Twisted Fisherman Has, Ah, Great Atmosphere
Riverside restaurant has great barefoot beach ambience, not-so-good food.
If you put a restaurant in the valley, next to the Menomonee River, bring in a ton or so of sand, and call it a Coastal Crab Shack, you don’t need to set a high bar for the food. People will come for the sun, the beer, the picnic tables set on a large deck, the ring toss games, and of course, the river.
The Twisted Fisherman on Canal St., across the street from the Wisconsin Energy Power Plant, sits in between Potawatomi Casino and the Harley Davidson Museum. It’s quite the complex: a bar; a deck with splashy yellow picnic tables; a tent with a bandstand for bands on Friday and Saturday nights; a second tent for weddings; some artsy hand-painted signs scattered around; and several docks on the river for boaters to tie on and come on up to join the festivities.
We watched two kayakers do just that, tie up, hoist themselves on to the deck — no small feat, I can attest to that — then down beers and paddle on down river. There was no end to the river entertainment here, if you like that sort of thing, and I certainly do. From front row seats, we watched more kayaks, many pleasure boats, and two pontoon boats that docked: the Milwaukee Maiden and the Brew City Queen II.
A couple dozen passengers clambered off each boat and headed for the bar while about the same number departed the bar and jumped on for a ride to the next stop. These Saturday afternoon pontoon cruises are offered by Riverwalkboats.com, an interesting concept that gives customers a chance to migrate from bar to bar, three to be exact: Twisted Fisherman, Motor at the Harley Davidson Museum, and Hotwater Wherehouse. For an hour at each layover, they’re a captive audience, and from what we observed, enthusiasts at the bar. Thirty-four dollars buys a seat and an afternoon of fun times on the river. After we watched this deluge of passengers come and go, we decided it must be weekends that keep the Twisted Fisherman in business.
As for our meal, it was hit and miss. The Crab Bisque, made with crab stock and Wisconsin cream, briefly raised the bar for the food. It had depth of flavor that said, “Crab,” and richness from cream that added more flavor and a few calories. I emptied the bowl; wanted more.
Likewise, my companion’s Strawberry Daiquiri Salad with toasted coconut, strawberries, almonds, and spinach, came nicely dressed with a lime dressing, enough to coat but not drown the separate parts of the salad. She added shrimp, six to be exact, which turned out to be plumb, juicy, perfect add-ons to the salad.
My Coconut Shrimp, from the list of Appetizers, were jumbo as advertised, but almost inedible. It’s a travesty to start with six beautiful jumbo shrimp, coat them with coconut and bread crumbs, then deep-fry the hell out of them until every nuance of coconut and shrimp flavor has dissipated. I dipped the crunchy buggers in the accompanying tangy lime sauce and enjoyed the sauce.
I had first checked out the restaurant on a Tuesday when it was deadsville on the deck. It was also the weekly Lobsterfest with a special menu featuring the crustacean. We avoided the Lobster Hamburger, sautéed lobster on a burger topped with key lime sauce. “Surf and Turf,” someone quipped.
After a long wait for a glass of water, too long on a hot afternoon in the sun, two of our group of four ordered the Lobster Roll and rated it “decent,” not a rave, but they liked the touch of heat that added personality.
For the Lobster Tortellini, the kitchen combined lobster and spinach in a tomato cream sauce. The lobster part of the dish was mainly absent. What we found were tiny pieces smaller than spring peas, completely overpowered by the tomato sauce. It was a good idea gone bad; the dish wanted more lobster, less tomato.
As for my Crab Cakes topped with chipotle aioli, I can only ask “Where’s the crab?” We’ve all been there, ordered crab cakes with high expectations for lots of sweet juicy crab bonded with bread crumbs, parsley, mayo and an egg. Whoever put these crab cakes together must have been on a tight budget. The aioli however, made a delicious spread on the mostly breadcrumb cakes.
Overall, I give Twisted Fisherman five stars for barefoot beach ambience, the sand, the river, the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville vibe. As for the food, it’s not what this place is about. I would go back to wriggle my toes in the sand, have a beer, and watch the river float by. And I definitely wouldn’t order the crab cakes or coconut shrimp.