Caleb Westphal hasn’t missed a fried fish on Friday since 2013. Follow his endless adventures here. This week: Tally’s Tap & Eatery.
VSCigarette smoke rises to the ceiling above a bobbed hairstyle as Bessie Smith’s voice emanates from a phonograph. The woman at the table has a glass in her hand. Could this be some old-fashioned brandy candy? It’s Friday night, after all, and we’re in Milwaukee. It’s the spring of 1929, before the Great Crash, and what a decade that has been. No one was drinking, but everyone was drinking. Fairbanks, Pickford, Crawford and Garbo flashed across the screens. Harlem has experienced a renaissance. The lost generation put pens on paper. Harding had a heart attack first, then Cal walked in and didn’t say much. Jazz has been the soundtrack of everything.
As smoke and Smith fill the air, a few miles from West Allis, Henry Mertz is still in a euphoric mood. Three days ago he received a permit to construct a large neo-Mediterranean style building. What will the future bring? He will engrave his name in capital letters above one of the entrances and the building will become known as Mertz Block. When it opens, Henry Mertz will be a real estate and meat business, and it will also house a tea business, bakery, hardware store, pharmacy, and apartments.
TToday, the building still stands at the southeast corner of Becher Street and 76th Street, and Mertz’s name is still engraved on it. When Prohibition ended, Mertz began operating a tavern in the part of the building where the hardware and real estate were located. Over the years a number of other taverns have made their home such as Virgie’s Tap, Barney and Rose’s Tap and then just Rose’s Tap.
Adjacent to the tavern on the far west of the building, the Atwood Pharmacy has been an anchor for decades. But from the sixties, the corner store became home to restaurants, with establishments like Imberger’s Sausage Kitchen, Eugene’s Delicatessen & Seafood Restaurant, Cesar’s Villa Restaurant and Filippo’s Pizza like home from home. From what I can tell, the tavern and restaurant fronts were combined in the early 90s when the Becher St. Bar and Grill was there. You better believe they served all you can eat fish fries.
Seventy-six years after the bob hairstyle woman sat down to drink somewhere in Milwaukee and Henry Mertz got the green light to build Mertz Block, Mark and Carolyn Silber, owners of Fin ‘N Feather on Loomis Road, have opened Flappers (7527 W. Becher St., 414-431-4381) in the old Mertz building. They named their bar after the 1920s flappers who avoided social norms by smoking, drinking, and cutting their hair short. A few years later, Sue Der began operating the kitchen at the far end of the building – the kitchen all of these other restaurants were using after the Atwood Pharmacy left. The kitchen has a new name: the Kitchen.
No valves were present when I entered the valves last Friday. The place was largely empty at first, and the only indicators of the theme were the name of the establishment, signage outside, and a sign hanging inside. I sat at the end of the slightly crooked bar and asked about the food. The bartender gave me three different menus and told me that in order to place my food order I had to walk through two rooms. I ordered an Old Fashioned and looked at the blue menu, the only menu that matters. If an Old Fashioned is done well enough, there isn’t much to say about it, because everyone in Wisconsin knows what it’s supposed to look like. Crushed, topped with cherries, and in a classic glass, it was the case here.
Seafood options at Kitchen at Flappers are fried cod (three pieces / $ 12), baked cod or Cajun baked cod (four pieces / $ 13), perch ($ 14), bluegill ($ 14) and fried shrimp (10 pieces) / $ 11). Potato choices are homemade potato pancakes, wavy fries, tater tots, Cajun fries, or Cajun tots. Soup can be chosen in place of a potato, and for two dollars, more onion rings, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, side salad, side Caesar or fresh fruit can be chosen. A fish sammie with fries ($ 10) is also available, as is a clam chowder (3 cups / $ 5 bowl)â¦ sometimes. Pansies of fried cod with pancakes and a cup of clam chowder filled my mind as I walked past tables and a pool table, to the third room, where I found the counter to place my order. .
I went back to the bar to wait. On one side, a warmth radiated from the place. The red lights, decorations and walls shone like a wrapped Christmas present, perfect for a Black Friday fish fry. There was plenty of space, the bartender was welcoming and the atmosphere was generally cold. On the other hand, in the middle of it, a bunch of loud guys walked in and sat down at one of the tables behind me, and one of them was talking so rudely as if a real boy had come in, she might have knocked him over on the bar stool.
It was taking what seemed like forever, and I slowly sipped a beer that I ordered after finishing my Old Fashioned. Granted, there were only two people working in the kitchen, but few food orders were coming out. About half an hour into my wait the guy I ordered from came over and told me the clam chowder was out and asked if I wanted broccoli or stuffed pepper soup, or if I wanted a refund. I’m sure these other soups would have been great, but I had soup on my brain so I asked for a refund. I was also a little confused why it took half an hour to find out that there was no chowder. But it really didn’t matter. That’s life, and I’m just here to live with it. A few minutes later, I was brought three dollars and two cents.
Around 45 minutes, the food came out. The fish had a unique character that resided in its breading. Although mild in flavor, the not far from exceptional breading was thick and textured, almost forming its own entity. Underneath were chunky cod loins that wouldn’t be described as too flaky or fantastic, although they were satisfactory. Cutting the breadcrumbs and cod together was like slicing healthy meatloaf, or maybe Beef Wellington. The tartar was the thicker mayonnaise-based variety, the kind that sticks to whatever you dip in it.
Cumin, or maybe chili powder, gave the potato pancakes an added appeal and also gave them a hint of heat. (Or maybe some of the Cajun seasoning was used?) Other than that, they looked a lot like hash browns and were lightly cooked and easy to cut. The rye bread and coleslaw were pretty standard: the rye was a lighter marble, and the coleslaw was mostly cabbage, with a few chunks of carrots and a pinch of seasoning.
Does West Allis have more fry per square mile than any other part of the state? Maybe not, but if someone told me, I probably would believe it. Flappers is probably one of the many West Allis joints that go unnoticed, often not getting much attention. But it’s quite charming and cozy, and their kitchen called “The Kitchen” cooks up respectable fried fish. Now if we can get every bar to have a counter that serves fish fries, we’ll really be on to something.
Take away food : Built in the Jazz Age and named for the Jazz Age; known for being “Kind of a fun joint!” “; there are three different menu colors, choose wisely; to order, you have to walk through a few rooms to a window without an elevator; memorable and substantial breading on the fish; the potato pancakes tasted like a bowl of chili; the guy who took my order called me âpartnerâ no less than four times during the evening, but called me âbudgetâ once.
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