Saturday, May 1, 2010

Serb Hall - Reborn

Two years ago, I wrote about Serb Hall's famous fish fry and how it went from one of the best in the entire state to one of the worst. There had been a recent change of management as the old manager had took a well-earned retirement. The new manager immediately set about putting his mark on the place by making some drastic and drastically unpopular changes to the way business was done:
We ordered the pollack. While we were waiting, we overheard a table with two couples telling one of the hosts that the food was terrible, the portions small, and that they weren't going to come back,. Already feeling perturbed, and knowing I wanted to write this, I went to talk to these people. They repeated their complaints. "The food wasn't warm." "The portions were much smaller." "The vegetables were terrible. And who serves vegetables with a fish fry, anyway?" They also repeated that they had been regular customers, but that they weren't coming back.

Then our food came. It was served with a cover that had an eerie, and rather nauseating yellow-colored lid, much akin to the kind they use in hospitals to keep the food warm while it comes up from the basement. We had to send the poor waitress back for more lemon wedges and more tartar sauce. Half the plate was taken up by mixed vegetables. The rest of the plate was taken up by a small pile of fries, five small pieces of fish, one tartar bucket, and a lemon end that was wrapped up like a wedding favor.

The other two couples had been correct. There was not enough fish or fries. In a feat of exceptional culinary ineptitude, they had managed to take what was obviously frozen vegetables, and overcook the green beans until they were soft and soggy, but undercook the carrot coins so that they were still hard and one was ice cold. They apparently never heard the phrase: Stir occasionally while cooking.
Needless to say, these changes did drive business away and things became very slow. So slow that they had to lay off a lot of staff people because there just weren't enough customers. One of the victims of these lay offs was our family friend. With the poor food and without our friend there, we saw no reason to go back. After a number of failed attempts, we found a suitable substitute at The Venice Club in Brookfield.

The fish fry there was pretty good, with the added bonus of potato pancakes. We also developed a rapport with one of the waitresses there. The rapport was so good that it got to the point where she would just start preparing our orders when she saw us enter the restaurant.

Life was good again.

During the Lenten season, our friend that had worked at Serb Hall said that they had called her back to work. We said we'd be there and we were. We were also pleased to see that the quality of the food and the service were coming back to snuff, but were concerned about the low number of diners that were there.

Word apparently has gotten out that Serb Hall is finding themselves again. The week before Good Friday, we went back again. The parking lot was jammed. I dropped my wife and my father off at the door and went to hunt for a parking spot. For the first time in two years, I actually had to park in the overflow lot, but I wasn't complaining.

I walked in and saw the hallway filled with people waiting to be called as a table opened. My family had already gotten a table and Tim, the Maitre d', told me to go right on in. I walked through the doorway and into the main dining hall and was stunned. There were about a dozen people standing in line waiting for the hostess to take them to their tables, but there were hardly any that were free. The place was abuzz with people talking and eating. It was like it had been before.

I found my wife and father and sat down. While they still use those plastic hospital plate covers to cover the plates, it is only to keep the food warm while it is being carried and not placed in front of you to help squelch your appetite before you even eat. The fish came family style again, instead of a few measly pieces on the plate. Same for the fries. The old style of cole slaw was back as well as the bread tray, but with the addition of a white Italian-style bread to go along with the traditional rye.

The goof that had driven the old business into the ground was involuntarily separated from his employment at Serb Hall and they brought in another new manager, George (?) Sweet. Mr. Sweet knew what he was doing by having the staff do what they did best. As the old adage goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The condiments were not being served stingily anymore. The waitstaff were literally running to keep up with things, but they also seemed happy to be back doing what they do best, being part of one of the best fish fries around.

For those that need more than a traditional fish fry, Serb still offers their buffet:

From what I could tell, the number seemed to be fairly evenly split between the fish fry purists such as ourselves and those that prefer the buffet option, which I would take as a sign that both are equally good.

As we were leaving, I stopped by the podium where Tim was, looked around, turned to Tim and said, "Welcome back." Tim smiled and said, "Yeah, it's good to be busy again. Now go write it on your blog."

So here it is. We've been back a couple of times since then, and while there has been a drop off in numbers, which is normal considering the nice weather and the increase in things to do like Brewers and Bucks games, it is not too surprising.

But I would suggest that you consider adding Serb Hall's fish fries back on your list of things to do on a Friday evening. And tell Tim that Cog Dis sent you.

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