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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

Milwaukee-Area Restaurants Reinventing the Fish Fry

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Fish fries are a remarkably rigid local tradition. Reluctant to mess with a proven favorite, restaurants take few liberties with their Friday specials, so diners will find essentially the same meal regardless of where they go: fish, rye bread, coleslaw and choice of potato (usually french fries or potato pancakes). Higher-end restaurants may also offer a soup or salad, but that and fancier plating are about all that separates their fish fries from the ones served in plastic baskets at corner taps. But for those seeking something new, it is possible to find places that dare to put their own spin on the tradition. Here are six options for unusual, unorthodox or downright daring local fish fries.

Café El Sol

1028 S. Ninth St., Milwaukee

Many area Mexican restaurants offer their own Friday fish fries, substituting the potatoes for rice and beans, but none is as elaborate as the all-you-can-eat fish fry buffet at the United Community Center's Café El Sol, which includes an assortment of Mexican and Puerto Rican side dishes and entrées. The cod fillets are gently seasoned with Latin spices before they hit the fryer, which gives them a subtle peppery flavor. Live Latin music adds to the festive environment.

Izumi's

2150 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee

The Friday fish fry at this Japanese restaurant looks nothing like its American cousin. Izumi's panko-crusted perch is served in a bento box with Japanese fried chicken, a California roll, salad and potatoes. The panko crusting makes the perch lighter than traditionally battered fish, though the chicken could surprise diners who are going meatless for Lent.

Bunkers

7420 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis

Most fish fries now include a baked or broiled fish option, but they're often lesser substitutes for the fried version, and they're usually served with the same heavy side dishes. Bunkers, a West Allis restaurant with a sophisticated spin on bar food, puts some real imagination into its grilled Friday offering. The Atlantic haddock is paired with fingerling potatoes and green beans, and drizzled with (not drowned in) lemon-herb butter. It's a healthier alternative to fried fish that sacrifices none of the flavor, especially if you order the haddock Cajun style.

Grecian Inn

14375 W. Capitol Drive, Brookfield

The American-style fish fry at this Greek diner is plenty popular, but much more unique are Grecian Inn's two authentic Greek alternatives: bakalao a la skordalia, salt-preserved cod served with a generous pile of garlic mashed potatoes, and plaki, baked cod in a thin tomato sauce that's been slow cooked with onion, celery and garlic.

Polonez Restaurant

4016 S. Packard Ave., St. Francis

As an alternative to its traditional fried fish, this South Side Polish restaurant offers baked cod with two unique toppings: a zesty “Greek” tomato-vegetable sauce or a rich cream-dill sauce. Potato lovers can have their choice of french fries, tater tots, mashed potatoes or two thin, crispy and unusually tasty potato pancakes.

Lowlands Group Cafés

(Multiple Locations)

This year all five Lowlands Group cafés (Trocadero Gastrobar, Café Benelux, Café Centraal and the Downer Avenue and Tosa Village Café Hollanders) have added extensive Friday fish menus through Lent. All of them except for Trocadero are offering fairly traditional fish fries, with either beer-battered or potato-crusted cod accompanied by frites and coleslaw. Elsewhere on the menus, though, diners will find much more unique offerings, like an oven-roasted rainbow trout (served with fingerling potatoes and an orange, fennel and arugula salad) at Café Centraal, or an almond-breaded whitefish with a lemon-thyme butter sauce (severed with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables) at the Café Hollander locations.