Rest assured, we have some pretty good calamari in SE Wisconsin. Calamari is the Italian word for squid and all parts of the squid are edible from the tentacles to the body. All three places we visited, as recommended by our Facebook page members, served hand-breaded, tender calamari with body parts and tentacle parts. Let’s get something out of the way: can we agree that marinara sauce is really an inappropriate dipping sauce for calamari? Give me some cocktail or a mayonaise-based sauce any day over marinara sauce. Only one of the three places we tried served their calamari with marinara, but even at that place, cocktail sauce was easily substituted.
Coming in at number three, Boat House Pub and Eatery, 4917 7th Avenue, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Boat House is an attractive restaurant in downtown Kenosha, adjacent to a harbor.
The calamari was listed as hand-breaded and was reasonably priced at $7.95.
When the calamari arrived, it was tender, and the batter was unremarkable but yet, fine. The serving size was appropriate and it was paired with the dreaded marinara sauce. We asked our friendly waiter for cocktail sauce and he happily brought some to the table. There were rings as well as the tentacles and we finished the tender fried calamari quickly.
Coming in at number two was Cafe Hollander, 2608 N. Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (There is a second location in Wauwatosa)
Judging the entire appetizer, Cafe Hollander was probably our favorite of all three, however, focusing purely on the calamari, this one is the second-best.
First, Cafe Hollander is on the North side of Milwaukee and it was packed with a waiting list at 12:30 pm on a Friday. The outside seating is great and most of the crowd were taking advantage of the beautiful day.
Cafe Hollander is owned by the Lowlands Group, which also owns Cafe Benelux in the Third Ward, Cafe Bavaria in Wauwatosa, and Cafe Centraal in Bay View. The website explains that the restaurants are all European/Belgian-style. http://www.lowlandsgroup.com/ourcompany/
At Cafe Hollander the calamari ($11.95) has some accompaniments which were delicious and made the dish.
The calamari was tender and the breading had bit of heat/spice to it. When paired with the sriracha mayo, this was a bit of an spicy overkill for a couple of us. In addition, the breading didn’t stick to the calamari quite as well as our winning calamari.
The peppadew peppers (red in the photo) were tangy but not too spicy but the best part was the fried balsamic marinated cippolini onions (the dark circular things in the photo). These could be the star of their own appetizer, which I would absolutely order.
And our number one calamari is St. Paul Fish Company, 400 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
St. Paul Fish Company is located within the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward. St. Paul sells seafood for takeout, but they also have a full menu and about fifteen restaurant-seating tables.
We ordered the fried calamari for $8.95. The calamari arrived piping hot with a panko-like breading that stuck to the squid. The breading was perfectly seasoned. It was served with both cocktail and remoulade sauce (flavored mayo). The remoulade sauce was the most complimentary sauce to the calamari.
If we could have put St. Paul’s calamari with the peppers and balsamic onions served by Cafe Hollander, the result would be amazing. I would love to do another calamari challenge but with grilled calamari or calamari salads. Anyone have a suggestion for those in SE Wisconsin?