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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 24, 2014

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In Dining Commentary

The Motor fish fry is served daily. On Fridays it's all you can eat.

In Dining Commentary

The fish tacos, drizzled with guacamole, are pretty darn good, too.

Motor's daily fish fry shifts into overdrive on Fridays


Not long ago I wrote about a family restaurant's not-just-Friday fish fry far from the city center. Of course, there's likely a fish fry to be had most nights somewhere, but one place in the heart of town that dishes one up daily is Motor, the comfort food-focused restaurant at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Motor, 400 W. Canal Street, in the Menomonee Valley, dishes up its fish fry every day, and all day Fridays it's all you can eat, for $12.95.

I took the kids over recently to try it out and had a great experience. The staff was friendly and doted on the kids and the fish fry – even though it was a Monday and, thus, not an endless flow of food – was a meal fit for a king.

There was a giant, tender piece of breaded cod laying atop a giant bed of french fries, with coleslaw, cornbread and tartar sauce.

According to Rob Levin, director of operations for Levy Restaurants, which runs Motor, the fish fry has always been a popular item and has almost never changed.

"We've been open since 2008 and we've done it since then. We started just recently doing on Friday, all you can eat all day. That part is new," he says.

"The options are the same, the fish is the same. We have good history with it. Everything we do is in-house, is fresh. We bread it to order. We don't have fish that's sitting up there, we don't buy out anything. We've never really been instigated by unpleasant reviews (to change anything)."

One thing that has changed is that Motor no longer offers potato pancakes. When asked about it, Levin tells a familiar story. The work that goes into making consistently good potato pancakes is challenging. That's why Turner Hall Restaurant used to charge extra for them at its otherwise all you can eat fish fry.

"We had done them in the past," he says, " but for us to do them by hand – because we do everything else by hand – they're very labor intensive. To do them right. If we're going to do something, I'd rather do it well and do it consistently. And what's happened in the past was that was the problem and then we did a buy out and it's just not what we do. We make, literally, 98, 99 percent of everything that leaves the kitchen, in-house."

Levin said the restaurant got few, if any, complaints when the latkes were discontinued.

"And we now do our own cornbread. People have their choices, but a good piece of cornbread is a good piece of cornbread and it goes really well. There's a little bit of sweetness that goes on there and because of the saltiness of the fries and the fish and the batter."

Motor also does Baja fish tacos daily ($11.95 for two) and they're pretty scrumptious, too, with guacamole and pico de gallo drizzled atop crisp battered tilapia on flour tortillas and with cilantro lime cabbage slaw on the side.

"We do a lot of burgers, barbecue is a popular item for us also," says Levin. "So, for alternative items – you know, soups, salads or what have you – the fish fry does very well, so do the fish tacos, which is another option. We want to have options for folks who want seafood."

If you haven't been to Motor in a while, you should check it out. There was a big shakeup in the kitchen more than a year ago and things have been revving up.

"We're very fortunate, we're having a great year," says Levin. "We're focusing on the simple things: service, good quality food, consistent. We're building on that. And people are noticing that and are coming back."

That despite the fact that the restaurant is currently wading through its slowest season of the year ... winter. But this one has been better than past winters, says Levin.

"Summer's not an issue, we have bikes here all the time, we have runners down here all the time, we have events down here all the time. It's more the winter season where people don't think of us as much. But we've really repositioned how we market it and we want back to basics. If you do things well, word will travel."

Word has been traveling, in part, because Motor has become one of the premier comfort food go-to places in Milwaukee, along with the likes of Comet and Stack*d.

"I think comfort food across the board has become the in thing," says Levin. "That's what people want to eat. There are the specialty places where you go if you want that. But the man on the street isn't looking for that they're looking for just a good sandwich, or just a good burger or a good pizza to make them feel positive."


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