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Ten Classic Milwaukee Fish Frys

Feb. 28, 2017
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Come springtime, Milwaukeeans venture out of their homes in search of the best Friday fish fry they can find. Lent, of course, plays a large role in this spring ritual, but it probably has as much to do with cabin fever setting in and a sense of tradition as religious observations. Classic fish frys include a few pieces of fried fish, a choice of potato, coleslaw and rye bread. The differentials come about in what type of fish you prefer, whether you like battered or breaded, and if you’d like potato pancakes or are happy with French fries. Here are 10 spots around the Milwaukee area serving classic fish frys. Please remember: For every restaurant mentioned here, there are 10 others in town that serve a good fish fry, too.

American Serb Hall

5101 W. Oklahoma Ave.
SerbHall.com | Map It >>

If you grew up on the South Side, you probably had Serb Hall’s fish fry at some point as a kid. It’s a Milwaukee classic that’s been going for more than 50 years. On Good Friday, the banquet halls fill up and they serve 400 people per hour, with even more customers lined up in cars at the drive-up window. You are likely to see multiple generations of the same family eating here together, enjoying each other’s company just as much as the breaded cod, perch or shrimp. Sides of slaw and mashed potatoes or fries are served family style on each table. You can even work off the calories by bowling a couple of games at the hall’s bowling alley.

Erv’s Mug

Ervs Mug

130 W. Ryan Road, Oak Creek
ErvsMug.com | Map It >>

Way down on Ryan Road in Oak Creek is a beer bar and supper club combo with walls and ceilings completely covered in beer memorabilia and seasonal decorations. Some may find it tacky, but it goes along with the no-nonsense dive bar vibe. The cod filets here are enormous and have a dark, bubbled coating of beer batter that shatters when you bite into it. Perch and tilapia are both available sautéed for a change of pace, or opt for the baked cod if you’re not into fried food. Potato pancakes are thick and full of mild onions. If you still have room, order the carrot cake for dessert. 

Fritz’s Pub

3086 S. 20th St.
FritzsPub.com | Map It >>

There aren’t too many spots that serve homemade rye bread with their fish frys, but that’s the norm at Fritz’s. The Serbian tavern opened on the South Side in the ’70s and is currently run by the three children of founder Dragoslav, aka Fritz. You’ve got your choice of beer-battered cod or haddock, served alongside seasoned potato wedges, onion-filled coleslaw, tangy tartar sauce and that freshly baked rye. The batter is thin and crisp and is what keeps the phone ringing off the hook with takeout orders. Fritz’s is closing for good on Sept. 28, 2018, so make a promise to yourself to get there at least a couple times before then.

Kam’s Thistle & Shamrock

3430 N. 84th St.
KamsThistleAndShamrock.com | Map It >>

Kegel’s Inn


5901 W. National Ave.
KegelsInn.com | Map It >>

Kegel’s started serving fish frys free when you purchased a beer back in the 1930s when Prohibition was repealed as a way to drum up business. Based on the waits for a table on Friday nights—and Wednesdays during Lent—I’d say their business hasn’t slacked off. That long history reflects itself in the building, with murals and stained glass for you to gaze at while you’re waiting for a seat. All fried seafood is served breaded here, not battered, which while typical for perch, is more unusual for cod. It makes for a substantial, crunchy coating. Potato pancakes are cooked well done and tend to be heavy, but they make a great pair with the applesauce served on the side.

Laura’s DBC Bar & Grill

7520 W. Donges Bay Road, Mequon
DongesBayClubhouse.com | Map It >>

Not a lot of restaurants serve all-you-can-eat fish fry anymore, but Laura’s DBC is one that still does. Many residents of Ozaukee declare the fish fry here as the best in the county, so it seems wise to choose the all-you-can-eat pollack option. The thin filets are crumb coated and fried golden brown and served with shoestring fries or potato pancakes, plus the requisite slaw and rye bread. If pollack is not your thing, there’s also cod, perch and shrimp, plus a lovely large filet of pan-seared walleye. Something else most places don’t offer: pollack and perch sandwiches. 

Lakefront Brewery

Lakefront Brewery

1872 N. Commerce St.
LakefrontBrewery.com | Map It >>

Friday night is the busiest time at the Lakefront Brewery Beer Hall, with good reason: The fish fry is one of the best in Milwaukee. While you can get Eastside Dark-battered cod, panko-breaded perch or shrimp, and baked walleye, the real draw is the fried smelt. You don’t often find these tiny whole fish on menus, except maybe some old-school taverns up north. The batter is extremely light, like tempura, so that it doesn’t overwhelm the delicate texture of the fish. Smelt comes with cocktail sauce, but if you’re a tartar fan then ask to substitute their very tasty homemade version instead. Skip the fries and go straight for the potato pancakes or German potato salad on the side.

The Packing House

The Packing House

900 E. Layton Ave.
PackingHouseMKE.com | Map It >>

One of the few old-school supper clubs left in Milwaukee, The Packing House might not be exactly what you remember. A renovation a few years ago has modernized the restaurant, though the retro vibe and live music acts remain as strong as ever. Fried cod is breaded in a light coating and served with a generous portion of creamy coleslaw, marble rye and either potato pancakes or fries—as usual, opt for the pancakes. You also get a cup of clam chowder when you dine in, which may just be enough to sway you away from using the ultra-convenient fish fry-only drive-through. 

Swingin’ Door Exchange

Swingin Door

219 E. Michigan Ave.
SwinginDoorExchange.com | Map It >>

How does a Downtown bar have enough staying power to last since Prohibition? By serving up some really solid food. Swingin’ Door’s menu ranges from gumbo to barbecue ribs, and everything is quite tasty. Cod and perch are the standard here, both tossed in an irregular breadcrumb coating that creates lots of crunch when fried. When it comes to sides, stick with the homemade potato chips or the unique spicy vermouth carrots. (In fact, make sure you order a side of those carrots no matter what.) Grab the combo fry, with two pieces of cod and perch, plus three pieces of shrimp, if you're really hungry.

Wegner’s St. Martins Inn

11318 W. St. Martins Road, Franklin
stmartinsinn.com | Map It >>

Though it’s primarily a German restaurant, Wegner’s reputation has been built on their Friday fish fry. They generally serve four times as many guests on Friday nights as on a weekday, and customers cram the bar while they wait for a table. The standard fry here is beer-battered haddock, though breaded perch is available too. If you can’t decide between them, get them both on a combo plate. Potato pancakes here are a bit different than most: They’re practically deep fried, lending a hash brown patty crunch and solid golden crust that all other potato pancakes lack. German potato salad is also an option if you can resist the calling of the pancakes. 

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