The Friday night fish fry: A beloved Lenten custom that transcends its Catholic roots. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, all-you-can-eat feasts are common in diners, taverns and supper clubs. For many people, it’s about the tradition and a favorite haunt as much as it’s about the fish. When I was growing up, my family often went to the Blue Max on Fish Lake. I don’t recall what I ate as much as the shared experience, gathering at the end of the week with the perfect excuse to eat out.
Today marks the start of Lent. But you don’t need to be Catholic for this, and most restaurants host their Friday fries all year long. No matter your reason, these three restaurants are good options. Two of them are within walking distance of each other, so if one is packed, head to the other, as we did one night. Regardless, plan on your finest athleisure-wear and get the Tums out of the medicine cabinet.
The Breeze Inn
5168 Jean Duluth Road
If you’re into fish fries, you probably already know about the Breeze Inn, which has earned a pretty large following. It’s easy to see why. The $10.99 price for its all-you-can-eat flaky Alaskan pollock is right, and the fact that the fish is lightly hand-battered is a sure way to rise above the masses. Hoops Brewing Hefeweizen is the beer of choice for that batter, which is sublime. As is the house-made tartar sauce, given a nice hit of acid with diced pickle and lemon juice.
It’s hard to imagine needing more than the five pieces you get the first time around, but Kate Waggoner, who has owned the roadside bar and grill for eight years with her husband, Shaun, says she has seen nine to 10 rounds at two pieces a refill.
It gets busier during the Lenten season, she said, but the grill is popular with local residents who don’t linger when they see a line at the door.
“They’ll even invite you to sit with them,” Waggoner said.
The capable serving crew cleans tables and tends to guests with lightning speed, which makes up for time standing at the door. Also, excellent people watching, and a nice rural location nestled amongst stands of birch trees. A special Lenten menu kicks off this week.
2202 Mountain Shadow Dr.
If walleye is your game, then Bridgeman’s should be on your list. It’s also one of the few that offers its fish fry on Wednesdays, too. The $14.99 price includes two side choices, and the array of options allows you to venture from the standard coleslaw and fries. A side salad and chicken noodle soup were a good respite from the typical. (Apple slices and caramel sauce are among the choices.) The almost tempura-like batter is a delicate envelope for the mild fish, which probably helps diners revel in the all-you-can-eat promise following the initial two pieces. The tartar sauce is too sweet, but the quality fish makes up for it. And ice cream for dessert!
3502 W. Tischer Rd.
Billy’s: A roaring fire in the center of the room, “Tuesday’s Gone” welcoming you into the darkened bar, and a mess of snowmobiles in the parking lot on a wintry Friday night. I guess I didn’t care about the fish fry itself — Billy’s is just a comfy place to be. However, the $11.95 all-you-can-eat cod is decent. A heavier batter, but certainly a tender enough fish on the inside. Friendly service and patrons and even a Little Free Library round it out. Quintessential rural Duluth in the very best way.
Freelance writer Jana Hollingsworth is a Twin Ports native and former News Tribune reporter. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.