In Dining Commentary

This fish fry was a B-minus at best.

What the heck happened to the Serb Hall Fish fry?

It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, with winners getting dished out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!

It had been years since I went to the Mecca of Milwaukee fish fries, Serb Hall, on a Friday Night, so I went last weekend. In all honesty, after I told a couple of people I was planning to go, both expressed that it wasn't "as good as it used to be."

These casual reviews lowered my expectations, which turned out to be a good thing. Unfortunately, the actual food lowered them even more.

The rye bread and the tangy coleslaw were fine, pretty much as I remembered them. But the fried fish and side dishes were a different story.

We ordered the haddock dinner and the Serbian-style baked cod, which meant it came slathered in a sweet red sauce. The haddock, according to my dining mate, tasted like supersized frozen fish sticks and the baked cod tasted freezer-burnt. The sides of garlic mashed potatoes were lukewarm, not hot, and the potato pancakes were cold in the middle and way too large and thick.

The presentation of the meal was off, too. There were very few people in the dining hall – which was portioned off to about half the size it was when I went last time – and yet all of our food items came out on small, separate plates, as if we had ordered everything a la carte or they had run out of dinner plates.

We thought about salvaging the meal with the one available dessert, but overheard our server tell the table next to ours that the desserts were frozen and would take about five minutes to microwave. On second thought, nah. (Instead, we stopped at Leon's for custard on the way home – and it did not disappoint.)

It's like we were experiencing a Freaky Friday Fish Fry – where one of the city's most celebrated fish fries for 50 years switched places with leftover Long John Silver's fast food. How could this have happened? And will Serb Hall ever go back to being the classic we want it to be?

But that's just it. Was it ever as epic as we want it to be? Or was it always mediocre, but we went for the experience, the history and the camaraderie with other Milwaukeeans? Or maybe I used to downing an Old Fashioned before the bread hit the table and in the midst of the booze munchies everything tasted delicious?

Milwaukeeans have a tendency to romanticize a lot of places – which is more a testament to our loyalty than our lack of taste – but didn't Serb Hall have a really great fish fry at one point in time? Or was it all wishful thinking?


Talkbacks

3637 | Oct. 5, 2019 at 5:23 p.m. (report)

Serb Hall did have great fish fries in the past. I was raised on the south side and remember my dad getting carryout because the hall was so crowded. Now I understand when I happened to drive by at 4pm yesterday it looked so desolate.

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mygreendoor | Oct. 3, 2019 at 6:16 p.m. (report)

Thank you for such a candid review! Serb Hall has, indeed, been held as the gold standard for fish fry in this town and I've been consistently disappointed. The last time I went (about 5 years ago), they served a buffet with the fish fry and the food tasted canned, frozen, and flavorless. The beef stew looked the same as my dog's food. I think you're theory about people going here more out of nostalgia than for the quality is spot on. They have such a loyal following, it's a shame they don't give their fans something better!

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Lonchi | Oct. 3, 2019 at 1:49 p.m. (report)

After 2 years of not being able to go for the fish fry at Serb hall I took friends so excited about going!! Well I was wrong my friends and I were very disappointed but I thought maybe was just a bad night new staff etc.... so two weeks later I went back and it was awful and needless to say I will never go back again.

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Crew_Dat | Oct. 3, 2019 at 7:26 a.m. (report)

It was never good... All memories are of soggy, lukewarm food in a buffet. Always wondered why so endorsed.

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