Favorite things about attending a Friday night fish fry at my extended family's usual haunt (outside of town, far from the hoity-toity folks, near my mother's mother country):
- The moment you walk in the front door, everyone at the bar turns to stare at you. And as you move further inside, everyone in the dining room stares at you, too -- some are subtle about it and just shift their eyes, but the majority stop what they're doing (chewing, talking, etc.) and physically turn around in their chairs to see who's walking in. The ones that know (and like) you are friendly; the rest are stoic and expressionless and after their curiosity is sated, continue feeding.
- The waitresses wear nurses' scrubs. One of them also wears her bedroom slippers most of the time -- they appear to have good traction, though, so more power to her. Like nurses, they are quick, efficient, carry really heavy stuff, deal with a lot of cranky old people, and aren't much for chitchat.
- I have never in my life seen a matching set of plates or utensils in all the years we've eaten there. There's a small table full of plates & bowls at the end of the salad bar that looks like it was just beamed in from a rummage sale -- dozens of different sizes, shapes, patterns, colors. Tonight, my grandma drank coffee from a mug that said "It's a Boy!" on the side.
- About 1/4 of the salad bar contents are soup, cheese, or pudding-based. Another half are pasta salads. The remaining 1/4, the actual vegetables, consist of a bowl of mostly iceberg lettuce (with a bag of romaine thrown in sparingly to add a touch of green), baby carrots, celery sticks, cauliflower, possibly radishes, and tomatoes. There are usually individual packets of Saltines available, but sometimes, if they run out, they just put out a box, open up a stack, and set a pair of tongs next to the stack (for hygienic Saltine removal).
- I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the container of cheese on the salad bar is the same size as the lettuce bowl.
- For years, we were half-convinced that they were running their entire deep-fry operation out of a single Fry Daddy, because it usually took forehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhver and a day for everyone's food to come out. It's better lately, but if you go there, you just assume you'll be there for at least two hours. It's a commitment, but a worthy one.
- At night, the only lighting comes from ceiling fans high above the room, so the dining area (which looks like a small, old-fashioned gymnasium in a lot of ways, with a stage at one end and everything) has a real dark-corner-booth Mafia vibe. It's so dark in there that I have literally seen women pull flashlights out of their purses to read their bill.
- My aunt Betsy had her wedding reception there in the early 1970s, and every time she walks in she says, "Yep, still looks exactly the same."
I probably sound like I'm mocking it, and I am, just a little, but I do so out of love -- it's one of my favorite places to eat around here. The fish is delicious, the atmosphere is straight out of "Fargo," and I never, ever get bored sitting there, people-watching. Never do I feel more thoroughly Midwestern than at a Friday night fish fry. And let me tell you, nothing washes down a plate full of walleye like a chipped bowl full of chocolate pudding.