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Fish Type: Walleye     Price: $14.50

Overall, I would recommend this Fish Fry.

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

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Comment: You never hear it refereed to as such, but the Laurel Tavern is a Madison institution just as much as places like State Street Brats or the Nitty Gritty. Why the venerable Monroe Street establishment is never mentioned in the same breath as these more acclaimed bars is beyond me especially when you consider their Fish Fry is better than all of theirs (if they even have one).

The dining room at the Laurel is always packed on Friday nights and there is almost no way you are getting in without waiting for a while, even if you show up by 5:30 like we did. On Fridays they have walleye and cod available, and this was a walleye week for me. Despite the fact they were busy the kitchen clearly knows the drill and turns things over in a flash. For starters there is a soup/salad/slaw option with any of the fish and I went for the chowder which was creamy and balanced. While I would like to see more clam (I think we all would) there were at least some pieces present. The fish followed in short order and looked quite intriguing.

Now, I don't work at the Laurel, I have never seen their kitchen, and I don't know their business practices, but the walleye seemed a little fishy to me today (no pun intended). The usual way walleye is served is a single large fillet from an adult fish. Such fillets average around 8-10 inches in length, are shaped like a warped isosceles triangle, and tend to curl in from the sides when fried. I have come to expect "baby pike" from the Laurel which are served as three smaller fillets that tend to curl from end to end. These babies didn't carry the signature musk that an adult walleye does and in all honesty had the look and flavor of pike-perch (which is often substituted for the local species). Even so, the beer batter that encased the fillets was superb, boasting lots of flavor and an excellent crunch, so, while it may or may not have been actual walleye (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was) it was still quite enjoyable.

The side of note at the Laurel are the hash browns O'brien which are just your basic shreds topped with Swiss cheese and a sautéed onion and green pepper mixture. Since I wasn't feeling the peppers I just ordered mine regular with the Swiss and some raw onion. It turned out to be a very nice rendition with delightfully crispy edges and ooey gooey insides. Their zippy tartar added a distinctive allure to the smooth fish while a funky and dense multi-grain roll was a definite step above the basic bun.

I know, I know, there are a lot of bars in Madison and they can't all make headlines, but for once it would nice to see a place like the Laurel get some love. Sure, they don't give you free beer on your birthday or have a swanky State Street address, but they do have good food and a down home vibe that I for one appreciate more than either of those other things. Overall, we recommend this Fish Fry and think the Laurel is one of the more overlooked establishments in our fair city, especially when it comes to food.
2505 Monroe Street
Madison, WI 53711

(608) 270-3600