Cahoots is full of contrasts. It's a lively bar and restaurant in a slightly spooky-looking turreted Victorian building that was once a stagecoach stop, reputedly a speakeasy and brothel, and was later known as Verona's "auditorium" for the performances held there.
The railroad tracks over which it loomed are gone, replaced by the Military Ridge bicycle path. It opened as Cahoots bar last July, and owner Josh Jiru has gradually been increasing the menu. About a month ago a Friday night fish fry was added.
The staff is young, pierced and bustling, and service is remarkably speedy even when it's crowded. The Happy Hour clientele during a recent Friday fish fry at about 5 p.m. seemed like it might have been sitting on the same bar stools when the word "cahoots" (meaning a secretive and possibly shady alliance) was actually part of American lingo.
An hour and a half later, a much younger crowd turned up. Most of the people were seated at the bar, some with food and all with drinks. A few unadorned tables, which tend to be sticky, flank the bar and are set in the games room, most with speakers above them. Someone evidently noticed the wincing caused by the head-banger sound level and it was, mercifully, lowered.
Three types of fish are served on Friday nights. The lemon-pepper walleye ($11) was huge and tasted like it had just been caught (though I asked, and it wasn't). It was grilled perfectly, and so flaky moist and good that the lemon and tartar sauce served with it would have been a distraction from the outstanding fish. The walleye was also offered with "original" or Cajun seasoning. Cod and lake perch were also being served that evening.
Although the walleye was my favorite, the thickly battered and fried cod ($9.50) was wonderfully crunchy and well-seasoned, and the delicately fried lake perch ($11) was also excellent. All the fish arrived with plumes of steam still rising from them. Unlike so much fried fish that seems to vanish beneath greasy armors of batter, the pleasant flavor of the fish here remained intact.
Also delicious was the crisp, finely chopped coleslaw with a dressing that was not too heavy or too light. In addition, the fish was served with a baked potato (undercooked on one visit, just right on the second) and a truly awful packaged dinner roll. A bun of the same description marred an otherwise fine cheeseburger ($5.50), which was juicy and cooked medium, as asked. With it came a big heap of long, skinny french fries.
A more substantial bun was used for the chicken sandwich ($5.25), but the heavily breaded and deep-fried chicken breast was on the leaden side. Clearly, the laurels here go to the fish.
DINER'S SCORECARD\Restaurant: Cahoots
Location: 102 W. Railroad, Verona
Hours: Food served 2 to 11 p.m.; Friday fish fry 5 to 10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $4 to $7; sandwiches $6, fish $9.50 to $11; pizza $8 to $9
Specialties: Friday fish fry
Noise level: Ear-splitting, at times
Credit cards: Not accepted
Reservations: Not accepted
Bottom line: An exceptional fish fry. Fast service, low prices, with pool, shuffleboard, darts and plenty of TVs and a good beer selection. Not for vegetarians, but there are lots of things to keep children entertained.