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Fish Type: Ocean Perch     Price: $9.25

Overall, I would barely recommend this Fish Fry.

Fish Score: Good
Potato Score: Good
Tartar Score: Excellent
Bread Score: Good
Miscellaneous Score: Good

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Comment: Times are tough. The cost of fish is up, but paychecks are not. People still want their Fish Fry, but simply can’t pay more for it. Establishments want to give them that fish, but certainly can’t do it at a loss. What’s one to do? In the case of Nick’s you pull a fast one… well, maybe not a fast one per se, but you make a subtle switch and hope no one notices it. We did…

We have been fans of Nick’s for some time now and thought their lake perch special was one a heck of a deal – coming in under 10 bucks. It had been a while since our last visit to the State Street mainstay, and since that time something has changed (although you won’t hear Nick’s bragging about it). Apparently, the price of the lake perch has shot through the roof (according to a chef friend of mine) and rather than take the risk of raising their price to the necessary $12 or so to keep the lake lovers happy, Nick’s has chosen to jump ship and take a chance with the ocean option. However, you won’t see the term “Ocean” advertised anywhere – it is now simply billed as: Perch - $9.25. Most people don’t notice the change, I assume.

While the two distinct fish varieties share the name “perch” that is about where the similarities end. They taste dramatically different, have different textures, and even smell different when fried. While OP is fine if done right, it rarely, if ever, holds a candle to its freshwater brethren; in fact, even bad lake perch is often better than good ocean perch. In short, OP is no LP.

Before the fish Nick’s treats you to their homemade Greek soup, sesame seed rolls, and stank-tacular slaw. The soup was good, kind of milky-looking with a little bit of a sour aftertaste. Like the hamburger bun turned roll, it was inoffensive and a nice precursor to the upcoming plate of fried delights. The coleslaw on the other hand was offensive to each and every sense, but in a way that was oh-so-good. This stuff is a knock-down drag-out body-slammer, with a pungent vinegar blast that is not for the faint of heart (or of sensitive taste bud). While I had no trouble crushing the whole cup, the creamy coleslaw lovers at the table couldn’t handle to potent punch, and quickly pushed it aside. Nick’s slaw is clearly not for everyone.

The fish came quickly thereafter and was hot as can be. After the soup, rolls, and slaw beforehand all that was left for the finale were three big pieces of fish, a small side plate of fries, and cup of tartar. While I would still much prefer the lake perch of yesteryear, the ocean perch was really good. The fillets were thick and meaty, without being overly fishy tasting. They sported a light and crumbly breading that really stood up well to the perch without overwhelming it.

Following the fish was a Spartan portion of beer battered fries which were delicious and crispy. The perfectly cooked potatoes were simply superb with the only downfall being their scant numbers. Nick’s tartar was, and always has been, right on the money. It is the consummate sauce that is thick and creamy, just as it was meant to be.

What can you say? Nick’s is a cool place, and must be doing something right to be where they have been for all these years. Clearly they have a formula which involves keeping everything in moderation, especially prices. While I can’t say I blame them, and they actually pulled off the ocean perch transition pretty well, I would still rather pay a little more for the real deal. Overall, we still recommend the perch Fish Fry at Nick’s, but can’t help but feel a little something has been lost.
226 State Street
Madison, WI 53703

(608) 255-5450