked, lemon-pepper fish. Toss a few beanbags or play volleyball outdoors while you’re at it.
Expect supper-club dining that is both rural and elegant. Cozy too: Take a table near the fireplace or watch deer at dusk from screened-porch seating. Corn fritters come with your half-pound of deep-fried lake perch or all-you-can-eat cod that is fried, broiled or baked with Cajun seasoning.
Think big, like the 36-foot-tall outdoor sign of the legendary lumberjack. Seating for 350 means it’s easy to feed a crowd with hearty dinner specials that are all you can eat. The Friday fish fry starts at noon, and comes with fried chicken and pasta. Also in Wisconsin Dells.
Veterans for 40-some years have prepared fish on the first and third Fridays of the month. At least 150 pounds of premium cod is baked, grilled and fried per night. The crew keeps secret its beer-batter process and even shreds cabbage for creamy slaw. Proceeds help Vets in need.