In nearly 10 years at OnMilwaukee.com, I've learned one sure-fire way to draw talkbacks: talk about Milwaukee's traditional Friday night fish fry.
Everyone has a favorite and rarely budges. Some folks -- like me -- have a number of favorites depending on my mood. Among them are Kegel's, the Bavarian Inn, Turner Hall (although I want more pancakes included in the all-you-can-eat) and, these days, Cool Water.
Local musician and filmmaker Ron Faiola is no different. He has a favorite -- although he won't specify -- but, he says, "really, all the places I feature in the movie are my favorites."
The movie is his hour-long documentary, "Fish Fry Night Milwaukee," which made its world premiere in October 2009 at The Times Cinema. On Friday, Feb. 19, it screensat Bushel & Peck's in Beloit at 5 p.m. as part of the Beloit International Film Festival. The film is a finalist for Best of Wisconsin category.
MPTV Channel 10.1 will also air "Fish Fry Night" at 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 25. Faiola will appear on Rick Kogan's WGN (AM 720) radio show on Sunday, March 7 around 7:30 or 8 a.m.
In the film -- as I wrote last fall when first talking about "Fish Fry Night" -- Faiola visits some great area fish fry nights, including ones at Hooligan's, The Packing House, Lakefront Brewery, Cafe El Sol at the United Community Center and Erv's Mug.
Talking to restaurant owners, cooks and customers, Faiola digs in to find out what makes the fish fry so dear to our hearts and what makes the featured versions so special to their devotees.
In an introductory segment, Faiola explains that the fish fry became popular in Milwaukee due not only to a large Catholic community that needed an alternative to meat on Fridays, but also to the availability of inexpensive fish, which allowed working class families to dine out affordably.
Faiola says the idea for "Fish Fry Night Milwaukee" was his, but his dad was also a catalyst for the project.
"I had the idea for about a year but it was my dad, who has been living in Pennsylvania for the last 20 years, said something about every place in Milwaukee has a fish fry -- even the ATMs serve fish! -- who got me going," he says. "After his Christmas visit and fish fry dinner I decided to make the film."
At that point, he wasted little time getting started.
"I started work on it in late January, sending out letters to places I wanted to film. I attended St. Alphonsus grade school and they were the first fish fry I contacted. (There were) 30 on list, 21 letters, 11 in the final (cut), one didn't make the final," he says.
"Most filming was done during Lent. A couple extra segments were shot in June and July, notably the South Shore Frolics. Editing took about six weeks -- July to mid-August."
Faiola reeled in 12 hours of footage and it was at that point that the work crafting the final film really began.
"Editing took forever," he says, because I was doing everything, including trimming audio segments, putting the music loops together, writing the narration script.
"Someone mentioned I should do the narration, too, but that wasn't going to happen. I had always wanted (WMSE DJ) Dewey Gill because of his relaxed, friendly voice and he did a great job."
Faiola says DVDs of the film will be available at the premiere event. The discs have 24 minutes of bonus footage.
And if you want a second helping, he says he might be cooking up sequels ...
"There is a second one on paper... I've been so busy with the premiere and other negotiations for this one that I haven't had a chance to do any filming, but it was always intended to be a series: Fish Fry Night Madison, Fish Fry Night Green Bay or Wisconsin, Cleveland, etc."
The original Friday Fish Fry Buffet at Turners (in the big hall, at noon) were incredibly popular and I never understood why the new management didn't continue them. It was a great place to see Judges, Police, Sheriffs, Bailiffs, Newspaper people, office workers and more mix and mingle among the perch, German potato salad, and crispy slaw. They even had plenty of hot sauce. Someone should recover the recipes and bring it back!!!
I was wondering about Turner...I went there last year for the first time in a decade (don't live in Milw anymore) and the food was blah and the costumers were a mix of gangbangers and frat boys. Totally unimpressed which sucked because it was Portland-native wife's first fish fry. Rectified it by dining at Lakeshore Brewery last August...damn that was what a fish fry was meant to be.
Anyone ever been to the Comet's Fish Fry?
Great article. If you really want a great Friday Fish Fry try Liquid Johnny's on the corner of 76th and Main Street (across from State Fair). Super good and you can choose between fried or grilled. They also have shrimp on the menu and home made clam chowder. Great bar/restaurant atmosphere.
turner hall once had THE best fish fry in milwaukee. sadly, that all came to an end several yeas ago with the new management. plus, they ruined the historic decor. i never eat there any longer. too bad--a fantastic milwaukee tradition is gone.
Show me the other 2 Talkbacks
7 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published March 27, 2015
Milwaukee's Chalice in the Palace breathes some life into the city's wanting reggae music scene with regular record spins featuring a wide variety of Jamaican sounds at area clubs.
Published March 26, 2015
I was a little disappointed the first time I stepped into Henry Koch's 1870 Calvary Presbyterian Church - that soaring red building on 10th and Wisconsin. The sanctuary has been completed remodeled and modernized. The pews are gone, replaced by stacks of movable chairs. The wooden chancel isn't ornately adorned as one might expect in a 150-year-old church, and the new hardwood floors gleam rather than creak with accumulated history. But, then, Pastor Mark McDonough converted me.
Published March 25, 2015
In all of the discussions of the siting of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, the discussion has been about connecting to Wisconsin Avenue and points south of the current Bradley Center. But, let's not ignore the other side.
Published March 25, 2015
In recent years, Milwaukee Public Library has been building for the future, replacing aged branches with mixed-use developments that ensure the libraries will be community fixtures for years to come. For its next project, MPL is moving the Forest Home branch into the future by reviving an old South Side neighborhood gem.
Published March 20, 2015
Scattered around the Milwaukee area are roughly two dozen eye-catching stone cottages that look like they could've been moved from Normandy. But, you might be surprised to learn they were designed by a New York architect who also designed the Big Apple's Singer Building, a 47-story skyscraper that was, for three years, the tallest building in the world.
Published March 18, 2015
Old newspaper ads for Milwaukee clubs open a world of unwritten history.
Published March 18, 2015
Dosing its rootsy rock and roll with a shot of country and etheral, melodic pop Milwaukee's Great Lake Drifters have created a sound that is difficult to pin down. With a brand new CD, " Radio Picture Show," the band takes part in this weekend's Equinox Music Festival at Linneman's in Riverwest. We chatted with a couple of the band's members about GLD, about "Radio Picture Show" and about Equinox.
Published March 17, 2015
Nine unforgettable places to rent some shoes in Brew City.
Published March 16, 2015
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver is one of nearly a dozen leaders of urban school districts headed to the White House this morning to meet with President Barack Obama as part of the Council of the Great City Schools' three-day annual legislative/policy conference in Washington.
Published March 13, 2015
Writing these past two weeks about disappeared Milwaukee rock clubs and Downtown in the 1980s has me a little bleary eyed with nostalgia. And my Milwaukee reminiscences almost always lead straight back to one building in Walker's Point.