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A Tribute to Local Fish Fries

Reminiscing about fried perch at the Lake View.

November 3, 2021
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Fish fries make for fun times at Lake View
The fish is often beer-battered perch, but can also be walleye or cod, served with fried potatoes, coleslaw and a slice of buttered rye bread. Tim Bower

The moment I slammed the truck door shut, I knew we’d be taking a detour. The cab was, uh, fragrant.

“Did you get the crawlers?” asked my good friend Chuck Larson. “And would you mind if we dropped off my recycling on the way to the lake?”

The game plan called for launching the boat for a relaxing Saturday morning of bobber-fishing on Spring Lake, but Chuck was calling an audible. I looked over my shoulder and spotted the top of a large gray plastic garbage can. Chuck prefers to flip up the rear seat and load his disposables inside the cab so as to skirt the “All Loads Must Be Tarped!” mandate at the county solid-waste facility. You can argue with the county about a mask mandate but not about the tarp mandate. Once underway, I realized the redolence of the cab was both familiar and pleasant. Chuck’s recycling consists mostly of barely rinsed beer and cat-food cans, which in this confined space mimicked the smell of the Lake View Inn on a fish-fry Friday night.

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Time out! Let me explain to those from beyond our borders the cultural ritual of the Wisconsin fish fry. In the 1800s, many German and Polish immigrants in Wisconsin observed the Roman Catholic tradition of no meat on Friday. An abundant population of Lake Michigan perch provided a popular and affordable meal for observant Catholics. During the dark days of Prohibition, struggling Wisconsin taverns began serving food, and on Fridays, fried perch was a mainstay. The habit of going out for fish on Friday survived the repeal of Prohibition, and today it’s hard to find a neighborhood tavern or restaurant that doesn’t serve a Friday fish fry. The fish is often still beer-battered perch, but can also be walleye or cod, served with fried potatoes, coleslaw and a slice of buttered rye bread. It’s a basic meal. The tradition is more about communion with family and friends than about the food, and might even include a summer-evening boat cruise to an establishment such as our beloved Lake View Inn.

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Thinking about smells reminds me of the very hot day in August when I drove out on County Road E to borrow a Sawzall from Tony Dahlke and found him in the pole barn, which reeked of yet another distinctive odor.

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“There is something dead out here, and it’s been getting worse and worse, and I just can’t find the source,” said a perplexed Tony. “It’s bigger than a mouse, that’s for sure.”

And jeez, it was bad. I did not stick around to help. The source of the stink turned out to be Tony’s trailered boat, which was parked in the shed—more precisely, the foam box of leftover Lake View fish fry he and Marlene had stashed under the seat before motoring home…and then forgot…for three weeks. That Marlene is a distracting woman.

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