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Catching a meal: Restaurant new at Palmyra fish farm

PALMYRA — Peter Fritsch hopes he is on to something with his plan to have folks eat what they catch at his new on-farm restaurant, The Trout House.

Rushing Waters Fisheries, on the border of Walworth and Jefferson counties between Palmyra and LaGrange, opened an on-farm restaurant in November that is believed to be Wisconsin’s first fine-dining restaurant where people will be able to catch a fish and have it cooked on-site and brought to their dinner table.

Wisconsin Farmers Union members toured the facility April 8 during one of its five spring meetings. Fritsch said the group was the first to have a midweek luncheon meeting at the new restaurant.

Rushing Waters is Wisconsin’s largest fish farm, with 56 ponds and raceways where it grows thousands of fish year-around. Fritsch describes it as a “completely integrated business,” from eggs hatched on the farm to fish filleted and ready for stores or restaurants. Now it has added the eat-on-the-farm component.

The Rushing Waters website describes the new Trout House restaurant as a “farm-to-fork culinary experience.” It is open Friday through Sunday and recently opened on Wednesday nights during Lent.

Cindy Johnson, secretary/treasurer of the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association, said she believes Rushing Waters is the only fish farm in Wisconsin that is offering a catch-and-eat on-farm fine-dining experience.

The Bullfrog Fish Farm near Menomonie offers an outdoor “cooking shack” experience for folks who catch and want to eat fish on the farm, and North Star Homestead Farms near Hayward serves up tilapia caught on the farm in its on-farm café.

Fritsch said Rushing Waters will be promoting the catch-and-eat concept heavily in area urban markets such as Madison, Milwaukee, Lake Geneva and Chicago, and he is hopeful it is something that will catch on.

“We’d like to get families to come out,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people have never fished before. It’s the majority of people who visit. Now we’re giving them a chance to come out and fish and they love it.”

Rushing Waters was spawned in the 1940s as a mink farm, raising trout to feed the mink. When fur prices went down, the owners opted to continue to raise fish and sell them to restaurants in Chicago.

“All these years later Chicago is still our biggest market,” Fritsch said. “It’s kind of weird how the stories tie together. Now some of the scraps we have left from our fish are sold to a feed mill to be made into mink food.”

The 80-acre farm also makes its own dog treats from fish scraps, Fritsch said, so much like the pork industry, the farm “uses everything but the squeal,” Fritsch said.

Fish on the farm are moved three or four times from pond to pond as they grow. They will be big enough to eat — about 1 pound — in 16 to 18 months, depending on the weather.

Fish growth slowed dramatically this winter during the bitter cold weather, Fritsch said, although the ponds stayed open with artesian springs feeding them and pumps continually moving the water. The water temperature in the ponds is about 49 degrees.

The average pond is 100 feet long, 15 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Rushing Waters is one of only a few fish farms in the nation that is chemical free, with no antibiotics used on the fish, Fritsch said.

There are no organic standards for fish, but Fritsch said Rushing Waters wins points with customers when they are told that the fish are naturally raised without chemicals.

People who question the safety of farm-raised fish are encouraged to come to the farm to see for themselves, Fritsch said. There is even a viewing window on the processing room where the fish are cut and wrapped.

Fritsch, who has been a Rushing Waters co-owner and manager for about 18 years, said the restaurant got off to a relatively slow start with the cold winter, but Friday night fish fries have been busy.

“We had five complete dinner services that had to be canceled because of the weather,” he said. “One day in January we had 50 people reserved for Sunday brunch and it snowed like 10 inches, so it didn’t happen. It’s been a rough winter.”

After Memorial Day, Fritsch said plans call for the restaurant to be open Wednesday through Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays will be reserved for private events, luncheons and bus tours.

“We’ve been pitching bus tours to bus companies and they’ve been biting,” he said. “They’re excited because it’s something different. People are asking a lot of questions about where their food is coming from and this gives them a chance to come and see.”

Fritsch said he hopes to schedule Saturday fish boils and shrimp and crawfish boils on Sunday afternoons.

“We want to make Sunday afternoons a Caribbean type of theme,” he said. “We’ll have some live entertainment and it will be a good place to come and relax.”

The restaurant’s menu includes pecan-crusted rainbow trout, pan-roasted maple salmon and a skirt steak with prawns. The menu also features smoked trout chowder, which is described as a blend of potato, leeks, celery, trout, cream and marjoram.

Beer-battered fried fresh trout is featured on Friday night.

Rushing Waters has about 35 full-time employees, including those in the new restaurant and gift shop. The number of employees swells to about 50 in the summer.

 

 

 

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