Deep Fried Chicago: The Fifty/50
Located in the center of West Lincoln Park, (I made that up, but if we work together, we can make it a thing), The Fifty/50 is a bro-ding ground of sports-tuned flat screens, buxom waitresses, and an egalitarian smattering of Chicago team memorabilia. You may have to chest bump your way through the crowded bar on the weekends or before/during/after The Game, but if you come for lunch or on a regular weeknight, you'll be rewarded with a low-key vibe and some of the better bar food in the area. The menu focuses on smoked, sandwiched, and fried foods, but we'll leave the former two for another time.
The Onion Rings ($6.00) are coated evenly in something called Fifty/50 Seasoned Flour and served with a side of ranch dressing for dipping. The flavor is full blown Bloomin' Onion, which is in no way a slight—I'd eat these all day. They could be crispier, though, if they want to compete with my favorite onion rings in the city.
The Corn Fried Calamari ($11.00) comes in an intense tangle, alongside a ketchup-red (and flavored) bowl of marinara and a stocking-capped lemon half. The dominant use of cornmeal had me excited, but the dish failed to deliver. The breading itself was lackluster, and the squid was one-note as well.
The Buffalo Wings ($8.00 for an 8 piece) have the potential to be divisive. That's right, you're looking at breaded wings here. These suckers were huge, juicy, and unique. I can't think of many other places you'll find the style beyond your grocer's freezer. But you know what? I liked them for what they were. If you want to like them too, I promise not to tell Nick and Roger. It can be our little secret.
But best of all were Greg's Deep Fried Cheese Curds ($8.00). I don't know who Greg is, but I for one would like to shake his hand [Editor's Note: Guessing that's co-owner, Greg Mohr]. These lightly breaded nuggets are the squeakiest and most flavorful I've ever had—in Chicago or Wisconsin. They actually taste like cheese curds! The genius blend of ground oyster crackers and flour makes for a subtle breading, keeping the curds the star of the show. I guess if you really pressed me, I'd admit that they could use to be crispier. But that's nitpicking. I'll be back for these the next time I get a hankering for deep fried cheese.
Besides the calamari, the biggest letdown at The Fifty/50 are the sauces, which is a real shame since they're all made in-house. From the ranch to the bleu cheese to the buffalo sauce, everything tasted like version 1.0: they were never taken beyond the "oh, this tastes like x" stage. The result was a shallow depth of flavor and a thin soup consistency. If you forget to dab your item paintbrush-style against the side of the bowl after each dip, you risk seriously Pollocking the table with your sauce of choice. I don't know if this is an instance where in-house doesn't necessarily mean better, but with sauces stepped-up to the quality of the exemplary deep fried bar food, The Fifty/50 would have me willing to brave Division Street more often—bros be damned.