Ever on the lookout for a great fish fry, I got wind of a place southwest of the city that couldn't be beat. So, the Friday before Christmas, I hopped in the car and fled the shores of Lake Michigan for the shores of Tichigan Lake.
The Cruise Bar and Restaurant, 28747 N. Lake Dr. in Tichigan, isn't exactly on the water, but it's close. And regardless of the season or its location, there's a warm breeze every day in the form of husband and wife owners Chris and Linda Dzik.
In a five-year-old building on the site of what has long been a Tichigan tavern, the Dzik's serve up a gargantuan fish fry, alongside extremely popular pizzas and a full menu of apps, salads, sandwiches, soups and some comfort food entrees like meatloaf, brisket and chicken parmesan.
The current building was built alongside the old place, which was demolished once the new home was complete. In the lobby there are photos of the area and the previous building, which served Tichigan residents and holiday-goers for decades.
Dzik tells me that he intended to get the new place going and then sell it, but the tanking economy altered that planned retirement. Their loss, however, might be Tichigan's gain. And ours.
It's about a 30-minute drive to The Cruise, where you will likely be greeted with a smile and a chat from Linda Dzik. Her husband is also a down-to-earth guy with the gift of the gab. They also have the gift of the fish fry (and pizza).
In a giant open space that suggests a reclaimed and updated country barn – with one of the lengthiest bars I've seen in a long time – (though it's not that at all), the Dzik's serve up the biggest and best walleye fry I've had.
A full-sized dinner plate cannot contain the 12-ounce beer battered (or broiled) walleye filet, which is moist, flaky and delicious.
Add some really good potato pancakes (or pub fries, sweet potato fries, garlic mashed potatoes, cup of soup or salad), rye, a yummy agro-dolce slaw and tartar and you've got a meal fit for a true fish fry aficionado and one worth every single penny of the $15 tariff.
My dining companion decided to find out why The Cruise is legendary around Tichigan and Waterford for its pizza and took advantage of the fact that the restaurant will split your pizza in up to four quarters to let you sample different versions.
There are 11 different pizzas on the menu. We choose half a margherita and half apple goat cheese with pecans, red onions, olive oil and balsamic.
I preferred the sweet and sour of the apple goat cheese, though it was a little heavy on the onions. My companion, a margherita devotee, was more than satisfied with that half and its Roma tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil.
Perhaps best of all, The Cruise has a great vibe with friendly owners and staff, a festive atmosphere that is family friendly.
On the first visit we left the kids home. But for the next stop, we'll need a bigger table.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.