Getting Fat in Wisconsin
I warned you last time that you get fat in Wisconsin because even something as seemingly healthy as spinach-feta pie comes with a little extra buttah, but I did not warn you of some of those more insidious uses of butter. Surely, to prop up the prices, support the family farmer, Wisconsinites make sure that everything is buttered. I told you that the Manitowoc made brat and Little Penny at Penguin were nice. I did not reveal the secret that made them nicer. Butter. Both sammys get served on a buttered Wisconsin “semmel” roll. I love the way the semmel is dressed for the brat brown mildly spicy mustard on the bottom, buttered on top. It is not just your sandwiches that come buttered. Nearly all the bread in Wisconsin comes buttered for you, relieving the stress of such physical activity (actually relieving the stress of dealing with often cold butter, no?). At Penguin Drive-In, the Chowhoundintas got the chicken finger deal; which included, buttered bread slices. All the time, our meals came with buttered bread. At the end of the line at the Washington Island Fly-In Lion’s Club annual fish boil (see below), after getting our fish, potatoes, onions doused with melted butter, we were handed tiny slices of cocktail rye, slathered, of course, in butter. KK Fiske’s house made bread underneath the butter was so good; I had no choice but to consume butter. I am this week, much fatter than last.
You get fat in Wisconsin because you visit a fish fry on Friday. We did. A tough call. Washington Island has a surprisingly number of good restaurants. What makes eating fish on Washington Island especially good is that the fish on your plate was in the water not that long ago. Boats bring in daily catches of perch, whitefish and burbot, more commonly called lawyers. OK, perch may not be there every day, but KK Fiske offers nuggets of fried lawyers daily. This is a fish that purportedly cannot last in the market more than 2 days, nor can it be effectively frozen, and the rest of the nation’s loss is Washington Island’s gain. Since we ate at KK Fiske already and Findlay’s Friday fish fry featured nothing but fish (and the kidz sadly do not want to eat fish), we decided to try Carly’s Cellar. Fine, fine choice. Carly’s expertly deep fried the perch, offering it up with sweet cole slaw and hash browns. I never reported on my last Friday fish fry in Wisconsin, at Historic Turner Hall, in the gentrified in a good way, 3rd Street area of Milwaukee. Turner Hall perch cannot reach the sweetness of Washington Island perch, but the highly preserved 19th century hall makes this a Friday fish fry worth trying.
Not all fish in Wisconsin comes fried. They broil whitefish all the time. Granted, at the Sister Bay Bowl (supper club) they top broiled whitefish with yummy crunchy fried onion bits (which combine nicely with the paprika fish coating). Broiled whitefish in Illinois seems like an afterthought, something old Jewish couples still order for some long forgotten reason. It is not a fish with young fans. Today’s Chicago Tribune food section notes that at Shaw’s Crabhouse, whitefish does not sell nearly as well as Atlantic salmon. While I doubt this is explains it, but if you eat broiled whitefish in Wisconsin, you get spoiled to other broiled whitefish. At Sailor’s Pub on the southern harbor on Washington Island, the broiled whitefish is as thick and plump as a swordfish steak. You might stay thin(er) with this fish, but Sailor’s Pub serves some pretty good crinkle-cut fries with the broiled fish.
Boiled fish seems safely dietetic, but who eats boiled fish plain. Everyone sez that Door County fish boils are excuses to drink in vast quantities of melted butter. At the LTH 1000 member gala, a few people talked down the fish boil. A New England clam bake without the benefit of clams or lobster they said. Well, let me tell you. I happen to like fresh lake whitefish better than clams (a rather over-rated foodstuff in my opinion). And I think the fish boil was unfairly maligned, at least the fish boils we tried. They, the mythic they, also say that fish boils are strictly for tourists. I think not. KK Fiske on Washington Island boils fish a few times each week. I would not call this place touristy at all. I also noted at some point, that we had the VERY good fortune of being on Washington Island the week of its annual Island fish boil held at the Island airport (nothing more than a big patch of mowed lawn with pylons delineating the runway). A lot of people gathered under big tents for fish, potatoes, sweet onions (the boil really brings out the sweetness in the onions), potatoes, cole slaw, and assorted cakes baked by the moms of Washington Island.
You know what fish boil reminded me of? Don’t laugh…Texas BBQ. Surely they differ in approach. One is cooked with extreme violence, water so hot it explodes in famous flames, the other cooked low and slow, some Texas brisket taking over a day to finish. Yet, both products are elemental yet complex in flavor. Each method of cooking makes the product exactly right, and the butter enhances just right as BBQ sauce enhances Q. Of course, watch out for bones with the fish boil.
You get fat in Wisconsin because you eat dessert. The Washington Island annual fish boil ended with cake, a surprise. Mostly you eat pie or pie-ish things. KK Fiske had a cherry crisp and Carly’s Cellar had cherry-raspberry pie baked, so we were told, a few hours earlier. On the way home on 42, we stopped at Sweetie Pies, which sells whole fruit pies, pie slices and mid-sized “cutie pies.” All the pies featured butter-shortening crusts. You get fat in Wisconsin because if you skip the pie, you stop for frozen custard.
Several months ago, we tried Gilley’s and Leon’s in Milwaukee. Gilley’s was good, a little too much like softserv. Leon’s was greatly dense. Now, it does not have to be frozen custard. Wilson’s has been serving large scoop ice cream in Ephraim for almost 100 years. We wanted to try, but our motel proprietor in Sister Bay suggested Not Licked Yet custard in Fish Creek as better. We pulled into Not Licked Yet’s troll guarded lot at a bit after 10:30 on a Sunday morning just as Al Johnson’s Swedish pancakes were moving past our gullets. Custard would make a nice mid-morning snack. We thought we heard them say 11 as the opening time, and we waited, feeding ducks. When it turned out that it was 11:30, we decided to move on to lunch. After lunch we custarded at the closer to where we then were, Malibu Moo’s. Malibu Moo’s does the “granite griddle”, their version of the cold stone. Cutesy but effective as I really enjoyed the plain vanilla custard with Door County tart cherries. The night before we tried Door County Ice Cream Factory, Door County cherry, cherry ice cream. Another reason why I got fat in Wisconsin, although as good as this cherry ice cream was, I preferred the interplay of plain custard against plump cherries compared to cherry ice cream.
Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of the year dieting, making room to get fat again on Washington Island, in Door County, and all over Wisconsin. There is the Norwegian restaurant to try in Sister Bay, supper clubs to compare. Carly’s Cellar had the requisite relish tray with dill dip but Sister Bay Bowl did not. What is THE supper club? I will make it sooner than later to Charcoal Inn and pronounce my judgment on Sheboygan brats vs. Manitowoc brats. I’ll get to Not Licked Yet when it is open and try Wilson’s fer sure. I like getting fat in Wisconsin.