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Fish Type: Cod     Price: $16.00

Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.

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

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Comment: Fish Fry is #1 in our book, and when the day of the week is Friday there really is no other option. This goes not only for the places that specialize in The Fry, like Toby’s, but also those that don’t, like Smoky’s Club. Smoky’s is a Madison institution, and their famous steaks have graced University Avenue for lo these many years. While MFF has never been lucky enough to enjoy a steak at the celebrated Club, we recently had the opportunity to give their Friday Fish Fry a shot.

Smoky’s actually takes reservations on Friday, and when I arrived at our stated time of 7:30 I found my lovely wife, and a Spotted Cow, waiting for me at the bar. We let one of the “well-seasoned” hostesses know we were both there and they showed us a table immediately. Our equally “well-seasoned” waitress came over a few minutes later and took our orders. I’m sure we looked like quite a pair, a Fish Fry nut, and a vegetarian eating at a place that specializes in steaks, but there we were. She sped off (as fast as a 70ish year old waitress can speed) to put in our orders, and came back with some bread and Smoky’s take on the relish tray (a tub of ice with some carrots, green onion, celery and radishes).

Smoky’s isn’t exactly giving their Fish Fry away ($16), but there are a few additional perks, like the relish tray, that come with the price hike. As you might expect from a place that specializes in steak, the bread basket was very good. It was highlighted by the soft, warm, sesame topped rolls, while the crispy, mini garlic toasts were not far behind. The Fish Fry special at Smoky’s also comes with a side salad as well as a choice of soup or tomato juice (I know, right. Tomato juice?) Anyway, I went for the soup and it was pretty good, although not really memorable, while the salad was fresh, but pretty iceberg-y.

A couple scalding hot plates appeared about 10 minutes later and our main course was served. My hot dish was the perfect home for the three steaming cod cubes it carried. Try as I might, the fish was simply too hot to handle, and I had no choice but to break down and use utensils. The fish itself was delicate and flaky, and sported an equally flaky batter with some serious spice. Even with its spicy kick, the thin batter couldn’t quite hold up to the Avenue-esque cuts of cod and the fish dominated the flavor. Due to the fact that the tartar portion was less than adequate I had a couple bites at the end that were sans-fish, and sans-batter. These few morsels certainly could have been better, although I’m not complaining. Overall, the fish was delish.

Speaking of the tartar, it was actually very good, although unequally apportioned. The homemade combo of mayo and relish produced a classic sauce which improved the bites of fish it did grace. The crinkle cut fries on the other hand were very average, and much less than I was hoping for. I was half expecting a fancier steak fry cut, but what I got was the run of the mill, standard Fish Fry fare. Oh well, win some, lose some.

As we polished off our fish and veggie lasagna we realized that we had barely even settled in and were already ready to go. This can be attributed to the fact that the staff at Smoky’s has simply been there, and done that. They are almost curt, but at the same time incredibly professional. After having a few “I don’t give a crap” waiters you come to appreciate their dedication, especially when it comes to expediting a Fish Fry. All told, we were in and out of Smoky’s in around an hour, which is nothing to scoff at on a Friday night in Wisconsin.

Overall, this is an easy Fish Fry to recommend, and I would probably push it into the highly recommended strata if not for the hefty price tag. Sure, there are a lot of little add-ons but even then the price is not quite justified. Look at Toby’s, similar add-ons (plus a dessert), similar portion size, and they only charge $9 for their cod. Luckily for Smoky’s the atmosphere is pretty cool (much less pretentious than I anticipated), and the food is high quality, so I can still give them the MFF seal of approval. If they dropped the price a few bucks I would gladly move them up, but based on the rest of the menu ($23 for walleye), I’m guessing that isn’t going to happen any time soon. There is no doubt, this is a good Fish Fry; just make sure you don’t forget your wallet at home.
3005 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53705

(608) 233-2120