Walleye is a special fish in Wisconsin, and Madison is no exception. Unlike some of the other local species, walleye is well represented around town with several topnotch options to choose from. While the fabulous freshwater fish tends to carry a heftier-than-average price tag (usually in the $12-$20 range), it is typically worth the payoff as you get more meat for your money.
Walleye also brings with it a unique flavor that has a sweet muskiness you don't find in ocean fish like cod or haddock. There's no doubt that walleye is a tradition in our state; anglers and diners agree it's among the best things in the water or on the dinner plate.
It comes any number of ways, from deep- or pan-fried to grilled, seared, blackened or baked in lemon pepper or dill. Walleye is adaptable. Walleye is unique. Walleye is Wisconsin. Here are some of the best places for walleye in the Madison area.
Chico's Villa Tap
2302 Packers Ave.
The walleye fillet featured here (Fridays only, lunch and dinner, $14.50) is massive. It is at least an inch and a half thick, on the meaty side, and flawlessly fried throughout. It tears apart perfectly down the seam with the breading intact (walleye has a seam that runs lengthwise that tears like a perforation). The secret to the Villa Tap's walleye is all in the well-seasoned breading that gives the perfect finish. It's some of the best walleye you'll find anywhere. Ever.
4506 Larson Beach Rd., McFarland
This fillet ($13) is also one of the largest you'll find locally. The fish itself is pristine, and while it will be a big fish, it doesn't have that overly musky flavor some of the really big ones get. The meat is light and sweet, and blends perfectly with spicy breading. When it comes to walleye, a light breading with subtle spices is the name of the game, and the Beachhouse has it down to a science. If you can't make it on Friday night (or don't want to fight the crowds), the same fillet comes with the walleye and eggs served at breakfast on the weekends. It's a local favorite.
301 North St.
The walleye ($14) at Dexter's Friday fish fry will be large and in charge, but not quite as grand as some others out there. It will, however, be "wild caught" and absolutely delicious. The meat on these monsters is moist and tender, and pairs perfectly with Dexter's seasoned breading, which is sweet and spicy and sticks to the fingers like cotton candy (this necessitates some serious digit-licking). Of course, this presumes you are eating it with your hands (as you should be). No need to get all fancy with the silverware. This is a fish fry, after all.
The Laurel Tavern
2505 Monroe St.
Rather than one large fillet, three medium-sized fillets ($12.50) are featured on Fridays. These "baby pike" are breaded more heartily than some of the other fish out there; however, they are well-seasoned and delicious. Since there is more surface area on the trio, there's just more batter -- perhaps highlighted over the fish itself. Despite the three smaller-than-average fillets, the portion is still princely.
Toby's Supper Club
3717 S. Dutch Mill Rd.
This is my pick for the number-one fish fry in Madison. Toby's sparkling reputation comes from the fact that it serves basically every style of fish and does them all incredibly well. While I tend to lean toward the bluegill when I dine at Toby's, the walleye ($13) is a great choice as well. The well-proportioned baby pike fillets are lush, meaty and complemented by Toby's signature light breading. The baby pike tends to have a slightly sweeter flavor than its adult counterpart. Pair it with a Spotted Cow or one of Toby's special Brandy Old Fashioned Sweets. The pike is available daily.
Still haven't gotten your fill? Stal-zy's Deli ($16), Wando's ($9.75), Mariner's Inn ($18), and Jordan's Big 10 Pub ($12) will also wow you with their walleye.
Mike Seidel reviews fish fries at MadisonFishFry.com.