Having to wait to get into a restaurant on a Friday evening is nothing new, especially to those who are used to going out and hitting a popular steak house or that hot-spot bistro. But what about that local greasy spoon, or that little hole-in-the-wall that only locals tend to eat at?
When it comes to a Friday night in the Upper Peninsula, if you're not an early bird you better expect a wait ahead of you. That's because it's not just Friday. It's Fryday.
The long line forming outside of the local bar is there for a good reason: the fish fry. From cod to lake trout to perch, walleye and even the occasional tilapia, mahi mahi and pollock, fish fries come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on which restaurant is being dined at, there are typically a couple different options. Some offer up single-serving portions that typically have french fries and coleslaw, while others have mix-and-match to give you a sampling of different fish and many offer an all-you-can-eat option.
And that's not where the choices end, either. Many restaurants have their own beer-batter breading while some offer up tasty spices with flour that the fish is dredged in before being fried. Some restaurants even offer baked or broiled fish for those looking to avoid the deep fried caloric intake.
Aside from the species of fish, or the breading its fried in, all of these Friday night specials are basically the same -- fried fish.
So what's the big draw? Fish fry is nothing new to most of the northern Midwest states, but the availability of it here in the Upper Peninsula is staggering compared to any other region. Throw a stone on a Friday night and you're likely to hit a fish fry. The reason behind the fish being served on a Friday is no doubt religious in nature (Lent, anyone?) but the popularity of it has to be due to the availability and freshness of the fish. You can't drive a half hour without seeing some kind of body of water in the U.P., and just about everyone of them has one species of fish or another. Most Yoopers grew up fishing. Dining on it is just natural.
There are plenty of places to find an outstanding fish fry, too, and you won't have to look very far to land yourself a tasty meal. It's not far from the truth to say that just about every town along the highways that crisscross the Upper Peninsula has a joint serving up a fish fry. That, of course, doesn't mean they're all great, and everyone does have their own opinion about what makes a fry a good one.
In KI Sawyer, a little place called Tailwinds
has quite the fry. You can either mix-and-match, which includes choices of perch, walleye or cod as well as shrimp, scallops or clams, or you can have an all-you-can-eat bonanza of any of the three fish choices. They have a great beer batter that isn't too salty, but is far from bland.
In Marquette, don't miss out on Coco's
. They offer up cod and perch as the fish selection and you can even order extra pieces to add to your plate. And the seasoning? Some of the best in the business as it compliments the fish without making it salty or overpower the fresh-fish taste.
Over in Escanaba, you can't miss if you stop by the Delona Restaurant
for their outstanding fish. Their menu actually has blue gill on it, which is a rare find for restaurant fare despite being one of the tastiest pan fish you can catch.
If you're in the Menominee area, try Dexter's
on for size. It's a bar, but don't let that fool you. They serve up some of the best battered perch this side of the Michigan-Wisconsin border and they don't fool around with portion size. Saddle up to the bar, order a pile and dig in.
And who can ignore the sizzle of the fryer over at the Lock View Restaurant
in Sault Ste. Marie? Amazing views and amazing tasting fish fry. Unfortunately, this particular joint is open only seasonally, so beyond mid-October you have to find a different location, so consider trying the Antler's Restaurant
, which has seen a bit of a makeover over the past few years and features a quality fish fry. You won't be disappointed by either dining experience.
Quite honestly, it's really hard to mess up fried fish. You'll have your favorites, no doubt, but each place typically has their own little twist on the recipe, or the tartar sauce or the side dishes, so don't limit yourself. Try a new place each week. Drop us a line on our Facebook
page and let us know where your favorite fish fry is. We're always interested in trying a new one, too.
There is a definitely upside to living on a peninsula -- you're surrounded by water, and fish. Tasty, tasty fish.
Be it at a bar, a casual restaurant or the local VFW or Elks club, you're going not going to have to try too hard to participate in the Upper Peninsula tradition. Sam Eggleston is the managing editor of the U.P. Second Wave and a full-time freelance writer. He was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached via email.