Fish Type: Cod Price: $13.00
Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.
|Fish Score: Excellent|
Potato Score: Excellent
Tartar Score: Good
Bread Score: Good
Miscellaneous Score: Good
Comment: I've been a huge fan of the Hooterville Inn ever since I first tasted their lip-smacking beer batter. There is something extra special about this recipe that makes it stand out from any I've had before. It's definitely a "secret sauce" situation and one that they've been wise to keep to themselves. The only thing they divulge is that Spotted Cow is involved somewhere in the process, but that is undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, Hooterville Inn used to be Aunt Mary's Hooterville Inn and while I have no idea what the ownership situation is currently, things have definitely changed over the last year or so. They have a new website, new menu, and even a new sign out front, all which make no mention of one "Aunt Mary." It seems that these updates extend all the way to the staff as the bartenders and cooks aren't the same faces I recall seeing on my first few visits to Blue Mounds. Regardless, everyone is still friendly, and the recipe for that benevolent batter remains in tact, although the execution has slipped to some extent.
This Friday we had a HUGE group that wanted to get together and since some were coming from the Dubuque area and some from the Madison area Hooterville seemed like the perfect halfway point. We made a reservation for 6:00 (Hooterville actually takes them on Fridays) and everyone eventually trickled in by 6:30 or so. We essentially had the whole back room to ourselves and a lot of attention from the lone waitress. With the evolution in style has come a jump in price, and while it's a small skip it's still noticeable. The 3-piece cod is up to $13 from $11 and they'll still let you tack on additional pieces for a couple bucks a piece. Now, the kitchen at the Inn is TINY so getting flooded with 12 orders from a single group all at once has to be daunting, but they did a fairly remarkable job chaining them all together and ensuring that we all had food in front of us at the same time.
Any conversation about the quality of the HI FF starts and ends with the fish so lets begin there. As per usual the batter had a dark golden color and a smoky/creamy flavor (this didn't deviate from the norm and we hope it never will). When it's done right, it's paper thin and like nothing you've ever seen before; but like any batter, if left too thick it can become overwhelming. Historically, the batter has been nice and thin on every piece. This was always accomplished by letting the excess drip thoroughly between the battering and frying stages (I know, I sat right next to the fryer a couple times and watched it happen). I'm not sure if the haste to produce 12 orders in succession caused this step to be missed or just expedited, but what I can be sure of is that the coating was much thicker than normal. I also noticed a fair amount of batter "cling-ons" as I looked around the table - you know those areas where the batter slips away from the the meat and solidifies into a frizzly crispy chunk but remains attached to the fish? Those. For the most part the cod itself was pure and moist although one in our party claimed theirs was dry. Out of my five pieces (I added a couple extra with the intent on taking them home) three were spot on, while two had a lot of the clingers...none were "dried out" in the slightest though. I know that all may sound disparaging, but overall the flavor was still excellent, the execution was just a bit off.
Whereas attempting to prep and fry upwards of 30 pieces of cod all all at once may have overwhelmed the small frying station, the flat top had no problem with the six or so orders of hash browns with cheese and onion that came its way. The side dish looked pristine and had the slick sensation we've come to know and love. The edges were crisp, the interiors were soft and the cheese was melt-a-rific. Reports around the table also gave high marks to the signature reds, as well as the grilled shrimp.
As a Fish Fry fiend I put a lot of stock in tartar since I think it can do more to bolster a mediocre Fish Fry than any other factor. For that reason, I take my tartar very seriously and appreciate places that go above and beyond with what many consider a throw away category. The Hooter sauce is a bold blend that comes in a big old squeeze bottle that always keeps me coming back for more. The creamy sauce pairs so well with the rich beer batter that it seemingly activates a totally different group of flavor receptors. Not sweet, not salty, but savory...For me pairing this batter with this sauce is the true definition of umami.
While bread is a big deal to me, it's clearly fallen totally out of favor in 2017. Tons of the pumpernickel rye went uneaten (I filled a take out with everyone's leftovers), but I was happy as a clam to scoop the creamy and tangy slaw all over those dark brown planks. The addition of bread (and booze) is also what makes a Fish Fry a Fish Fry; it serves to differentiate the true Wisconsin classic from the more ubiquitous (and more boring) fish-n-chips. So the day bread totally disappears from your Friday Fish will indeed be a dark day in the Badger State.
As a wise man once said "Oh, the times they are a-changin'," and we couldn't help but notice the evolution on this trip to Blue Mounds. While everything was still good, I definitely can't make the "Best of" argument that has come so readily when talking about Hooterville. I think some of this can be chalked up to the fact we tried to cram a square peg in round hole - I mean, taking 12 people to a small bar is probably too much to ask of anyone - but things were definitely a little off in general. Overall, we still highly recommend this Fish Fry although I think we'll stick with parties of four or so from here on out.
10992 Division Street
Blue Mounds, WI 53517