It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, with winners getting dished out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!
It had been years since I went to the Mecca of Milwaukee fish fries, Serb Hall, on a Friday Night, so I went last weekend. In all honesty, after I told a couple of people I was planning to go, both expressed that it wasn't "as good as it used to be."
These casual reviews lowered my expectations, which turned out to be a good thing. Unfortunately, the actual food lowered them even more.
The rye bread and the tangy coleslaw were fine, pretty much as I remembered them. But the fried fish and side dishes were a different story.
We ordered the haddock dinner and the Serbian-style baked cod, which meant it came slathered in a sweet red sauce. The haddock, according to my dining mate, tasted like supersized frozen fish sticks and the baked cod tasted freezer-burnt. The sides of garlic mashed potatoes were lukewarm, not hot, and the potato pancakes were cold in the middle and way too large and thick.
The presentation of the meal was off, too. There were very few people in the dining hall – which was portioned off to about half the size it was when I went last time – and yet all of our food items came out on small, separate plates, as if we had ordered everything a la carte or they had run out of dinner plates.
We thought about salvaging the meal with the one available dessert, but overheard our server tell the table next to ours that the desserts were frozen and would take about five minutes to microwave. On second thought, nah. (Instead, we stopped at Leon's for custard on the way home – and it did not disappoint.)
It's like we were experiencing a Freaky Friday Fish Fry – where one of the city's most celebrated fish fries for 50 years switched places with leftover Long John Silver's fast food. How could this have happened? And will Serb Hall ever go back to being the classic we want it to be?
But that's just it. Was it ever as epic as we want it to be? Or was it always mediocre, but we went for the experience, the history and the camaraderie with other Milwaukeeans? Or maybe I used to downing an Old Fashioned before the bread hit the table and in the midst of the booze munchies everything tasted delicious?
Milwaukeeans have a tendency to romanticize a lot of places – which is more a testament to our loyalty than our lack of taste – but didn't Serb Hall have a really great fish fry at one point in time? Or was it all wishful thinking?
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.