Dazzling plates worth dishing about: First up? Urban Growler’s perch fish fry


By JESS FLEMING | jfleming@pioneerpress.com | Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: March 20, 2019 at 5:00 am | UPDATED: March 20, 2019 at 8:17 am

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Fairly frequently, fellow food writer Nancy Ngo and I run across a dazzling dish while out and about, but we don’t always have a place for it in the newspaper.

Today, we are changing that by starting a new feature called One Great Plate. When we find a dish we love so much we can write a whole story about it, we’ll bring it to you.

This week’s dish really begins in 1992, when I arrived in Minneapolis to go to the University of Minnesota. I am from eastern Wisconsin, and naively assumed I’d be able to get a lot of the foods I had grown up with here. I was wrong on many counts, but the one food I’ve probably missed the most is the Wisconsin-style fish fry.

Where I come from, no one eats battered cod or pollock on Fridays — it’s 100 percent lake perch, lightly breaded, quickly fried and as addictive as potato chips.

I had pretty much resigned myself to an occasional indulgence when I happened to be in the motherland on a Friday night, but bless Urban Growler, because they have brought me that little taste of home.

The brewery is serving perch, breaded and fried, just the way I grew up with it, every Friday (not just during Lent) for lunch and dinner.

Co-owner Deb Loch is from Appleton, Wis., and her love for the perch fish fry runs deep. In fact, when she and Jill Pavlak were talking about opening a brewery, it was high on Loch’s wish list.

Current chef Jim Weides, who worked for D’Amico for nearly 27 years, and recently took over the kitchen at the brewery, said he’s not been allowed to tinker with the fish fry.

“I did not change it,” he said. “It’s pretty sacred to this place. Always the same fresh breading. Some people kind of expect it to be beer-battered, being that we’re a brewery. We would never batter it, though.”

Weides said he sources the certified sustainable lake perch from a company in Ontario, Canada, and the brewery goes through quite a bit of it.

“This is 100 percent lake perch, caught in cold northern waters,” he said, noting that they sold 122 fish fry dinners on the first Friday of Lent.

The generous portion of perch is served with fries, crisp, house-made coleslaw, tartar sauce and, as is traditional in Wisconsin, a slice of pumpernickel bread. In my parents’ neck of the woods, it’s often rye, and it’s also served with a thick slab of sliced onion. Weird, but true.

Weides said he’d consider adding a slice of onion for me.

That’s the kind of service I’ll be back for — maybe every Friday.