Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette The fried pollock is available daily at Willie's Family Restaurant, and there is an all-you-can-eat special on Fridays.

  • Visit Churubusco for broiled cod at Magic Wand.

  • For Parmesan-crusted walleye, Don Hall’s Tavern at Coventry has you covered.

  • The best fish and chips in the state are found at Payne’s Restaurant in Gas City.

  • Photos by Ryan DuVall | The Journal Gazette The bluegill dinner at Pine Valley Bar & Grill is one of the best around.

  • The cornmeal-coated catfish at Charlow’s Grill is worth checking out.

  • Courtesy A fish dinner from Big Eyed Fish on Wells Street.

  • Cod sandwich from Pine Valley Bar & Grill in Dupont Place.

  • The perch at Baba's Famous Steak & Lemonade on South Anthony Boulevard.

  • The fired fish at Olde Towne Diner in Leo-Cedarville is always good.

Sunday, March 03, 2019 1:00 am

Fishing for good Lent meals

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

The questions started coming in weeks ago, and they weren't new questions. They come to me every year.

“With Lent approaching, where is the best place to get fish?”

Some only want the traditional Friday night fixes, but others give up red meat altogether, so they need many options.

I don't give up red meat for anything, but I do love good fish of any kind, so, this year, I am sharing my best fish finds with everyone.

You won't find places like Paula's or the Oyster Bar in this story, though. It's no secret that the best seafood restaurants have great fish. These are places that aren't as fancy or expensive but whose dishes could fit in well on any menu.

And all of them offer their fabulous fish all the time, not just for Lent.

Prize catch

Payne's, Gas City: This place is a little out of the way, but it makes the best fish and chips in the state, and the best I have ever had the pleasure of eating. It also has a strong Fort Wayne following as dozens of people have asked me over the years if I have tried it.

Owner Stephen Payne is a native Brit who volunteered in chip shops over there to hone his magical battered cod. The batter is super crunchy but so light and airy, I don't know how it clings to the moist, flaky fillets.

Traditional tastes

Big-eyed Fish, 1502 N. Wells St., 3001 Hillegas Road, 10380 Leo Road: When I want fried fish, these are some of the first places that come to mind. Its traditional, familiar breading style is always fried up just right on pollock or cod, and it works well on catfish and shrimp. The Wells Street original also offers an all-you-can-eat option daily. The restaurants roll out special Lenten menus and offer a variety of other fish – including grilled and broiled options – such as yellow-fin tuna, haddock, flounder, salmon and perch.

Willie's Family Restaurant, 6342 St. Joe Center Road: Known best as a stellar breakfast spot, its fish might be better than any of the morning staples. You can get that light, flaky, perfectly coated pollock at lunch anytime, and an all-you-can-eat option is also available every Friday – the only night it is open for dinner.

Nine Mile, 13398 U.S. 27: If you like lake perch, this is the place. The “Mess of Lake Perch” is fabulous. The legendary restaurant also offers farm-raised bluegill, beer-battered or baked Icelandic cod.

Fryer-free finds

Magic Wand, Churubusco: If you can't have one of the great burgers or pork tenderloins, the broiled cod sandwich – or dinner – is a fantastic option. Perfectly cooked, buttery and dusted with a little paprika, it is the best fish option here, though the fried pollock is no slouch, either.

Oley's, 1427 N. Coliseum Blvd.: Fish at a pizza place? Well, Mrs. DuVall loves the baked cod for good reason. Not only is it way lower in calories than the deep-dish, stuffed pizzas her husband and kids stuff their faces with, but baking that fish in a pool of butter in a pizza oven works beautifully.

Village Inn, Roanoke: The haddock here is the stuff of legend, and the recipe hasn't been changed in 55 years. The butter-broiled haddock is probably the signature selection, but just as many grew up with and have fond memories of the hand-breaded, fried haddock, too. The Inn also grills the fish, and the broiled and grilled can also be had blackened. The fish is so popular, the restaurant doesn't offer an all-you-can-eat option, “Because we don't have to,” an employee proudly told me.

Variety shows

West End, Decatur: The restaurant's batter – used on about everything here – is tremendous, and it can be had coating perfectly fried pieces of cod. You can even buy it by the pound. If that isn't enough, you can have the eatery's signature grilled cod with lemon pepper, or choose from breaded perch and catfish, crusted tilapia, grilled salmon and grilled whitefish.

Don Hall's Restaurants, 12 locations in area: The fish options are many and, though they vary from place to place, the Sub Mariner sandwich – a pan-fried or deep-fried fillet on a sub bun with cheese, lettuce and tartar sauce – is a longstanding favorite most of them offer.

Some form of cod is offered by nearly all spots, and variations include pan-fried, deep-fried, blackened, baked and broiled. Some also offer panko-coated fried fish, and many of the upscale locales also serve salmon, ahi and/or yellowfin tuna and crusted versions of tilapia and walleye.

Moose Lake Christian Craft Village, LaOtto: This cool spot does a good job with standard breaded pollock, but the fried bluegill is what is really worth making the drive to get. The nicely seasoned and grilled tilapia and swai are fine options, and they include a tasty “Boom Boom” sauce for dipping.

Others worth reeling in

Pine Valley Bar and Grill, 2914 E. Dupont Road: It is the lightly breaded and fried bluegill that brings me back to this place time and again, but the fried cod and lightly breaded and grilled grouper are also a good options.

Charlow's Grill, 3103 Oxford St.: The fried, cornmeal-coated catfish is amazing, and the perch isn't far behind. Whiting and tilapia are also offered.

Baba's, 3205 E. State Blvd. and 7505 S. Anthony Blvd.: Lemon-pepper dusting lifts this place's always-crispy fried perch, catfish, tilapia or whiting.

King Gyro, 302 W. Jefferson Blvd.: I frequently snag a catfish sandwich here, and the cornmeal-breaded fish also can be had as a dinner with fries and Texas toast.

Olde Towne Diner, Leo-Cedarville: Solid fried pollock daily with two-piece, three-piece and all-you-can-eat options daily.

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.