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Friday, June 20, 2008

Polish Fish Fry

Polonez ranks with Milwaukee’s best

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Formany years Polonez was a charming anachronism, a restaurant housed in a warren of little rooms that gave dining there the feel of a casual get-together in someone’s timeworn South Side flat. After leaving its South Sixth Street home near St. Josaphat’s Basilica, Polonez moved to a more conventional venue at 4016 S. Packard Ave. in St. Francis. The new Polonez includes a narrow barroom, a back party room and a spacious dining room decorated with a Polish eagle tapestry and a few framed pictures of the Old Country. The menu still includes such Polish specialties as pierogi, stuffed cabbage, potato dumplings, kielbasa and nalesniki (crepes), and Polonez remains family owned.

Given Poland’s Roman Catholic culture, it’s no surprise that a fish fry is also offered on Fridays. Polonez serves one of the city’s finest. The trio of choices at lunchtime includes three large pieces of fried lake perch ($12.50), baked cod served “Polish style” in a creamy dill sauce ($10.50) and that old Milwaukee standard, four-pieces of fried cod ($9.50). All are excellent. The Polish baked cod is flavorful and the fried fish is lightly battered and prepared to a crispy golden brown.

No one leaves the table hungry with such big portions. A bread basket starts lunch off with fresh white rolls lightly flecked with poppy seed. Next comes a choice of soup or salad. Although the warmer weather might steer some people to the latter, the iceberg-based salad is entirely blah. But the soups are hands down among the heartiest served in any Milwaukee restaurant. The chicken soup is just like mother (or grandmother for Generations X and Y) used to make, full of thin egg noodles, large pieces of chicken and diced parsley and carrot. The cream of mushroom is even more unique, so crowded with oversize mushrooms and big flat noodles that the spoon can barely fit into the bowl.

The choices continue with the potatoes. Of course, french fries are an option. But so are creamy mashed potatoes, crispy tater tots and—for a Polish touch—potato pancakes. The coleslaw is old school, finely chopped cabbage in a light mayonnaise dressing.

Polonez serves a decent cup of coffee, but if you’re lucky and the workday is over, the bar offers a Polish immersion experience with no less than 11 varieties of Polish beer and six Polish liqueurs, including aperitifs made from plums, cherries and honey. Service is unfailingly friendly, and before long the staff will remember your name, your beverage preference and your life story.