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In this series, we're trying out some of the Milwaukee area's most popular fish fries. In each article, you'll find commentary, fun facts, pro tips and ratings of the three foundational elements of a classic Wisconsin fry: the fish, the potato pancakes and the classic Wisconsin-style brandy old fashioned. While we're enjoying our fish fries, weekly Burger Trail articles will post on Mondays (follow along here). View all fish fry reviews here.
338 S. 1st St.
It’s been just over seven years since O’Lydia’s opened in Walker’s Point. But – If you didn’t know better – you might think the bar had been there forever. That’s because it has the sort of warm, friendly vibe you get from spots that are both comfortable and firmly planted in their digs. In O’Lydia’s case, the digs are a building with over 100 years of history, first as a Pabst tidehouse and later as a string of bars including Smuggler’s and Slim McGinn’s.
Today you’ll still find original hardwood floors, a tin ceiling and a classic old school bar where you can find clientele playing bar dice and taking shots while others enjoy a reuben sandwich or any number of other options, including housemade meatloaf. So, it’s no surprise that their fish fry attracts a mixed crowd of friendly folks both from the neighborhood and beyond.
Fish fry options are many and include cod ($10-14, depending on the number of pieces), along with a perch fry ($13), panko-crusted bluegill ($12) or a combo fry with shrimp, bluegill, perch and cod ($17). Each comes with a choice of potato, coleslaw and rye bread.
The fish (3.5)
If you like a very lightly coated fish fry, O’Lydia’s is one of the places to find it.
The perch fry features a five-piece portion of lake perch with a light crisp coating that was only ever-so-slightly seasoned. I did find the fish filets themselves to be thin and a bit dry, prompting me to reach for the tartar sauce (a practice to which I’m not usually prone) on more than one occasion. On the other hand, the cod – although similarly breaded – was moist and flaky, presumably due to the thicker nature of the fillets.
Bluegill sported a heftier coating of seasoned panko crumbs that were very crisp and provided texture to accompany the flavorful fillets.
The potato pancakes (5)
The potato pancakes were as classic as they come. They were well-seasoned, with a distinct shredded potato presence and visible seasonings. Even better, there were plenty of crispy, straggly edges!
The old fashioned (4.5)
The old fashioned at O’Lydia’s is exactly what you’d expect. There’s a solid balance between the brandy and soda, a hint of bitters and obvious muddling. I like mine a bit boozier, but at $5 I’d totally drink another one of these.
Milwaukee’s first fish fry eating contest & fundraiser
Haven’t been to O’Lydia’s for a fish fry? Join OnMilwaukee and FM 102.1 for a fish fry and fish fry eating contest on Friday, Nov. 3 between 5 and 10 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from every plate will go to support Donate Life Wisconsin.
Donate for Life will be on site, so you can sign up at the event to be a life-saving organ donor. There will also be a raffle with fun prizes.
Stick around for the celebrity fish fry eating contest at 7 p.m., which will feature OnMilwaukee’s Molly Snyder, John Adler from FM 102.1, Fred Gillich of Too Much Rock for One Hand, Bartender Extraordinaire Diane Marie and Nick Berg, crator of the Milwaukee Toast "414 Let’s have one more!"
The event will be emceed by Michelle Rutkowski from FM 102.1. Judges for the competition will include Milwaukee Blacksmith Kent Knapp and Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley.
See you there!
Got suggestions for our next fish fry? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions. Suggested fish fry menus must include lake fish (walleye, perch), potato pancakes and a stellar old fashioned.
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.