St. Louis has barbeque. Chicago has deep-dish pizza. And Madison, thanks in no small part to the hordes of Germanic and Roman Catholic settlers who decided to pitch their tents in the Driftless Area back in the 1800s, has the Friday night fish fry.
Over the centuries, Wisconsin’s restaurants have perfected the art of the fry, taking advantage of expanding fish markets to move well beyond perch and cod.
But as fish fries have proliferated in Madtown and the surrounding area like fans on a food-trend bandwagon—heck, even fast-food chains are fronting them these days—the truly interesting and delicious ones are finding ways to set themselves apart, by focusing on clever or comfortable ambience, investing in a higher grade of fish or paying careful attention to issues like the sustainability of the seafood they’re serving.
Whether you want to take it home, hang with friends at the neighborhood watering hole or bask in the full-on Wisconsin supper club experience, you’re going to get your fish’s worth at any of these great fry spots. Pass the tartar sauce, willya?
Aaron R. Conklin is a Madison-based freelance writer and a science communicator at the UW Aquatic Sciences Center.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 25, 2013 An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the Driftless Area as "glacier-flattened."