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Fish Type: Smelt     Price: $9.50

Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.

Fish Score: Good
Potato Score: Good
Tartar Score: Good
Bread Score: Fair
Miscellaneous Score: Good

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Comment: Pooley’s is one of the most polarizing bars in town. People either seem to love their sports memorabilia laden walls or loathe warehouse-like feel of the vast space. The kitchen also seems contentious as some love the simple bar fare, while others write it off as low quality and slapdash. I fall somewhere in the middle, and think the food (at least the Fish Fry) is reasonably tasty, and the bar itself is interesting. Of course, as a sports fan that is to be expected.

As recently as November 2013 Pooley’s kitchen was under the supervision of Diggity’s – a hotdog specialty shop that had a commendable Fish Fry. Since then a newcomer has commandeered the ship, in the form of Kipp’s Kitchen. Kipp’s brought a whole new menu to Pooley’s, along with a whole new crop of Friday Fish specials including: Cod (beer soaked), Catfish (also beer soaked), Walleye (baked or fried), Tilapia (baked or fried), and a “House Specialty” Smelt (1/2 lb or full lb). Since I was hungry, and you don’t find it everywhere, I manned up and went for the full pound of smelt which comes with a side of “Sidewinder fries”.

Since I beat the lunch rush by 15 minutes my order hit the kitchen without delay and the fish came out quickly. The smelt was certainly abundant, but didn’t look like a full pound to me. There were probably 15 or so of the petite fish which varied slightly in size. They featured a substantial breading that really covered up the fishy flavor of the smelt, but still tasted good. It was almost exactly like the smelt at 5100 in McFarland, which is passable, but not quite as enticing as some of the other smelt in the area.

The sidewinder fries that slithered alongside the smelt were an interesting lot to say the least. They were almost cottage fry-style, and were very tasty although non-uniform. There were thick chunks sprinkled in with thin chunks, dotted with a few over-fried nubs. By and large they were tasty and brought a welcomed balance to the basket.

A thick and chunky tartar rode shotgun and clung to the smelt with herculean force. It had just the right consistency, and a nice pop, but was a little heavy on the dill pickle for my taste.

A rye roll was the bread of choice, and was very dense but also very chewy. While I normally appreciate rye, this number was a little over the top and the last bite was so crusty that it couldn’t even be eaten. It was a real gnawer.

Last on the list was some house-made slaw that was creamy throughout but overwhelmed by a green pepper essence.

While people either seem to love or hate Pooley’s I don’t find it to be such and all or nothing affair. The cod at Diggity’s was good, and the smelt at Kipp’s is just fine too. Overall, we recommend this Fish Fry, and will probably be back to try the walleye, cod, or catfish one of these days. This is a pool that’s big enough for everyone.
5441 High Crossing Boulevard
Madison, WI 53718

(608) 242-1888