Fish Type: Cod (AYCE) Price: $8.75
Overall, I would not recommend this Fish Fry.
|Fish Score: Fair|
Potato Score: Good
Tartar Score: Excellent
Bread Score: Fair
Miscellaneous Score: Good
Comment: Keeping the Fish Fry loving public informed is not always an easy task. There are so many Fish Frys available in and around Madison that it can be downright impossible to sample them all. It certainly doesn't help that many places go under, and new places open up in their stead, often times under different ownership and with different staffs, including cooks. Well, Buck's Madison Square Garden on Regent recently went through a change in ownership, and is now called Buckingham's (real unique, I know). Along with the slightly modified moniker came a modified menu, including an AYCE Friday Night Fish Fry. Since I had some business to attend to downtown later in the evening (drinking beer at Brocach), I figured we might as well head down that way a little early and give Buckingham's their chance at Fish Fry immortality.
Gabe and I sauntered into Buckingham's around 8pm and were not the least bit surprised to find very few people eating, but plenty of folks drinking - Buck's is/was that kind of place. We pulled a couple stools close to the bar and ordered a pitcher of Cow and a couple of the AYCEs as soon as the barkeep came by. The Cow was just lovely, and no more than 10 minutes into our pitcher, the fish came. The cook brought it fresh from the kitchen and at first glance it appeared to be served family style. No problem, I thought, it is AYCE after all so I guess family style makes sense. It turned out that the mass of fish and fries were just for me, and Gabe's own heaping plate was on its way. After a quick examination of the situation it was clear that the tiny cup of tartar provided would be no match for this much fish, so I immediately requested a spare - to which she brought three.
My mantra states that fish must not sit, so I immediately grabbed up one of the three gargantuan pieces and went for it. The cod was incredibly thick and adorned with a spicy looking beer batter. The taste was somewhat of a mixed bag. It was rich and creamy, but had some overly fried parts which were less than desirable. Surprisingly, the spicy looking batter didn't actually have a lot of flavor, and since it was so thick it trapped a fair amount of grease between itself and cod. On the whole it was decent, but by the time I managed to get to the third piece it had too much time to sit and was sopping wet with grease. It would have been much better if they had started with two fillets, and then brought more if/when I asked for it. As it stood, there was no way I could eat anymore than the first portion which is disappointing at an AYCE, especially since if it was nice and hot I might have been able to put that third chunk down.
Somewhere amongst the fry-pile were the thick cut beer fries. They were plentiful, well fried, and really a step above the fish. No complaints here. The tartar was also exemplary, and improved the thick, greasy cuts of cod dramatically. The zesty sauce, with its thick mayo base was up to the task and went round for round with the fish until I could not eat any more. In the end it was the tartar that saved the day for this Fish Fry.
With so much fish around it can be hard to focus any on the sides, and Buckingham's seems to have fallen victim to their own lavishness. The dinner roll that accompanied the meal was incredibly dense and was really not tasty, save for the copious amount of whipped butter that came with it. While the roll didn't do it for me, the slaw had a bit of horseradish kick that made it more tolerable.
It appears that Buckingham's is still riding the coattails of its predecessor as the old Buck's signs remain on the outside of the building. At this point I think they need to do more to set themselves apart from their old-self. They are clearly trying to do some things differently, including the Friday Fish Fry, but as of now it still seems like Buck's (which was a great place to drink before and during Badger football games, but not much on the food front). Overall, I would probably not recommend the Fish Fry, since the actual fish was decent, but not great. Sure, the fries and tartar were great, but the focus of a Fish Fry is the fish. Even though Buckingham's is new to the game I can't quite give them the benefit of the doubt here. They really need to step their game up and figure out the subtle nuances of the AYCE Fish Fry. AYCE isn't just about slapping a ton of fried stuff on a plate; there is a portioning-and-refill methodology that they need to master if they want to do it right - hopefully they learn it soon.
802 Regent Street
Madison, WI 53715