Green Bay has its fair share of visitors. And because of that, trendy eateries abound throughout the city. Indeed, many of these places are top notch, first rate, grade A, however you care to word it. Yet, many spots, despite their stylish aesthetics, lack true local character. I think you know what I’m getting at; in such hangouts, the essence of this football community is lacking. I’m mentioning this because, residing on Green Bay’s east side, a fifteen minute drive from Lambeau Field, I found a restaurant loaded with Packer souvenirs that focused on a local tradition. Needless to say, the eatery is a common Green Bay hangout. I’m speaking of the Redwood Inn, located on the outskirts of Green Bay.
As you enter, while surmising this local bar’s kitsch, which happens to be an astounding and seemingly endless collection of packer memorabilia, you may ask, “What distinguishes this as a local hangout?” Well, Redwood’s main draw, as the prestigious claim is emblazoned on the front door, is the establishment’s award winning fish fry. In a recent newspaper poll, this place secured its reputation again-taking first prize in a landslide.
And I know, fish fries are not exclusive to Wisconsin, they’re all over the Upper Midwest, but it’s something local. And it’s a genuine Green Bay tradition. So, if you’re not from Wisconsin, and had your fill of brats and cheese, you might venture this alternative.
Another key ingredient, as far as having true local allure, are the very competitive prices. Not only were they voted the best fish fry in Brown County, but when Heidi and I glanced at the bill, our check registered under forty dollars-and we both had beers!
Not to mention, Heidi tested their frog legs. And while the breading was too crumbly, she had commented that they were delicious.
Although frog legs are novel, American yellow perch is Redwood’s specialty. I read an online article where locals raved about it. I trusted my peers and went a different route. After all, even if I told you the perch was trash, who am I? I can tell you this, I’m no Gordon Ramsey. My opinion versus a general consensus is fairly useless. So, I went with another Wisconsin fav, walleye.
When ordering, I was given the choice of having it baked or fried. Even if I try to follow paths less traveled, I’m a traditionalist. So, I opted for the deep fried version.
You’re probably waiting for me to say it was sensational, or totally awesome, or off the charts. I’m not, nor am I going to downplay its tastiness. The fact is, I’ve had so much fried fish, although I’m not an expert, I know what’s acceptable. This was excellently prepared: a fairly crisp coat of breading enveloping light, flaky fillets. It’s exactly how good Midwesterners cook fish! And if that’s any indicator, the news article didn’t even mention the walleye.
“Hold up!” You may be screaming at this moment, “Why on god’s green earth is fried fish so popular in Green Bay?” Even if you’re not quite that adamant, I’m sure you’re wondering. Let me enlighten you.
You see, this tradition, owing its origin to Roman Catholic immigrants, has been passed on for generations. I believe local supper clubs began serving Friday fish fries in the 1920’s. Why Friday? That was a no brainer, at least it made total sense during that time. The Roman Catholic church forbade their parishioners to eat meat on Fridays. Fish was an acceptable alternative.
As time passed, somewhere in the 1960’s, the Catholic hierarchy declared abstaining from meat optional. Since then, the Lent season endures as the only required meatless Friday stretch. However, even if they were no longer deemed necessary, fish fries happened to be such a good excuse to get out of the house, the tradition remained popular. I’m not saying every local ends up at a supper club every Friday, sipping beer and inhaling fish, but its apt for a special occasion. And the Redwood Inn serves their fish, when available, Wednesday through Sunday-although Friday night’s menu has a greater seafood variety.
I bet your wondering, “Is fish the only thing they serve?” It’s not. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday’s menu offer many other American favorites-there are also a few on Friday. I just felt that, since their fish reaped awards, and it’s a traditional Midwestern staple, the out of towner might enjoy a local dish.
And while there’s local charm with something that traditional, the wholesome Midwestern patron adds a nice touch. Considering the quality of the food, the beer prices, and the atmosphere, this spot is quite refreshing.
However, my experience wasn’t all roses. There were a few drawbacks, and while the good did outweigh the bad, I feel I should give you a heads up.
First off, this isn’t some hidden gem languishing in obscurity. It won the local fish fry prize for a reason. So, as you can imagine, it’s pretty popular. So much so, that upon arrival, we were informed that a table would not be available for forty-five minutes. Yet, considering the sheer amount of packer memorabilia set upon the walls, the wait wouldn’t be horrible. Excluding the Packer Hall of Fame, this is the most Packer stuff I’ve seen at any given Green Bay establishment. Many conversations could be sparked by these relics.
Our wait was also soothed when a woman dropped by and took our order. So after we were seated, our food was brought to our table in minutes. It’s a great concept, and I perceive those making decisions at the Redwood Inn doing all they can to ensure a pleasurable dining experience.
Although, I had two gripes. My first would have been upon arrival. Two bartenders, no more than ten feet away, engaged in conversation and ignored our eager eyes. It wasn’t until Heidi made an assertive attempt for their attention that they addressed us, subsequently serving us drinks and handing us a number.
My second grumble came after we sat at our dining table, which reminded me of a card table. Don’t get me wrong, such furniture is totally cool, kind of a retro throwback to a makeshift dining area. What wasn’t cool was the fact that, as we awaited our food, the waitresses didn’t even glance in our direction. Had they done so, and were properly trained, they would have noticed that we were without drinks. It wasn’t until our food arrived that I was able to refill my beer.
But really, those two things were actually pretty minor. When we waited on the bartenders, it was a mere two minutes or so. And waiting for the food at the dining table really wasn’t much longer.
So there you have it, the pros and cons of the Redwood Inn. Actually, I’ll probably drop by again. It’s obvious they care about service, even if I wouldn’t grade the service as excellent. The food is definitely quality. The clientele are good ,wholesome Green Bay area souls. Last but not least, the stylish bar, coupled with a truck load of Packers relics, creates a trendy ambiance for such a seemingly mundane spot. It may not be on the doorstep of Lambeau Field, but I urge the visiting fan to drop in before game day.