Glutwalk 2: Fish and old fash

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, or maybe just a straight-up glutton, but I've gone and done it again. I've gathered a group of friends to do a full-immersion tour of one of Madison's food ecosystems. Last March, it was fried cheese curd and Bloody Mary research on the Capitol Square and State Street. This year? A Lenten assault on Friday fish fry and old fashioneds down the Monroe Street corridor: the Laurel Tavern, jacs Dining and Tap House, and Gates and Brovi. We called it Glutwalk 2: Fishpocalypse, and the results are in.

Stop no. 1: The Laurel Tavern

My scores:

Old fashioneds

  1. Gates and Brovi
  2. the Laurel
  3. jacs (score for the "Fashioned in Madison" version)

The Laurel's old fashioned was really, really solid, in that inimitable "Wisconsin bar" way: good strength, nice balance of flavors. But the Gates and Brovi version was an Ur-old fashioned, the Platonic ideal. Big, flavorful, well-loaded with classic orange-and-cherry garnish, big ice cubes that melted just enough over the course of the drink -- I could have had three. Sadly, the Fashioned in Madison was old fashioned-esque, but with rum and cherry bark bitters, it was no closer than -esque. Plus, the sugar crystals were too big, and didn't dissolve fast enough. No one wants a chunky old fashioned.

Stop  no. 2: jacs Dining and Tap House

Fish fry

  1. Cod at jacs
  2. Walleye pike at the Laurel
  3. Bluegill at Gates and Brovi
  4. Walleye pike at jacs
  5. Cod at the Laurel
  6. Cod at Gates and Brovi

Overall scores

  1. jacs
  2. the Laurel
  3. Gates and Brovi

The beer-battered cod at jacs was far and away my favorite, with excellent crunch to the batter, flake to the fish, and beer flavor you could actually taste. The walleye pike there was a touch less flavorful, but equally tender. Though its cod was just a little too far on the mushy side of the line, I liked the pike at the Laurel quite a bit; it was a bit oily, but the flavor was excellent.

The oiliness was a more forgivable error than what I'm fairly certain were a couple scales on some of my bluegill at Gates and Brovi. Short of those, the well-battered and flavorful fillets would have taken second place. And G+B's batter on the cod is excellently crunchy, but the fish inside has a tendency to have a certain unpleasant gooeyness (I've noticed it before) that can undermine its good flavor.

Sides (overall scores)

  1. the Laurel
  2. Gates and Brovi
  3. jacs

Stop no. 3: Gates and  Brovi

This was a hard category to score. The Laurel's fries are lo-fi crinkle cuts, but salty and crisp enough to do the trick. The hash browns o'brien are a fun addition, but I bet the standard version would be better. Meanwhile, its tartar sauce, cole slaw, and clam chowder are all excellent. jacs has some really fine frites -- better than Gates and Brovi's matchstick version that had an off-night for Glutwalk -- but the G+B cole slaw is crisp and bright, with jacs' version wet and low on flavor. Gates and Brovi offers boiled redskin potatoes, which are awesome, and help give it the edge over jacs' fine potato pancakes. The tartar at both jacs (overly herbal, not enough pickle) and Gates and Brovi (though tasty, it was runny and just kind of weird) was a liability for each restaurant.

Guest judges

As with the first Glutwalk, I wasn't alone on this quest. Elliot and Jenni came back for another round of consumption, and Jenni's fiancée Ben joined up as well. My wife Kristine tagged along but chose moderation, bizarrely, and didn't cram her maw full of fried fish.

Elliot's old fashioneds

  1. Gates and Brovi
  2. the Laurel
  3. jacs

He writes: Classic trumps both innovation and chunky, excessive ice that I'd expect at a wedding reception bar. [Those represent jacs and the Laurel, respectively, if I'm interpreting Elliot's scoring correctly. --Kyle]

Elliot's fish fry (overall scores)

  1. jacs
  2. the Laurel
  3. Gates and Brovi

He writes: The bluegill at Gates and Brovi was my favorite fish of the night, but the cod was mushy and lacked integrity. The batter on the cod at jacs was spot on, and their walleye bested the Laurel's.

Elliot's sides

  1. jacs
  2. the Laurel
  3. Gates and Brovi

He writes: I thought jacs slaw had the best flavor but was runny. Gates and Brovi's slaw was good (best crunch) and Laurel's was standard. Potatoes are unfair because of jacs' frites, but their non-fry entry bested the hash browns (even with cheese) and the boiled taters. I also don't care for Gates and Brovi's thin fries. Bonus to the Laurel for serving bread; Madison Fish Fry would be proud. Also, I really liked the surprise green beans at Gates and Brovi.

Jenni's old fashioneds

  1. Gates and Brovi
  2. the Laurel
  3. jacs

Jenni's fish fry (overall scores, combined with consideration of sides)

  1. jacs
  2. the Laurel
  3. Gates and Brovi

She writes: The fish at Gates and Brovi, particularly the bluegill, was great, but the soupy tartar sauce ruined it for me.

Ben's old fashioneds

  1. the Laurel
  2. Gates and Brovi
  3. jacs

Ben's fish fry (overall scores, combined with consideration of sides)

  1. Gates and Brovi
  2. the Laurel
  3. jacs

What have we learned?

Of course, tastes vary from person to person, but as with the first Glutwalk, there are some trends. Gates and Brovi seems to have cornered the Monroe Street market on old fashioneds, placing no lower than 2nd on every ballot. The fish fry at jacs won over 3 out of 4 participants. Elliot and I disagree in a whole bunch of ways on the sides, independent of the fish, at each spot. But what we can all agree on is that the Gates and Brovi tartar sauce is some weird shit.

We can also, I hope, agree that it's always worth doing these ridiculous events when local charitable organizations get a cut at the end. Specific recipients haven't been settled upon yet, but I'll update on this post when we've all made our decisions.

If you have a Glutwalk-ready string of restaurants or bars in your hood, let me know in the comments. Remember, the idea is a food + a drink + walkable. There's a couple ideas bouncing around in the Glutwalk Clubhouse; I can just about guarantee it won't be another year before Glutwalk 3 happens.

The Gates and Brovi old fashioned. Cheers, y'all.