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Watch: The Friday Fish Fry Is a Special Milwaukee Tradition

‘Open Road’ visits a local favorite with Bill Addison

The ways that food plays a role in faith — in the religious or spiritual sense — is an abiding interest of mine. When I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the first time, sure, I made plans to eat at some of the city’s modern American restaurants, but I was particularly excited about taking part in the Friday fish fry tradition.

The story goes that the tradition began in the 1880s as Milwaukee was the world’s largest population of Catholic Germans, for whom eating flesh meat on Fridays was forbidden. Then the local breweries arrived, and soon after Prohibition, so breweries would entice patrons with fried fish when beer wasn’t being poured.

To plunge in to the city’s fish fry scene, I researched online and asked locals for suggestions, and on a warm Friday I started at noon and made it to seven places serving the meal. My stops included a bar, a pub, an Italian-Continental restaurant, a German institution, a seafood specialist, and a beer hall. But my hands-down favorite stop came as a recommendation from Madison, Wisconsin food writer Kyle Nabilcy. It’s served at a basement restaurant of an American Legion outpost, and everything I’d hoped to experience in a Milwaukee fish fry.

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