ChiBBQKing told me that Marko’s Fish House in Madison, Illinois served one of the best fish sandwiches.
I had to see for myself.
Madison, Illinois is a smaller city of approximately 5,400 residents located just across the river near Granite City. Until this day, I had visited neither.
The first two things you should know before heading to Marko’s is that its open Tuesday-Friday and that you need to bring cash.
If you scroll through Marko’s Facebook page wall, you’ll notice message after message from people starting with phrases such as these:
- “I’ve been coming here my whole life. . . “
- “I’ve been taking my kids here since they were little. . . “
- “My grandparents started taking me here when I was a kid. . . “
Marko’s has been here a very long time. Since 1928, to be exact.
A woman named Judy left my favorite post on Marko’s wall. She described walking to Marko’s as a child and picking up fried fish sandwiches for her parents. As far as the fish sandwich recipe goes, it sounds like nothing’s changed. They’re still as good as everyone remembers. If they weren’t, someone probably would have left some words . It’s all too easy to do online, but there are none to be found. I’m going to go ahead and say it’s because the fish sandwich is almost beyond reproach.
From St. Louis, Madison, Illinois is only a 20-25 minute drive. There’s plenty of street parking in front of the restaurant.
Inside, you’ll find several booths or a diner counter facing kitchen to sit. I arrived at an off-meal time and yet the women who managed the restaurant filled plenty of dine-in and take-out orders. They were very warm and hospitable and made me feel at ease. I sat at the counter after I ordered my meal and enjoyed watching the action.
The menu is short and sweet. Sure it also offers a burger, catfish, or shrimp basket, but the popular thing to order really seems to be the cod sandwich. I watched how the ladies battered and fried each fillet to order. Then, they tuck the fish between two thick slices of freshly cut bread. You can see the whole loaves waiting on little cutting boards along the back counter. The bread’s texture is a pleasing balance between chewy, fluffy, and crust; one that serves to absorb some of piping hot batter’s oil and provides a structurally-sound dining experience.
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve eaten a lot of fried fish sandwiches and fish and chip platters. This sandwich is remarkable not only because of the way it is served, but the crispness of the batter and lightness of the fish. Somehow, the liquid batter forms an airtight capsule around the cod in the hot fryer oil. The fish remains moist and almost fluffy in texture. Unlike the fried fish I’ve tried in many sandwiches, the batter stays crisp, too. And its flavor almost reminds me of a state fair mini doughnut, except a little bit more savory
For about $6.50, it’s a big piece of fish. I added a side of crinkle cut fries and coleslaw bringing my bill up to about $10.
Marko’s provides hot sauce and tartar sauce for dressing and dipping. I had forgotten to add some to my sandwich before taking my first bite but I hardly missed them. The banana peppers, pickles , and onions added a nice tang to offset the friedness. Coleslaw also provides a pleasant counterpoint to the fried fish, as it’s also of the tangy variety. It reminded me of the coleslaw we really like at Pappy’s, except even tangier.
On the way back to the freeway, I missed a turn. This turned out to be a happy detour. I passed by the 104-year old church Our Lady of Czestochowa St. Mary’s Church founded by Polish immigrants in 1912. You can red more about the church in a profile published in the STL Today anticipating its 100th anniversary celebration. According to this Rome of the Midwest blog post, round churches like this are rare.
“This is the house of God. The gate of heaven.” On a day this beautiful beneath a sky so blue, I imagined it almost could be.
Visit Marko’s Fish Restaurant:
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11-6, Friday 11-7