Thirty yards past the fish is Bortell’s Fisheries, a square cinder block building that’s home to some of west Michigan’s best seafood. Bortell’s has been in business for six generations, since 1898 when Uriah Bortell first put fish to fryer. Six generations of Germans later, the Bortell family continues to run a tidy, utilitarian ship.
The outside of the building is brightly painted in a modern fish décor, but the inside retains the old-world, rustic feel one would expect from a rural fishmonger. The room is occupied by a glass cooler that takes up half the space. 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 on the front wall, wood slat paneling adorned with historic photos of the building and its family. When I asked if I could take photos of the inside, they told the fish in the cooler to smile for me.
Fish are available fresh or prepared, a la carte or dinners 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: Half pound of lake perch, half pound of fries, and a half cup of slaw, plus a Vernors ginger ale for good measure. The perch is some of the finest I’ve ever tasted – lightly breaded and ubber fresh. Forget tartar sauce, forget lemon, forget salt; the fish is it – crisp on the outside, buttery and flaky on the inside.
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 sizeable umbrellas. For hours of operation, an approximation of lunch to dusk seems about right. Open though Labor Day. 5528 S. Lakeshore Dr., Ludington, Michigan, 231-843-3337.