Everything is Shipshape at Smith Bros. Fish Shanty

May 16, 1980
Milwaukee Journal
Port Washington
Don't look now, but there's something of an empire on the Lake Michigan harbor-front.

It's just 132 years old this spring, and it bears the imprint of the family Smith - the Smith Bros., to be exact.

A glimpse around you as you stand on the shoreline facing the rolling waves of the lake tells the tale.

To your right is the Smith Bros.' picturesque fish processing plant, one of the few of Its kind still functioning hereabouts, with the doughty tug. Oliver H. Smith, moored loyally nearby.

To your left Is the multistory Harborside Motor Inn, also bearing the Smith imprint.

And, a few steps away, at the northeast corner of E. Grand and N. Franklin Sts., is the crown jewel of the operation, the Smith Bros. Fish Shanty. In a sturdy, mast-bedecked building it shares with a pub and retail fish market.
Victim of 3 fires
Having risen, Phoenixlike, from one major fire (in 1953) and two lesser ones (in 1961 and 1973), this bustling seafood restaurant is the lineal descendant of the original eating place opened on the same spot June 14. 1934, by Evelyn C. Smith.

That first, tentative toe dipped into the frigid waters of the food-service industry consisted of but 12 stools, a counter and a handful of tables.

Today, Its successor encompasses three dining areas on two levels and can seat some 485 persons at peak hours. It is open seven days a week, 363 days a year (don't come by on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day), from 11.30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The fourth and fifth generations of the Smith family - commercial fishermen in these waters since 1848 - are at the wheel now. and they've steered their closely held bark into such diverse but related waters as wholesale and retail sales, fast foods, hotelkeeping and even caviar processing.
Doing very well
In short, the descendants of Delos Smith -a sea captain whose father, Gilbert Smith, founded the dynasty after emigrating to Wisconsin from the Finger Lakes region of New York State before the Civil War - appear to be doing very well indeed, thank you.

At least that's the impression a young companion and I got when we paid an unannounced visit to this most substantial shanty on a recent Sunday afternoon.

It was Mother's Day, and the memorabilla-filled first-floor dining rooms were crammed to the gunwales with coiffed and corsaged matrons, most of them in the process of being feted by appreciative spouses and offspring.
Special menu
Still, we were led to our window-side table at precisely 3:30, the hour of our reservation, and we were neither detained in the lobby (a minor horror) nor detoured to the bar (a major one) along the way.

Our cheerful, auburn-haired waitress, decked out in a red, white and blue sailorsult, tiny gob's hat and ebullient floral corsage, brought us the special Mother's Day menu and left us to contemplate it and the decor.

The latter, we decided, was suitably nautical for a purveyor of seafood.

Enlarged photographs of the lake - including, as might be expected, the seaborne Oliver H Smith - are framed so as to suggest picture windows, and chandeliers in the now obligatory lantern style are suspended from beamed ceilings.

Plenty of maritime souvenirs, including a lifebuoy from the "Senator Fairmont" and table settings from other long-forgotten craft, are on display in cases throughout the building.

The Smiths will tell you, though, that the best of their souvenirs, gathered after being washed up on nearby beaches over the decades, were destroyed in the 1953 blaze.
Full, half portions
A couple of original oil painting by that fine, German-bom artist, the late Robert von Neumann, partially make up for the loss by reminding of the heroic qualities of the men who fish the lakes.

A nice feature of the Smith Bros. menu is the availability of full and half portions of most items on the bill of fare.

Thus, at the lime of our visit, you could order a full-scale serving of french-frled filets of Lake Michigan perch for S8 95, or a "waistliner"- as the reduced portion is known - for $5.75.

Similarly, the costliest dish on the Mother's Day listing, broiled South African lobster tails, went for $15.95 on the full dinner, $10.75 on the "waistliner."

Both sizes of entrees are accompanied by potato, salad and hot rolls. Beverages and desserts are extra.
Prices moderate to medium
The full menu, available at other times, is grouped according to waters of origin.

There are 10 saltwater dishes, from french-fried haddock to South African lobster tails; six freshwater entrees, from whlteftsh to Great Lakes perch; five "for the landlubber." from chopped beefsteak to a lobster and filet combination, and four varieties of fish (salmon, trout, pike and whitcfish), served on charred planks.

Prices are In the moderate to medium range.

We began our meal by selecting a serving of marinated herring ($1.50) from the appetizer list. It was a tender. Scandinavian-style delight, Just right for setting off two appetities stimulated by travel.

My guest then downed a largish cup of clam chowder (95 cents), which arrived hot, creamy and, as he put it, "very mealy." Mercifully, it had not been over-salted - a fault shared by all too many soups we've been served lately.

The salads - tossed lettuce for him, creamy slaw for me - were adequate, though the greens, carrots and red cabbage in my companion's bowl had definitely been machine cut.

All was remedied, however, when the main dishes arrived.

My associate's "waistliner" of broiled trout ($5 25) was, he said, "a good-sized portion for me." I sampled it and found it beautifully (illegible) just moist enough to be (illegible) just dry enough to be flavorful.

As for my own, full-sized (illegible) baked whitefish with dressing cream sauce ($6 50). It was too much for what remained of my appetite, though a heartier eater would probably have relished it to the last fragment of breading.

Again, the seasoning was (illegible) generally unobtrusive. My only (illegible) complaint was that the fish had not been properly filleted, and I accumulated quite an array of tiny, (illegible) potentlally irritating, bones around the edge of my plate.
Reservations a must
For dessert we called for a fudge sundae (80 cents) and a slice of the Smith Bros.' famous lemon meringue pie (90 cents). The fudge was indeed, hot, and the meringue was as high as a sea otter's eye.

Our check, including soft drink and coffee, but not tax and tip, came to $17.10.

Judging by our experience reservations are a must, particularly on weekends and holidays. A wine list is available, as is a special menu for children.

If you do visit the Fish Shanty don't overlook the nearby Maritime Museum, also located in a Smith Bros., building.

It's a storehouse of fascinating subsurface treasures, recovered (illegible) old wrecks by a cadre of local scuba divers.

The little museum is open only on weekends at the moment, but early in June its hours will, I'm told, extend into weekdays as well.


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