Elias Inn Supper Club, Watertown, Wisconsin
Rating: 5 out of 5 Old Fashioneds
Relish Tray: glorious, lazy susan relish tray
Ice Cream Drinks: available
Price Range: entrees range from about $14 to $34
Ambiance: cozy German beer hall
Jean and I were in the mood for fish fry one recent Friday night. So I pulled down our copy of “Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old Fashioned Experience” by the preeminent expert in the field, Ron Faiola. We’ve got our own map of supper clubs of course, but sometimes I need a little visual information to help along the decision of where to dine. That’s when I flipped a page and saw a sight that nearly took my breath away: A fish fry with all the fixins, served atop a wooden lazy susan. The good people at the Elias Inn located in Watertown were behind this marvel. We were sold.
When we first arrived we were surprised to see that the Elias Inn was established in 1987. A spring chicken in Supper Club years. Stepping inside we were greeted with all the warmth and charm of a supper club that had been operating for half a century.
After putting in a request for a table with the host, we sauntered up to the bar and ordered our usual old fashioneds, mine with pickled mushrooms and Jean’s with fruit. We sat and talked and I pretended not to be watching the brewers game on the bar TV. After finishing our second round of old fashioneds, we were led into the dining room.
Fridays are synonymous with fish fry in Wisconsin. But the Elias Inn takes that commitment to a whole other level. Elias Inn eschews all other menu items on Friday nights to churn out their family style fish frys. Our server came out and asked us if we’d ever been here for fish fry before, and we told her it was our first time at Elias Inn. She explained how everything worked, that the Fish fry was the only thing being served tonight. She encouraged us to come back and try the full menu on another night – more on that to come.
She brought out the lazy susan first, which contained all the sides you’d expect at a fish fry and some you wouldn’t: rye and pumpernickel bread, German and American style potato salad, and baked beans and a heaping bowl of tartar sauce. The coleslaw added an unexpected but not unwelcome touch of asian fusion to our meal: it was the kind made with rice vinegar and ramen noodles. In the center of the tray was a heaping bowl of tartar sauce. Nothing spoils an otherwise solid fish fry than running out of tartar sauce before your last piece of fish, but I knew I did not have to worry about that tonight.
We tore into our sides as soon as they came out, but it was not more than five minutes before the rest of our meal was brought out. The meal came with both fried and broiled cod. We ordered fries for our choice of potato. And of course the most essential accoutrement to any Wisconsin fish fry… fried chicken! Of the two types of fish, I would say the broiled was superior to the fried. The batter on the fried fish was not quite light and crisp enough for me – but nothing an extra dollop of tartar sauce couldn’t fix. Believe it or not, the chicken was the star of the show. For all that the fish batter lacked, the breading on the chicken totally redeemed the fry cook. It was crispy, perfect golden brown and seasoned to perfection.
As we were finishing up our meal, we decided to take our server’s advice seriously, and we made plans to come back to Elias Inn next Saturday. Which brings us to part two of this review:
Our second visit to Elias Inn started in much the same way that our first did: old fashioneds at the bar and a brief wait for our table. Reservations are highly recommended if you come in on Saturday night, a fact that we were unaware of until we arrived, despite our visit the previous week. We were lucky that because of a cancellation they were able to squeeze us in.
My favorite thing about Elias Inn is their commitment to keeping the lazy susan alive. This time, the lazy susan was adorned with delightful relish tray options. There were four different cracker spreads, including cheese, vegetable spread, spinach dip and fresh braunschweiger. It also featured cheese and summer sausage, pickles, crudités, two pasta salads, and best of all: pickled herring. Pickled herring is one of my favorite snacks, but unfortunately it is not as popular these days. That’s why I was tickled pink to see it served as a complimentary item at Elias Inn.
We received a basket of bread with two types of warm rolls, three types of crackers and crostini, and each had a cup of creamy chicken soup. The soup was piping hot and very creamy. We also tried some of the cheese spread on our crackers. It was sweet and vinegary, with a subtle cheese flavor.
The salad was served on those glass plates that look like lettuce leaves, always a plus. Besides the standard salad features it also had green peas, shredded cheddar cheese and what appeared to be home-made croutons.
For entrees, Jean ordered prime rib with a side of broiled shrimp. I ordered liver and onions with bacon. I’m not exactly sure why I opted for that over prime rib, but it might have had something to with the pickled herring getting me in the mood for under-appreciated meats. Our server must have thought she didn’t hear me right when I ordered it, because she asked me to repeat my order twice. Once I had made it clear that I actually wanted to order liver, I got quite the eyebrow raise. When she brought our entrees out, she confessed that she hated liver as a kid because people would try to pass it off as steak. I can understand how someone might be turned off to liver, but I still think it is delicious. One thing I love about eating liver and onions is that I dump an entire bottle of steak sauce on it and not feel guilty like I would if it was a well seasoned prime cut of steak. The steak sauce combined with a pile of sautéed onions and whole strips of bacon, and you’ve got good eating – at least in my opinion.
Jean’s prime rib was excellent, as were the shrimp. The prime rib was served with a delicious horseradish cream sauce, though Jean said that as good as it was, it kind of overpowered the prime rib. We also ordered baked potatoes. We appreciated that the baked potatoes were small in size, given the overall amount of food we were served.
Somehow, we had room for an ice cream drink. We ordered a pink squirrel, which is flavored with creme de noyaux, which tastes like almond. It was delicious, it tastes exactly like blue moon ice cream. We’re so glad we came back for the full menu at Elias Inn. We highly recommend it.