We had passed a place called Fisherman's Wharf on the north end of the Highway 71 bridge that goes over the waterway between East and West Lake Okoboji a number of times during our vacation in that area earlier this summer. It looked intriguing with its deck dining and nautical theme. We decided to have lunch there one day during our vacation.
Known as simply "The Wharf" to the locals and regulars, the restaurant has been a staple for residents and vacationers in the Lake Okoboji area for years. It was originally on the west side of the road until the Iowa Department of Transportation had it condemned in the mid-90's for the construction of the new bridge. The owner at that time, Jeff Kurth, moved the restaurant across the highway into what was an old Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. He added on to the restaurant putting in a bar, a three-season dining area and an outdoor deck that overlooked the marina next door.
Before Kurth bought the place in 1994, it was known as Harold's Fisherman Wharf. I was talking to a lady in Arnolds Park about Fisherman's Wharf and she told me that there was a man - Harold - and his wife - Margie - that originally owned the business. When I asked what their last name was, she said, "Hmmm... You know, I don't remember. I just remember when I was a little kid and my parents would just say we were going to Harold and Margie's for dinner."
And long before it was known as Fisherman's Wharf, the site on which the building stands was home to the Okoboji General Store. In the early 1900's, the Okoboji General Store was the one-stop shop for residents and vacationers looking for supplies, fishing licenses and also served as the local Post Office.
In 2010, a series of winter storms caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to docks and storage buildings at Mau Marine, located next to Fisherman's Wharf. When Jerry Kurth decided to retire that same year, the owners of Mau Marine, Julie Andres and her sister, Susan Mau, decided to buy Fisherman's Wharf so they could control all the land on that corner of East Lake Okoboji.
Now, I went to school with a Julie Mau at the University of Iowa. And I seem to remember that she was from Ida Grove, IA. It turns out that this Julie Mau Andres' father and mother, Dick and Donna, were from Ida Grove and the family used to vacation at Lake Okoboji in the summertime. So, I'm guessing that the Julie Mau I went to school with at Iowa and the Julie Mau Andres who co-owns both Mau Marine and Fisherman's Wharf is one and the same person.
Boating was a passion for the Mau family and Dick and Donna decided to buy the old Wilson Boat Works in 1988. Wilson Boat Works was also an iconic business in the Lake Okoboji region tracing their history back to the late 1800's when it was originally known as Wilson Boat Works which included a marina, boat yard, manufacturer and a livery stable. Wilson Boat Works made row boats at first, but then their boat manufacturing evolved into steam-power cruisers and wooden skip boats. After World War II, the popularity of pleasure boats exploded and Wilson Boat Works became a dealer for both Chris Craft and, then later, Sea Ray.
An aerial photo of Mau Marine and Fisherman's Wharf. Photo courtesy of Boating Industry.com
Dick and Donna Mau continued that tradition of selling both Chris Craft and Sea Ray up until the time in 2003 that they decided to retire and sell the business to their two daughters. Julie Andres and Susan Mau are an extremely rare commodity in the boating business - they are one of the very few boat dealerships and marinas owned by women. In fact, the Mau sisters have been instrumental in incorporating boating classes for women and including women in the process of buying a boat.
After the Mau sisters acquired Fisherman's Wharf when Jerry Kurth retired, they kept on two longtime workers - Shawn Jeffrey and Tootie Stellmach - to run the business. It was Tootie Stellmach who greeted us when we got into the restaurant around 1:30 on a weekday afternoon. It was a very windy day and Tootie told us that the deck (below left) was closed, but the three-season porch (below right) was open - but it was still a little breezy in there. We ended up sitting at a table in the bar area next to a window that looked out to the marina. She dropped off a couple menus and told us that Melissa would be taking care of us.
The bar area (below left) wasn't all that large, but it was certainly a nice area to sit. The large windows let in a lot of natural light. The bar, itself, had about 10 seats around it and had a long shelf that ran directly above. The nautical theme to Fisherman's Wharf was consistent throughout the restaurant and bar area.
The main dining room (above right) was also well-lit and had a cozy feeling, as well. It had a number of tables - high and regular sized - and some of the tables featured bench seats. When we got into the restaurant, the dining room was nearly full. When we left - when we took this picture - is was nearly deserted.
The menu at Fisherman's Wharf is a mix of steaks, seafood, chops, chicken, sandwiches, burgers, salads and appetizers. We weren't going to be eating a lot since we'd had a large breakfast about five hours earlier, but we wanted something to tide us over as we were scheduled to have a late dinner that evening. Cindy was intrigued with the po' boy sandwiches they had to offer at Fisherman's Wharf - most especially the walleye po' boy. She ended up ordered that from Melissa when she came around to take our order.
I thought about getting a burger, but the breaded tenderloin sounded interesting. When I asked Melissa about it, she said, "It's one of our most popular sandwiches." I ended up getting that and instead of fries for a side, I got a cup of their French onion soup.
Our food made it out to us in about 15 minutes. The French onion soup had a load of shredded Swiss cheese on the top - it wasn't baked in like you normally see with French onion soup. And I have to say that it was very good. It had a good onion flavor to the soup, the broth was also tasty and the cheese had melted in with the broth after a minute or two.
My breaded pork tenderloin had some thickness to it and it hung over the sides of the bun just by a little bit. The first bite yielded a wonderful pork taste that the breading didn't overpower. The pork was tender and juicy - it was a very good breaded pork tenderloin. The kaiser bun was also light and fluffy and stayed together with each bite. I was extremely happy with what I had ordered.
I suppose Cindy's sandwich could be categorized as a po' boy. Actually, it was a fish sandwich on a toasted hoagie bun. The walleye filet was breaded and deep fried. I've usually seen po' boy sandwiches where the fish or meat is shredded or chopped. Cindy took a couple bites of the sandwich and said the fish was good. But after that, she opened up the top of the bun and began to just eat the walleye filet without the bun. She offered me a bite of her walleye, but I don't care for deep fried fish all that much. I'll eat it from time to time if someone is having a fish fry, but normally I won't eat any restaurants deep fried fish or seafood.
For lunch, yeah, Fisherman's Wharf was pretty good. It would have been nice to sit outside (we saw the deck was packed with diners on many occasions through the week when it wasn't windy), we were happy with sitting in the bar area. Melissa did a find job taking care of us and the food was above average. And it seemed to be a pretty good value. We were talking about coming back to Okoboji for a vacation again next year, especially after we'd been there for a couple days and getting acclimated to the area. Fisherman's Wharf would be one place where I'd like to go back and have dinner if we have the chance.
(Update - Fisherman's Wharf closed in the fall of 2014 as the landlord decided not to renew the year-to-year lease on the place.)