Nite Cap Inn
227 South 3rd Street
October 2013 found your Fish Dish Review Crew hitching up the wagons and giddy-yupping as far southeast in Jefferson County as possible, to Palmyra, home of The Nite Cap Inn. Plenty of parking is available, and that is good, because the place was very busy – a good sign of things to come. Once a hotel in the 1840’s, The Nite Cap Inn’s diners are greeted by a long, comfy, covered porch attached to an impressive 2 story brick building.
The big, friendly bar serves as a waiting area. The sassy hostess zeroes in on us and takes our name and number of diners, asking whether we want pancakes or fries. (I have a potato pancake monkey on my back, so I immediately answer “pancakes of course.”) I had read that the potato pancakes are legendary here and was eager to try them.
Protocol Alert: Nite Cap Inn Friday diners must be aware that upon putting your name in and announcing your potato choice, you have automatically ordered everyone’s family style meal that is served ready-to-eat upon being seated. The only option to the standard fried cod is a baked fish choice. Try to let the hostess know if you want the baked in addition to the fried when giving your name.
This unusual system of ordering, waiting and eating allows for efficiency in the kitchen and consistency of product. These methods are also the reason that The Nite Cap Inn serves over 500 diners on Fridays on a weekly basis!
It is a lovely fall evening, so we lounge on the porch with cocktails in hand. This makes for a perfect time to inspect the premises for cleanliness. The Nite Cap Inn is spotless. Later, the owner proudly declares that her establishment qualifies year-in-and-year-out as the cleanest eating place in Jefferson County. I have learned never to argue with a woman with a giant spatula in her hand. Really folks, the old building is really maintained well.
Upon being seated, the food arrives, family style, and piping hot. Nice chunks of fried cod are heaped on the serving plate, and we dig in with gusto. A full bowl tartar sauce keeps the fish seasoned well as we clean the plate and ask for more…with one caveat: could we try some baked even if we did not order it initially? Our waitress happily presents a plate of moist, delectable morsels. With a hint of (garlic?) the baked fish was the star of the show. And the pancakes? They lived up to the advance billing. Doused with applesauce or syrup, these pancakes are perfectly fried, crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside.
Accompaniments are equally scrumptious: cole slaw and rye bread of course.
Service was prompt and friendly, with the pleasant interlude of our knowledgeable waitress reeling off the history of the building’s previous tenants, obviously proud of her family’s business. Family’s business? That’s right…our server was the the daughter of the owner. When we ask for a tour of the kitchen she begins bustling away with a matter-of -fact “Sure! Follow me.” What a model of efficiency. An antique meat grinder cranks out pulverized potatoes. Potato pancakes sizzle in ancient cast iron pans that serve only one purpose. The kitchen is a calm beehive of activity where everyone knows precisely what they are doing, and the tip top quality products just keep flowing out to the dining room’s hungry patrons. All while maintaining that clean-as-a-whistle standard.
It should be noted that on Wednesdays, walleye and other delicacies are added to the usual fish fry, with weekend specials as well.
Summary: The prices are reasonable, the service is outstanding, the place is spotless and the food is…well…let’s just say we’ll be back to the Nite Cap Inn very soon.
Katie was the Executive Director of the Lake Mills Main Street Program from 2011 to 2019 and was the Secretary for the Jefferson County Tourism Council. In 2019, she retired to explore a new fashion degree and travel throughout the world. Katie was also a writer and contributed a great deal of copy for our website and printed guide. She was a great asset to our organization and we'll miss her!