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[Photograph: Joe Roy]

My, what a difference a few years can make. Among those who discuss such things, McGill's Bar & Grill in Albany Park has been extolled for quite some time as an exemplary Lenten option. While I found it slightly better than serviceable shortly after I moved to the big city, I was still an unenlightened, thick-fillet adverse, church-basement-fry kind of guy back then. But like I said a few weeks back, I've decided to broaden my horizons. And I'm humbled to admit that this is easily the best plate of fried fish I've had this season—the fact that it's only week two be damned.

The Alaskan Cod ($6.00 for three pieces, $9.00 for all you can eat) comes with your choice of potato (boiled, French fried, or salad-ed), coleslaw, and bread and butter. While intrigued by the boiled-then-finished-on-the-grill option, I dutifully ordered mine deep fried.

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Though cooked until crisp, the Fries required a salt and malt vinegar dousing to make them more than a passing fancy. I quickly and wisely moved on, pausing only for a moment for a bite of sweet, soupy coleslaw.

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But oh, the fish! It arrives to the table glistening, the pride-swelled batter barely, but somehow securely, tethered on. Said batter is light, beer based, and unchanged in my waitress' 12 years of working here. Flavorful without obscuring the fishy flesh, I added no salt nor squeeze of lemon—scout's honor. Lesser friers of fish should be required to sojourn here to learn their seasoning secrets.

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Cooked til well-crisped (proudly, my waitress puffed, by whoever gets the order, not by any designated cook), each petite fish bundle contains a thick and tender flaky middle, and the thinner, crispy edges prized by small fillet fanatics.

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The tartar sauce was admittedly from a tub, but unlike the saccharine sweet versions at lesser fries, it was tangy and dill-forward. And be sure to make like a knowledgeable old timer when it comes to the Bread and Butter. Unlike its white, barbecue-topping brethren, this slice of rye is actually meant to eaten. Slather it with butter and tartar, stuff it with a fillet or two of fish, and enjoy this DIY sandwich with my grandpa's blessing.

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Though all-you-can-eat fish meant I certainly wouldn't leave hungry, I ordered the Cheese Cubes ($4.00 for an order of 20!) because why the hell not? Sure, they're a from frozen, American cheese stuffed bastardization of Sconnie fried curds. But the mouth-coatingly unctuous study in factory-perfect uniformity is also delicious in that bar and grill kind of way. Be warned, though: once they cool, these cubes turn to flavorless, rubbery pumpkins, so risk the scorched tongue and dive right in.

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If you do one fish fry this lent, make the trek up Pulaski to McGill's. Along with enjoying a great plate of fish, you may also witness some over-served-fifty-somethings gyrating to "SexyBack." If that doesn't scream barroom fish fry, I don't know what does.

McGill's Bar & Grill

4553 N Pulaski Road Chicago, IL 60630 (map)
773-478-6096
mcgillsbarandgrill.com

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