Two Rivers, Wis.
Knife River, Minn.
St. Paul, Minn.
By Mary Bergin, Special to Tribune Newspapers
We crave a good Friday fish fry in the upper Midwest but sometimes hunger for something beyond that weekly fix.
Having a fixation with fish means:
Ordering a pint of Wall-IPA and leaving with a Floppin' Crappie T-shirt at Northwoods Brewpub in Eau Claire, Wis.
Catching a ride from The Landing 615, near Guttenberg, Iowa, to fish from a barge on the Mississippi River. Add lodging in a revamped 1858 stone warehouse on the riverfront.
Sniffing out smoked salmon, chubs, trout or whitefish from Thill's Fish House, Marquette, Mich.; Susie Q Fish Market, Two Rivers, Wis.; Russ Kendall's Smoke House, Knife River, Minn.; Calumet Fisheries, Chicago; or one of the Great Lakes' other, increasingly rare commercial fish markets.
Invasive species, mercury levels and overfishing have taken a toll on Great Lakes commercial fishing, but the following unusual Midwest destinations offer other ways to lure lovers of locally harvested fish:
Trout House, Palmyra, Wis.: The freshest catch of the day at this rural restaurant is whatever rainbow takes the bait on your line. A new Hook & Cook option at Rushing Waters Fisheries, inside Kettle Moraine State Forest, lets kids and adults fish for dinner without a fishing license.
There is no catch-and-release option, so expect to keep (and pay for) whatever is hooked. Do this early enough in the day, and the fishery's restaurant chefs can clean and pan-sear the fillets, then add potato pancakes, applesauce, veggies and rye bread to round out the meal.
Rainbow trout live in cold, spring-fed water on this 80-acre farm, 107 miles northwest of Chicago. Fish is sold in 5-pound bags, too, and the restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Trout House menus are not limited to trout: There is room for burgers, salads, steaks, pasta and traditional breakfast fare. Big pots of cod, lobster or shrimp are boiled Saturday nights. Friday night is the busiest time because, as co-owner Peter Fritsch observed, "No one else is raising fish for its fish fry."
He said at least four trout fish fries are sold for every one order of cod. Even the basics — beer-batter coating and tartar sauce — come from in-house recipes.
Other chef specialties include smoked-trout spread, smoked-trout potato salad, pan-fried trout amandine and trout grenobloise, pesto pasta with trout, trout with hollandaise, a smoked-trout Cobb wrap and a smoked-trout breakfast scramble.
The Tavern on Grand, St. Paul, Minn.: Founder David Wildmo proclaimed that no other U.S. restaurant serves more walleye, the Minnesota state fish, than this down-home restaurant with Northwoods cabin decor, sandwiched among the many trendy bistros and boutiques of the city's Grand Avenue.
An estimated 2,000 pounds per week go out fried, blackened, grilled, in ceviche, in tacos, pierced on sticks, sauteed as flaky cakes and slipped into toasted sandwiches.
The regulars add tartar sauce that is spiked with jalapeno peppers or use a bearnaise sauce for dipping. The fish came from Minnesota anglers until the commercial fishing of walleye was banned, so now it's brought in from Canada.
Look for the neon walleye in the restaurant's front window and the portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev in a back hallway. (He ate there in 1990.) Notice how the former Soviet leader's birthmark was adjusted to resemble the state of Minnesota.
Fuller's North Branch Outing Club, Grayling, Mich.: After this fly-fishing lodge opened in 1916, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were among the guests eager to get acquainted with fish in the north branch of the Au Sable River. ("Grayling" is the name of an indigenous trout that today is extinct in Michigan.)
The river remains a hot spot for brook and brown trout. It continues to attract serious anglers, and the bed-and-breakfast is a one-stop destination because owner Judy Fuller provides fishing guides, a fly shop and 12 rooms for overnight lodging.
The B&B, open April through November (plus by request), is 150 feet from the river and has 400 feet of river frontage. It is 330 miles northeast of Chicago. About 25 miles northeast of the B&B is the little Lovells Township Historical Society Fly-Fishing Museum (lovellsmuseum.com), whose seasonal hours coincide with trout season (which ends Sept. 30). The log cabin is the big attraction in a community whose population is under 600.
Ohio Fish and Shrimp Festival, Urbana, Ohio: Shrimp raised by Freshwater Farms of Ohio is the star in this annual gathering during the third weekend of September (Sept. 19-21 this year), about 300 miles southeast of Chicago. The state's biggest indoor hatchery also raises freshwater fish: rainbow trout, largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, catfish and more.
On the fest menu in 2013: shrimp cocktails, grilled trout and citrus-flavored tilapia, served with sides of orzo pasta or edamame salads. Add music, an arts and crafts fair, sturgeon petting, trout feeding and contests to peel and eat shrimp. For kids: a contest to color a festival illustration.
The farm's products are for sale all year at an on-site retail store (closed Sundays), but freshly harvested shrimp are sold only during the festival week.
World Championship Musky Classic, Winchester, Wis. (wcmuskyclassic.com): This year's competition is next weekend in Vilas County. Last year it drew almost 700 anglers from 16 states, most competing in teams. Of the 58 musky caught, 39 were released back into the water.
The contest happens every year in Vilas County because few places on Earth have a higher concentration of freshwater lakes (at least 1,300, plus 73 rivers and streams) in this fishing heaven about 360 miles north of Chicago.
Though the muskellunge, as it's formally known, has been Wisconsin's state fish since 1955, don't expect it to show up on restaurant menus. Why? It's more of a trophy fish, heavy and hard to catch (the world record is 69 pounds, 11 ounces).
Minimum length for a legal catch is 40 inches on most of the state's waterways, and the limit for these fighting fish is one.
If you go
Northwoods Brewpub in Eau Claire, Wis., 715-552-0510, northwoodsbrewpub.com
The Landing 615, near Guttenberg, Iowa, 563-252-1615, thelanding615.com
Thill's Fish House, Marquette, Mich., 906-226-9851, travelmarquettemichigan.com
Susie Q Fish Market, Two Rivers, Wis., 920-793-5240, susieqfishmarket.com
Russ Kendall's Smoke House, Knife River, Minn., 218-834-5995, facebook.com/russkendalls
Calumet Fisheries, Chicago, 773-933-9855, calumetfisheries.com
Rushing Waters Fisheries, Palmyra, Wis., 262-495-2089, rushingwaters.net
Tavern on Grand, St. Paul, Minn., 651-228-9030, tavernongrand.com
Fuller's North Branch Outing Club, Grayling, Mich., 989-348-7951, fullersnboc.com
Freshwater Farms of Ohio, Urbana, Ohio; 937-652-3701, fwfarms.com