FROM THE BY SARAH NIGBOR Wisconsin fish fry This past Friday evening, my husband and I drove east to his grandparents’ home near Pine River, Wis., a tiny hamlet about 40 miles northwest of Oshkosh …
BY SARAH NIGBOR
Wisconsin fish fry This past Friday evening, my husband and I drove east to his grandparents’ home near Pine River, Wis., a tiny hamlet about 40 miles northwest of Oshkosh surrounded by marshes, trout streams and pines. Since it was Friday, my husband had the brilliant idea that we should stop for a good ole Wisconsin fish fry along the way. I was game, except I prayed I didn’t have to pick the spot.
That prayer went unanswered. “Why don’t you pick a spot?” Hubby asked. “I promise I will like it.”
“Uh-huh,” I thought. “Here we go again.” He swears to the heavens above that he’s the least picky person on earth, but I think the opposite is true. He is very particular. Coffee must be piping hot (I’ll drink it even if it’s a day old). Chili must contain noodles (I figure who cares as long as it tastes good?) Chicken breasts must be dried out to the point of resembling a shingle (and he despises them, by the way). There’s more, but it’s clear I am the easier one to please.
Maybe you remember my column awhile back about our squabbles about eastern vs. western Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Fish Fry is one of the main items on that list. Hubby has very specific ideas about what a Wisconsin Fish Fry should include and never fails to let me hear his displeasure when the ones around here don’t meet with his eastern Wisconsin ideals.
To him, the fish should be perch, lightly breaded in a flaky, cornmeal-like breading, served with thick slices of rye bread and butter, bottomless coleslaw or potato salad and oodles of tartar sauce. To him, cod is “garbage fish” that people serve as all-you-can-eat because it’s cheap. Walleye is even lower on his list as far as taste goes (what?). Over here on the western frontier, the beer batter is too thick, dinner rolls are an atrocity, and who doesn’t eat potato salad with fish?
See what I was faced with? Sigh. Who knew dining out could be so stressful? I dislike being the one to pick out restaurants because I’m usually right in that it won’t meet his high expectations. I’m making him sound like a pompous jerk, but he is wonderful. He’s just very set in his gastric ideals.
I resolutely picked up my cell phone and searched fish fries along our route. I settled on Northern Ale House in Eau Claire, because even though it was cod (gasp!), they offered allyou- can-eat and coleslaw. The reviews were good. I found only one place that touted serving pumpernickel bread (not rye), so I figured I wouldn’t worry about that.
In fact, I decided not to worry about it at all. Dang it, if you’re so picky, YOU pick the spot, I said. And if he’s not happy with it, well, I’m not the one cooking it, so what do I care?
To my utter shock and amazement, he liked his fish dinner and said he might even consider going back there IF he was in the neighborhood. He did remind me several times, however, that perch is highly preferable and that NO place will EVER compare to the Knot Anchor Inn that used to be on the shores of Lake Tustin. As I ate my sinful dinner roll, I nodded my head and smiled. Sometimes it’s easier to just shut up and agree.
“Why didn’t you order a brandy old-fashioned?” he asked as he looked at my brandy sour.
“Because I figured they wouldn’t make it correctly,” I said.
“Well, you know, here in western Wisconsin, they put oranges and cherries in them, and that’s just ridiculous,” he began.
I thought I had avoided the old-fashioned lecture by ordering something else. I nodded and smiled as he expounded on the proper way to make an old-fashioned. Next time I’m having water.