[Hannah Marlin is a native Californian who traded in her daily dose of avocado for snow boots and an ice scraper. She can often be found riding the Red Line at rush hour and pretending to do the New York Times crossword puzzle while eavesdropping on your conversation.]
There are two things (making snow aside) that the Midwest does very, very well: beer and
cheese. And no place does it better than The Old Fashioned in Madison, Wisconsin. My first time at The Old Fashioned was in August 2011, right after my boyfriend Aaron accepted his job in Madison. The place was magical. Local cheeses, fried fish, craft beers on tap, prime outdoor seating in the shadow of the Capitol building, and all for an abominably low price. On every subsequent visit to Madison, I’ve consistently requested a meal here, usually on Friday nights to take advantage of the Fish Fry special. Half of the time my request is honored; the other half I’m begrudgingly convinced that there are other worthy restaurants in Madison to try. Yes, that is true, but even after an otherwise delicious meal, I find myself craving beer battered fried cheese curds. (Mmmm, even better after a few drinks!)
On this Friday, however, Aaron needed no convincing that The Old Fashioned was the place to go. After my ho-hum, dreary work week in Chicago, he knew that nothing would make me happier than stuffing myself silly with fried perch and New Glarus Spotted Cow.
Before I proceed into the salivating intricacies of our meal, I must explain something
fundamentally Midwestern: the Friday Night Fish Fry. The tradition of the fish fry stems
from the Catholic observance of Lent. During Lent, Catholics must abstain from eating meat on Fridays, but fish is considered fair game. (I’m not sure why fish is OK. Neither Wikipedia nor Catholic.com could give me a good answer, so I’ll go on believing it’s because the alliteration “Fish Fridays” is catchy. NPR offers a nice economic conspiracy theory if you’re really interested.) In Wisconsin in particular, eating fish on Fridays is largely observed year round, offering patrons a weekly dose of fried goodness to usher in the weekend. My favorite fish fry is perch, an adorable little fish that I imagine looks something like this:
Now onto the good stuff…
We compromised on the appetizer, deciding that the usual order of fried cheese curds to
accompany our entrees of fried perch and French fries might not be conducive to our general health, and went ahead with a local cheese spread platter. It did not disappoint. Lavish portions of plum cheddar, herb cream cheese, and Swiss almond quickly threatened to spoil our fried appetites. Luckily the rest of the food came out soon thereafter, and we took breaks from eating only to wash down our palates with beer and smile with pure bliss. Another delicious meal at The Old Fashioned under my (“let’s try a bigger notch…”) belt.