At the Jolly Roger Seafood House in downtown Port Clinton, the out-of-town license plates in the parking lot and the lines that form at the door on weekends each summer offer eloquent testimony to what you'll find inside.
On a humdrum Monday afternoon, for instance, we saw license plates from North Carolina, New York, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, and of course, Ohio.
The following Sunday, we stood in a line that started just outside the front entrance and snaked through the lakeside restaurant to the counter where orders are taken.
What's the draw? Yellow perch sandwiches, that's what - four big, scrumptious pieces to every bun, with cole slaw, tartar sauce, and other condiments. But there's also walleye and snow scrod, in sandwiches or platters, plus jumbo shrimp and oysters, waffle fries and onion rings. Further down the list are chicken breast and turkey sandwiches, chicken salad, breaded mushrooms, and a children's menu.
In this Lake Erie resort town of 6,000, food registers at the top of the pecking order for tourists and locals, along with fishing charters, pizza and ice cream shops, taverns with happy hours, yacht club parties, and ferries to Put-in-Bay and other Lake Erie islands.
The Jolly Roger, in business for 25 years, boasts of having "Lake Erie's finest perch and walleye." Based on several visits, I have no reason to doubt the claim.
All the seafood in the nonalcoholic establishment is deep-fried, and while a plump sandwich of perch, walleye, or snow scrod, priced in the $3.50-$5 range, should be enough to satisfy the average appetite, there are also shore dinner combos for $10.95. If that won't do, try the one-pound boats of perch and walleye for $14.75 and $13.95 respectively.
Lest I give the wrong impression, the Jolly Roger is not one of those sprawling, touristy restaurants outfitted for large crowds and quick turnovers. It's actually a smallish place, about the size of a fast-food restaurant, with a couple of outdoor patios attached. Prefab booths and nailed-down tables and chairs line the narrow aisles, and the dcor includes lacquered perch and walleye dangling in fish nets on the walls.
Everything starts at the cashier's counter: In-house or carry-out, you put in your order, pay the money, take a number, sit down, and wait for a server to deliver the food.
Just how good is it? Well, if the license plates don't tell you, your palate will. The perch sandwich ($4.99) is not only bountiful but firmly fleshed and juicy. A generous serving of fine jumbo shrimp runs $7.59 for 6 and $14.75 for 12, and the lightly coated snow cod outdoes even the vaunted walleye for tenderness and flavor. About the only thing I didn't try were the deep-fried oysters ($5.99 for 6, $11.25 for 12).
My only quibble was with the whipped tartar sauce, which reminded me of mustard-based potato salad dressing. The napkins also were small, the utensils plastic, and the plates made of foam.
But with fish this satisfying, who cares?
Walleye anglers who put in after a day of fishing are invited to bring along their catch. The Jolly Roger will prepare two freshly caught and cleaned walleyes in the glass-enclosed Breading Pit for $5.89, fixings included.
To get there, take State Rt. 2 (Navarre Avenue) east to Rt. 163, which takes you to Port Clinton's Perry Street, where the restaurant is located. It's about 36 miles from Toledo.
The Jolly Roger closes each year on Nov. 30 and opens again in February.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org