Blue Gills & French Ticklers @ Freddie's West End, Lake Como
The Wisconsin roadside bar is archetypal, with the homespun-clever signs on the pinewood-paneled walls, the guys in baseball and hunting caps sitting at the bar, the undistinguished line-up of beers, the Friday night fish-fry and the ancient machines vending protection from illnesses you might contract from new friends.
The Wife and I had gone for drinks at the Hunt Club, a dark-wood den of well-tanned retirees at Geneva National, a residential golfing community with over-priced food and Jack, a loquacious bartender who, when he overheard me mentioning that I was thinking of going for fish at Mars Resort, told me I had to try Freddie’s West End in Lake Como; “way better; the best,” he reiterated decisively as he gave his big beautiful bar a clean sweep with his cloth.
Freddie’s was not easy to find; in fact, after getting lost following Jack’s directions, we asked a cop, who had never heard of the place. Things were not looking good as darkness had descended, and we had just about given up when we decided to drive along Lake Como (it’s a small lake) and see if we might happen to come upon Freddie’s. We did, getting there minutes before 9PM, the apparently common closing time for most kitchens in this small lake-based neighborhood.
Inside, locals bellied up and chowed down, and I had to be cagey with the camera, not using a flash (of course), lest I transmit even more resoundingly my outsider status.
When I was a kid, my parents took me and my brothers to a cottage at nearby Lake Delavan, and my father and I fished for blue gills for several days, getting up at dawn to go out on the steaming lake, coming home mid-morning with a few little fish. I don’t believe I’d had another bite of this fish for maybe 45 years. For a freshwater creatures, these tiny guys have a distinctive flavor, and Freddie’s did them quite nicely, with lightly seasoned breading that was as tender as the fish flesh.
Recently, Grant Achatz gave a presentation to publicize the announement of the Alinea "cookbook," and he mentioned that one of his dishes used the smells of burning leaves to trigger deep-seated childhood sense memories that actually caused some diners to weep with recollected gustatory joy. No tears at my table, but the taste of these fish brought back many recollections of sunrise on the lake, followed by my mother elbow-deep in fish guts as she cleaned the catch, and the clean, fresh taste of blue gills.
The fishies came with sides of fries, potato pancakes or baby bakers – I had the cakes and The Wife had the bakers and we both liked them a lot. The bakers were about the size of a large marble, and they’d been fried whole and crispy.
After dinner, I stopped by the john and spotted a condom machine, not at all uncommon for bars of this nature.
Humorously, the advertised French Ticklers had been re-titled Freedom Ticklers, a reflection of the now passé anti-French sentiment that compelled those in our nation’s capital to rally for renaming fries to reflect foreign policy trends prejudicial to one of the world’s most enlightened food-centric cultures. Though during dinner I had fantasized about living at Lake Como, things like this (as well as the gun nuts, wild on loudmouth Kool-aid, and the total absence of racial/ethnic balance of any kind) reminded me that though rural Wisconsin is a fun place to visit, gosh, no way could I live there…but it really is a fun place to visit. I did resist what a younger Hammond might have done, which would be to scrawl on the condom dispenser’s white walls: “This gum tastes like sh*t!”
Freddie’s usually serves food only once per week, on Friday nights, though today, if you’re in the area, the menu board advertises a special Sunday dinner of lamb shanks; were I in Lake Como at just this moment, I’d definitely check it out.
Freddie's West End
W4118 Lake Shore Dr
Lake Geneva, WI 53147