Since I grew up in Minnesota, went to school in Wisconsin and have worked in Michigan, Iowa and Illinois, believe me when I say I've consumed my share of relish trays, walleye and coleslaw.
But a Lincolnwood restaurant's fish fry caught my attention this year due in part to their atmosphere, as well as their commitment to using great ingredients.
This time of year, in the midst of Lent, fish is everywhere. On Fridays, it plays a starring role on the menu at L.Woods Tap and Pine Lodge in Lincolnwood, where everyone, it seems, has a connection to the ritual of the Friday Night Fish Fry.
"It's something that people they remember from; whether it's their childhood, from where they went to school, wherever it might be they remember a fish fry somewhere," said Terry Lawler, Manager of L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge.
But unlike Wisconsin V-F-W lodges, which might rely on dubious sources, L.Woods makes sure its ingredients are top-notch.
"We're able to deal with the best purveyors, we're able to get the best fish in?fresh daily and you know the best ingredients that we're able to prepare it with," Lawler said.
They begin with fresh perch fillets, dunking them into a mixture of eggs and Goose Island beer, then dredging them through Japanese bread crumbs, called panko. This gives the fish a crispier exterior. The fish is fried for just a couple of minutes; meanwhile, french fries have been seasoned with vinegar and salt, tossed in a bowl. The fish is plated over the fries, and it's served with fresh lemon, tartar sauce and some creamy coleslaw. A tall, cold beer provides a sharp contrast to the crispy-fried fillets.
Lawler says one of the keys to the restaurant's success is keeping Midwestern traditions like this one alive.
"Friday fish fry is part of their social and cultural history. They get together, they come together as a neighborhood, and that's what we like to do here; that's what we're about," said Lawler.
In addition to perch, L.Woods also uses cod on occasion and while the fish frys are big deals on Fridays, they do offer the dish throughout the year.
L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge
7110 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincolnwood