Across from a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, on South Lakeshore Drive between Pentwater and Ludington, there’s a battered wooden sign—it reads simply, FISH. When summer arrives in Michigan, head for this roadside marker.
Thirty yards north of the fish sign is Bortell’s Fisheries, a square cinder block building that’s home to West Michigan’s best seafood. Bortell’s has been in business for six generations, since 1898 when Uriah Bortell dropped his first fish in hot oil. Six generations of Germans later, the Bortell family continues to run a tidy, utilitarian ship.
The outside of the building is bright modernist fish décor, but the inside retains the old-world, rustic feel one would expect from a rural fishmonger. The room is fully occupied by a glass cooler. Behind the cooler, a deep fryer and a bare-bones menu on the wall. To the left is a small glass refrigerator for pop, and the front wall is adorned with wood-slat paneling and historic photos of the building and its family.
Fish is available fresh or prepared, a la carte or as a dinner with French fries and coleslaw. Menu items include walleye, whitefish and a variety of local and imported seafood. I recommend the perch dinner for $13.60; you’ll get a half pound of lake perch, a half pound of fries and a half cup of slaw, plus a Vernors ginger ale for good measure. The lightly breaded perch is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted. Forget tartar sauce, forget lemon, forget salt—the fish is it—crisp on the outside, buttery and flaky on the inside.
There are two dining options: to-go, or at outdoor picnic tables. For cooked food, the tables work just fine, and even in rain they’re covered with umbrellas. For hours of operation, an approximation of lunch to dusk seems about right, and they’re open through Labor Day at 5528 S. Lakeshore Dr. in Ludington, MI.
~Tim Chilcote, Contributing Writer