Cheese, Beer, Brats and Friday Fish Fry

More than three years ago, I accepted a media relations internship in the Midwest. Well, suburban Milwaukee to be more specific. Beautiful Ozaukee County, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. What could be better? Of course, I went there to write for the Lakeshore Chinooks, a collegiate baseball team in the Northwoods League. However, I was immediately immersed in a culture like no other. Most people associate Wisconsin with cheese, beer, and brats. I did not know much about it, except the Packers, the Brewers, and the Badgers. And Aaron Rodgers…let me tell you, they LOVE their Rodgers.

My first full weekend up, I did some sightseeing of downtown Milwaukee and ate at The Irish Pub in the Historic Third Ward. My date suggested the fish, so I went with it. As the weeks went on, I started noticing something about “Friday Fish Fry.” What in the world was this? Back home in Louisiana, we did not designate a day to fry fish – we fry them on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…you get the picture? It does not matter one bit. I started noticing restaurants of all price ranges advertising it as a special on Fridays. Even the popular fast food chain Culver’s had it also. Upon further realization, most places had it available every day. This was bigger than I thought.

For those unfamiliar, you may be wondering, what exactly is a Friday Fish Fry? I had to do some research about its beginnings, and here’s what I discovered.

Many European immigrants came to areas like Milwaukee and Chicago from Germany, Ireland and Norway. From there, they had to adapt their cooking style for the fish easily accessible in Lake Michigan. Many of these immigrants were Catholic and could not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, so the weekly fish fry became tradition. It brought people together and created a sense of community. Although there are weekly fish fries all over the country, no one takes it quite as seriously as Wisconsinites.

What does the meal consist of? The species of fish depends greatly on what is available in a particular area. In the 1960s and 1970s, smelts, bluegill, Lake perch and walleye were common. As time went on overfishing depleted options, and cod became an inexpensive choice. Most often, the fish is fried in a beer batter (shocking, I know) or a lighter batter.

The Friday Fish Fry is not complete without several sides. Traditionally, you will get a slice of rye bread, tartar sauce, a cup of coleslaw, lemon wedges…and a potato option! Most places serve fries, but some do potato pancakes instead. And don’t forget the beer and Old Fashioned cocktails! I mean, this is Wisconsin we are talking about.

On Fridays during the Chinooks’ season, it became a necessity for me to get the Friday Fish Fry at Kapco Park. Honestly, I waited all week for it. My Midwest experience was one I will truly never forget, largely in part to old traditions like the Friday Fish Fry. Maybe your seafood of choice is not fish, maybe it’s shrimp, oysters, or crabs. Whatever it may be, food always has a way of bringing people together. And that’s almost better than the taste.