It's Ash Wednesday, an occasion which marks (among other things) the official start of fish fry season.
Everyone has their favorite spots to go for fish fry. Usually they’re the restaurants serving up a traditional menu of beer-battered cod, perch or walleye; French fries or potato pancakes; coleslaw and (if you’re lucky) some delicious salted rye bread.
But changing things up every once in a while is nice too, especially during Lent when you’re likely going out more often than usual.
If you’re looking for a new place to try, or a fish fry that’s a little bit different from the usual, we’ve got nine great places to start. Two of the venues offer a gluten-free fish fry, and there's even a delicious vegan option, if you are so inclined.
1. The Ambassador Hotel
The Fitz & Gin Rickey
2308 W. Wisconsin Ave., (414) 345-5015
This Lenten season both The Fitz and Gin Rickey will be offering a unique menu created by Chef Brittany Greene. Dishes will be available for both lunch and dinner every Friday throughout the season.
Items include New England clam chowder; fish tacos with guest’s choice of fries, salad or fruit; beer battered cod or cornmeal crusted perch with coleslaw, rye bread, tartar sauce and potato (fries, potato pancakes, marble potatoes); and oven baked cod with eggplant caponata and garlic rice.
1978 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 231-3030
Craving comfort food, but a fishless Friday is more up your alley? Look no further than Celesta, where fish is swapped out for fried tofu in a nutrient-dense seaweed flecked batter. It’s served up with fried potato wedges, creamy vegan slaw and tartar sauce.
Of course, you can make it a true Wisconsin fry by pairing your plant-based feast with a local new or Crlesta’s East Side Old Fashioned made with Rishi Omija Berry Blush infused brandy, orange, Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, brandied cherries and club soda.
Fishless fry is served at Celesta on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; reservations are recommended.
3. The cheel
105 S. Main St., Thiensville
If you’ve not tried the fish fry at the cheel, it’s time to give their unique offerings a whirl. The Friday night offering features fresh meagre, a fish with a texture similar to European sea bass is lightly fried in a gluten free batter made with chickpea and rice flours. The fish is served with golden raisin cabbage slaw and housemade tartar sauce. A spicy version of the fish, which incorporates housemade aago hot sauce into the batter, is also available.
Seafood specials featuring selections from all over the globe are also available every Saturday evening.
6519 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 585-0577
2691 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View, (414) 294-0483
Another amazing alternative to the usual fish fry can be found at Hue where they serve a Vietnamese inspired fish fry. They use swai, a firm fish with sweet mild flesh. It’s marinated in a turmeric-garlic seasoning paste, tempura beer-battered and served alongside garlic fried rice, Asian slaw and Thai basil aioli.
5. Iron Grate BBQ Co.
4125 S. Howell Ave.
Looking for an alternative to the usual fish fry? Hop over Iron Grate BBQ where they’re serving up finger-lickin' Southern-inspired hickory butter barbecued shrimp. The dish features a pound of peeled, head-on shrimp tossed in a smoky buttery sauce. It comes with bread to soak up all the leftover sauce.
Even better, they’ve recently upgraded their shrimp. The dish is now made with sweet wild caught Argentine red shrimp, a sustainable shrimp with a flavor very similar to Maine lobster. Yum.
6. Odd Duck
Little Duck Kitchen
2301 S. Howell Ave.
Little Duck Kitchen will be hosting a classic Wisconsin Friday Night Fish Fry every other Friday during Lent. Menus will vary from week to week and will include several fried and non-fried fish and seafood options. Items will be available with both a la carte pricing and an option for a four-course prix fixe meal. Menus will be released the Monday prior to each Friday Fish Fry on Facebook and via Odd Duck’s email list (sign up here).
The fish fry will be available on March 8, March 22 and April 5 from 5 to 10 p.m.
Reservations may be made for groups of up to 6 people and are highly recommended due to the size of the space (this week's fish fry reservations are already full, though limited seating is still available for walk-ins at the bar). Reservation inquiries can be directed to Mallory McConnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Sabrosa Cafe & Gallery
3216 S. Howell Ave., (312) 834-1929
Every Friday night, March 8 to April 19, Sabrosa will be pulling out all the stops for Lent with a fish fry unlike any other.
Fish options will include beer battered cod; pan-fried lemon caper salmon or walleye; cornmeal breaded perch and jumbo shrimp scampi.
Each option includes a cup of New England clam chowder; tartar sauce, malt vinegar or chipotle mayonnaise; a choice of marble rye, tortillas or a cheddar biscuit; and two sides (potato pancakes, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, parmesan French fries, macaroni and cheese, Spanish rice, Oaxacan black beans, bacon Brussels sprout gratin, creamy lime slaw, sauteed asparagus with hollandaise and wild mushroom conserva, fried green tomatoes, cheddar bacon grits or fried bacon spinach).
A half-size children’s fish fry will also be available featuring beer battered cod and one side, as will combination family-style platters. Carry-out is an option; please call ahead to order. Sabrosa will offer $2 off the price of their fish fry from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
231 S. 2nd St., (414) 539-4179
Experience a blast from the 1970s past at Toast, where every Friday through April 19, they willbe serving up a flashback fish fry on Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. complete with '70s era music and board games on the "High Life" mezzanine.
The Toast fish fry features your choice of battered cod or bluegill served with fries, coleslaw and rye bread for $7. Toast'd will serve Grain Belt, Old Style, Schlitz or Old Milwaukee beer priced like it's 1975 ($2.76 for a four-pack). There are also shrimp tacos, coconut shrimp and sandwiches including a shrimp po’boy and cod sandwich.
6502 W. North Ave., (414) 323-7555
One of the potentially surprising things about Wauwatiki is that it’s entire menu is gluten-free. That means there’s a gluten-free fish fry! Enjoy Icelandic cod coated in crisp rice flour batter alongside your choice of sweet potato pancakes (or fries), There’s also serrano cheddar cornbread, house-made slaw and tartar sauce. If you’d prefer, you can also get your cod blackened or baked. Plus there are plenty of tiki drinks to enjoy alongside.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.