Fish Type: Bluegill Price: $17.00
Overall, I would highly recommend this Fish Fry.
|Fish Score: Excellent|
Potato Score: Excellent
Tartar Score: Good
Bread Score: Poor
Miscellaneous Score: Excellent
Comment: We've gone back to Mint Mark up a couple times recently - once during the Hacineda Beer Co. tap takeover before the Great Taste of the Midwest, and again a couple months later on a random Friday. Both visits were stellar and basically carbon copies of each other so we'll just roll both reviews into one. That's just smart, kinda like this Fish Fry.
The brains behind the MM FF is Chef Sean Pharr of Instagram fame...I kid, he is well known, but for his culinary prowess not his Instagram feed (although dude is on there a ton). His well-reasoned Fry sits at a princely $17, but is worth every stinking one of those 1700 pennies in our opinion. For starters he makes a sage choice and keeps it simple - it's bluegill or nothing here, folk, but this bluegill is like nothing you've seen before. Knowing that a lot of consumers are turned off by the overtly fishy flavors of the sunfish, the chef drummed up a Hamm's-based beer batter than compliments it without fully overshadowing it (fwiw Door County Brewing Clawhammer Pils filled in during the tap takeover but didn't really alter the flavor of the batter whatsoever). Despite its barley-born nature, the batter remains nice and light to the point were you can still see through it. As it exits the fryer, glistening in delight, the fillets are sprinkled with a little sea salt, which enables it to stick to the surface and adds a kick the moment it hits your tongue.
Being the smart man he is, the chef doles out hand-cut fries with his fish and doesn't have any other option available. This is a wise decision as it basically forces people to try them and see what a real French fry is supposed to be like. We've become so accustomed to freezer-to-fryer fries that we (as a society) have basically forgotten just how alluring a good old French fry can actually be when it's done right. I ate every single crumb on both occasions and could easily have put down twice as many.
If there is one area where this Fish Fry sorta misses the mark for me it's the tartar, but even so, it' better than what many places are thinking. The idea here is waste not want not, and the teeny bit of tartar, while smooth and fresh, can only be conservatively applied if it is to last throughout the five fillets. I for one, like a lot of tartar, and while the heavily-seasoned fish doesn't need the sauce, I feel like the bites I had with it were a little more astute.
A traditional Fish Fry features rye bread and the thoughtful crew at Mint Mark clearly know the drill (although I'll point out that on our October visit it was forgotten and I was too far into things to ask about it by the time I realized - not a huge loss but certainly worth noting). I'd also say they'd be wise to kick up the zip on the house-made slaw, although as it stands it is balanced and most people probably like it just the way it is.
Friday Fish Fry isn't just about All You Can Eat and getting your moneys worth. Sure that can be part of it, but once you've been there and done that there are still other options at places like Mint Mark. A Fish Fry can be high quality, smartly sourced, well-executed, and still be just as (if not more), satisfying than leaving stuff to the gills. Overall, we highly recommend this Fish Fry and applaud the shrewd decisions of the chef. He's leaving his mark on the Madison Fish Fry scene that's for sure.
And by the way, Hacienda's beers are brilliant. Check them out if you get a chance.
1929 Winnebago Street
Madison, WI 53704