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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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It's walleye season at Culver's
The humble Styrofoam container belies the delectability of the Culver's walleye within.
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

These are days of shoveling when signs of spring are few. But the Shamrock Shake has returned to McDonald's and walleye has returned to Culver's. I have no plans to get a Shamrock Shake, but I've already trekked to my local Culver's for the walleye.

Walleye says "spring" for a couple of reasons. A.) Lent. Culver's introduction of its walleye entrees coincides with the Lenten season -- during which the notion of "giving up" red meat seems kind of hollow if this deliciousness is what you're subbing for it.

B.) Some sources say spring is a good time for fishing for walleye, but others suggest that walleye fishing is good year-round. At any rate, the walleye is at the Culver's counter long before "spring" fishing season.

Culver's walleye "comes from freshwater lakes in Northwestern Canada," according to a statement from Culver's director of public relations, and is "lightly floured and hand-dipped in Culver's secret recipe batter" -- a batter concocted by chain co-founders George and Ruth Culver!

The only way this walleye could taste more authentic is if you plopped it down on the bar of a tavern on the shore of a lake near Minocqua. And if, in fact, the tidy ambience at your local Culver's seems to lack something of the north woods experience (or beer), dash home with your take-out and dine in front of your own roaring fireplace and pop in a VHS tape of "Outdoors Calling."

Choose from 2- and 3-piece dinners ($8.89/$11) or a sandwich ($4.73). The fillets are rich, flavorful, flaky; the batter a little salty, but not so dominant as to take away from the taste of the fish. Dinners come with a choice of cole slaw or green beans and a choice of potato (fries or mashed potatoes).

I haven't tried the green beans (a new menu option) but Culver's creamy cole slaw is better than many (although you can hit a lack-luster batch). I like to order the mashed potatoes and gravy (although this is not to say these are world-class mashed potatoes). You can also sub onion rings for a $1 upgrade. The prices are on the high end for a fast food chain, but pretty much worth it -- you could pay more at a supper club for less. And after all, Lent comes but once a year.

Consider also the north woods ambassador role that Culver's plays in places not acquainted with walleye, now that franchises exist in states as far away as Texas and Colorado. Bill Reed of the Colorado Springs Gazette writes that "You don't see much walleye in this neck of the woods." He orders his dinner "with cheese curds on the side, for authenticity" and likes the result: "When I bit into the fish, I could almost hear the sound of mosquitoes buzzing around Lake Winnebago." Now that's a recommendation.

Wikipedia contends that "The walleye is often considered to have the best tasting flesh of any freshwater fish." You have your perch proponents, your whitefish warriors, your blue gill backers, sure. But who am I to argue with Wikipedia?

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