Bars and restaurants serving a traditional meal with a nod toward current events
[Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago, Mary Bergin wrote about fish frys in Wisconsin. She interviewed Mike Seidel, who manages MadisonFishFry.com, home to some 1,400 Fish Fry reviews. We decided to check in next with Jim Zons, an administrator of the Facebook page “Wisconsin Friday Fish Fry Fandom,” to get a look at some of the rural fish frys to be found in west central Wisconsin.
Since this story was originally submitted, many places across the country have lost business due to the coronavirus outbreak. Major events and gatherings with as few as 250 people have been canceled. For smaller groups, the Centers for Disease Control has guidelines on what has come to be known as social distancing. Jim checked Friday with the places mentioned in this story, and each is open and serving.]
I love the Friday night fish fry in Wisconsin! It’s not just the fish; typically cod but sometimes haddock, perch, walleye or even bluegill. It’s the atmosphere I really love; the classic, backwoods dive bar, with the smell of beer and a deep fryer, and locals who give you the once-over stare when you walk in. My kind of place! So in a departure from the recent story seeking “elegant” fish fry locations, let’s take a tour of some quintessential small town hot spots for Friday night fish in rural Dunn County, Wisconsin.
Let’s start at perhaps the quintessential place for a Wisconsin fish fry: a VFW hall! The Great Escape VFW Hall just outside Menomonie offers your choice of one to three pieces of cod or perch, choice of potato or you can add a trip to the salad bar for four dollars. The night we visited, the bar patrons were made up of grizzled vets, younger “townies” and a couple of young families, all enjoying fish or just some adult beverages, especially Old Fashioneds since they were only three dollars! There was also a meat raffle to raise money for St. Jude’s, so the Great Escape VFW checked all the boxes for a classic Wisconsin watering hole. The fish itself had a little less flavor than I like, but the portions were generous and the cheesy potato soup made up for everything. And you couldn’t beat the atmosphere.
There’s also Sportsmen’s Bar and Grill on the northern edge of Dunn County in Ridgeland (population 275). Sportsmen’s lives up to its name with an impressive collection of mounted fish above the bar and deer mounts just about everywhere else. It’s your average small town bar but with a truly above average Friday night fish fry (only served from 5-9 p.m.). You have a choice of fried perch or baked walleye, with a choice of potato (I highly recommend the cheesy potatoes!) and homemade coleslaw (creamy and sweet; some of the best I’ve ever had). Both the perch and the walleye came in generous portions and had tons of flavor … a really pleasant surprise at such an out of the way destination.
The final stop on our magical fish fry tour took us to one of my favorite spots for Friday fish; the Timber Inn in Downsville in southern Dunn County (population 146). The Timber Inn has an interesting history: the building is perhaps the oldest commercial building in Dunn County, having served as a boarding house for Knapp-Stout Company lumberjacks in the mid 1800’s. As owner John Stalter likes to point out, Abraham Lincoln was president when the Timber Inn was built! Today, the Timber Inn serves up a variety of classic bar food: burgers, steaks, prime rib on Saturdays, and of course, the Friday fish fry. The dining area is fairly small at the Timber Inn, so plan on spending some time at the bar as you wait for a table to open up, or make reservations. The wait at the bar isn’t bad at all if you’d like a tasty Bloody Mary. If you’re lucky enough to visit in December, their homemade Tom & Jerrys are my favorite.
Friday night fish at the Timber Inn consists of your choice of baked or fried cod, with a choice of potato, a small salad or coleslaw, and a slice of Texas toast, all for around ten dollars. The cod is light, flaky and flavorful, the coleslaw smooth and creamy, and the service prompt. Because almost everyone serves cod for Friday fish fry, I think it really takes more effort to make your cod stand out … and Timber Inn nails it!
Now, if you’ll excuse me; all this writing about fish has made me hungry! I think I see a barstool under an old Walter’s Beer sign beckoning me … after all, it is Friday.