What is a Fish Fry?
Our definition of a Fish Fry is pretty traditional. You need five basic components: fish, potato, coleslaw, bread, and tartar sauce. Cod is the most traditional fish, but we welcome all kinds. For the potato we almost always choose French fries (unless potato pancakes are available) - every place has them as an option, and we flat-out like them better than the other choices. We aren't huge coleslaw fans, but do appreciate the best of the best. Rye is the traditional bread served with a Fish Fry. We have grown to love the "stank" of rye bread, and rate it highly if served due to the tradition behind it. We also rate bread highly if we flat-out like it (i.e. the little basket of crackers and rolls you get at most supper clubs). We am also partial to the little loaves of bread with the cutting boards that you have to slice yourself - also a supper club staple.
Growing up we were not a huge fans of fried cod. On Friday nights we much preferred to order the baked cod from our local Eagles Club as opposed to its greasier, fried counterpart. This was partially because fried cod was commonplace, and partially because we usually got takeout, and by the time we got it home the batter on the fried fish had gotten soggy and gross. Thus, when MFF was young we didn't fully appreciate that which is the "Fish Fry." We did eat Fish Fry sporadically while we were young, but certainly nowhere near as much as we do now.
Like most people, as MFF grew up our tastes changed. By the time we were a seniors at UW-Madison we had developed a taste for Fish Fry, and really enjoyed going out on Fridays and ordering the special. One of the first places that rekindled our love of the Fish Fry was The Blue Moon. This was mostly due to the fact that it was located near the apartment we used to rent on University Avenue. At this point, we were just beginning to wet our beaks in local Fish Fry, and were not eating it consistently enough to have any intention of ever cataloging our experiences. We have learned a lot about what makes a good Fish Fry since these early days, and are ready to share what we have learned with everyone out there who wants to know.
The idea to record our Fish Fry experiences began innocently enough. We were getting sick of not being able to remember which places we liked the fish and those which we didn't, so we started to write them down. One thing led to another and we began having so many places that we needed a better system of organizing them all. The need to store all this info while still making it easily editable led us to the computer. We started a spreadsheet and began putting in the places we had been, and simply ranking the total experience. As the list grew we realized we wasn't capturing all the variability these places had to offer. It was at this point we decided to quantify the experiences and add individual attributes for each and every Fish Fry we went to. Eventually this spreadsheet got to be too large to easily manage - it was at this point we decided to convert all the entries from our spreadsheet into a database which could be easily queried so others could gain access to this info. The flexibility of the database allows people to create their own "Best of" lists based on what is important to them. For example: maybe you don't care what the tartar sauce tastes like and fish is all that matters. You can search for best fish only. What's more, since we have broken down each type of fish offered (cod, perch, walleye, etc) you can even specify things like "The Best Perch Fish Fry on the east side for under $12."
We are trying new places, and sometimes old favorites, every Friday night. Madison restaurant owners be aware, if you serve a Fish Fry you'd better be on your 'A' game every Friday, 'cause you never know where we're gonna show up.