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Wisconsin's Friday Night Fish Fry Season Heats Up

Arielle Vaccaro

The fish fry business will be booming for the next seven weeks, during the Christian season of Lent. Restaurants have stocked up on food and workers.

Friday night fish fries have long been a Wisconsin tradition - it grew out of a religious ban on eating meat that day. During Lent, even more people return to the tradition.

Marshall Shultz, a cook at Clifford’s Supper Club in Hales Corners, spent quite a few hours this week dunking palm-sized filets into buttermilk and then into a tub of flour and seasoned salt. After they're coated, he tosses them into a fryer. "(They each) have to  cook about four to five minutes. We're going to go through a lot. It's going to be very busy," Shultz says. He estimates Clifford’s sells 40 percent more fish during Lent.

Across town, at Lakefront Brewery, Andrew Robertson admits he hasn’t heard of regular Friday night fish fries. He’s visiting from Montreal. "I didn't know it was a big tradition really, but it would be cool to have that around," Robertson says. However, his his father Tom does live in Milwaukee and says he takes part in the ritual. "I enjoy having the environment of a fish fry. There's a lot of people having a really good time and, of course, marrying it with one of these beer garden-style situations, it's a lot of fun," Tom says.

In the kitchen, head Chef Kristen Walker is cracking eggs into a massive tub, starting to make hundreds of potato pancakes for Friday night serving. Potato pancakes are also part of the Friday night fare, as are fries and coleslaw.

Credit Arielle Vaccaro
The start of potato pancakes - to accompany fish, at Lakefront Brewery.

Tom Miller, general manager at Serb Hall, can tick off big numbers of all the extra fish fry foods it buys and serves during Lent. He says he's even developed an assembly-line of workers so that "all they're doing is doing that function of either breading fish or making coleslaw or dropping fish in the fryers, so they can supply the 18 waitresses we'll have out on the floor on a Friday during Lent," Miller says. Usually, Serb Hall uses 10 servers on Fridays.

Miller says he has arranged for Serb Hall's fish supplier to bring in bigger shipments throughout Lent. Not only will it bring in more food, but also lines of customers. They are sometimes blocks-long, outside Serb Hall’s drive-thru.