Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Search of the Ultimate Fish and Chips

I received an email in my inbox recently from a reader inquiring, “Who has the best all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry in the Cd’A area?” This reminded me of a friend of mine from Wisconsin who asked me the same exact question when he first moved to town. I have a feeling this reader must also be from Wisconsin since as far as I can tell, the idea of the traditional Friday fish fry seems to be at it’s height of popularity almost exclusively in the church basements, cafeterias and diners of cities like Milwaukee and Wauwatosa and every town in between.

It seems most folks there faithfully follow the guidelines of Lent and start their spring weekends with a day completely free from red meat consumption. Bottomless quantities of cod and other fish are breaded, deep fried and consumed with piles of fries and tartar sauce for not much more than five bucks a head. Extended families get gussied up and gather together for this ritualistic seafood binge; in certain circles it's the social highlight of the week. It's so popular that virtually every restaurant and roadside dive in Wisconsin has some type of Fish Friday special.

I hate to break it to you my dear reader, but as far as I can tell, we don't celebrate Fish Friday here in North Idaho. While there are plenty of area restaurants serving fish and chips, as far as I can tell there are no regular "Friday fish fries" happening every week at the Methodist Church or the VFW Hall or whatever. That's a shame too, because I'll bet there's nothing finer than the fried fish cooked up by some old geezer who’s had 49 years to perfect his method and make people line up out the door for another platter full of the good stuff.

I’ll admit, I’m not fortunate enough to have sampled all the fish and chips in town, but I do have a few experiences with the subject matter. Rob's Seafood and Burgers has been around in Post Falls forever, selling cheap cartons of cigarettes and greasy fast food. They do have an "all you can eat" special that runs all the time for the reasonable price of $8.95. However, their quality is wildly inconsistent; I’ve had excellent food there, but I’ve also fallen victim to indigestion due to the consumption of an oily, crumbly mess atop cold french fries. Also, I’m extremely leery as to the cleanliness of the kitchen and dining room, both of which could visibly use a little love and attention.

Zip's Drive-In wins my personal award for favorite fish and chips. They use flaky, flavorful halibut served in thick chunky morsels rather than thin fillets. The fried batter is always dense, golden brown and crunchy, and Zips has the best tartar sauce ever invented. Add a handful of their trademark, crinkle-cut fries and you've landed in a partially hydrogenated paradise. Occasionally, they do overcook their fish slightly for my taste but I've never had a really bad batch in over 20 years.

Fisherman's Market on Kathleen Avenue in Coeur d’Alene has only been open for a few years but has already gained a reputation as one of the best seafood joints in the area. In addition to classic cod or halibut, they fill their little plastic fish baskets with fried Mahi-Mahi, clams, oysters, and whatever happens to be the catch of the day. I’d heavily recommend the catfish, a rare treat in this part of the USA. It’s incredibly moist, delicate and rich with flavor. Everything is served with your choice of eight different wacky tartar sauce varieties, including a fun green wasabi tartar sauce. The place doesn't look like much from the outside, but once you come in and sample the goods you'll think you've died and gone to Pike Place Market, which is basically Heaven for seafood lovers.

Another fairly new establishment offering a classic cod and chips combo is the Chicken Basket on Northwest Boulevard. I’m thinking they really ought to consider switching the name to “Fish Basket” instead. I found their chicken to be passable, but it was the broasted cod and fries that really blew my taste buds. My basket included two massive chunks of fresh, flaky fish dredged in a lightly crisp outer shell, a massive pile of fries, a side of home made coleslaw, a dinner roll, a foil wrapped pat of butter, lemon wedges and a cup of their piquant tartar sauce. The broasting process leaves the fish moist and divine, and the whole thing is a steal for under ten bucks.

Don’t rely on my advice, fish craver; I posted the original question on the Get Out blog and readers responded with some good ideas of their own. Jack wrote in favor of Skippers, saying “I am clearly not a connoisseur of fish and chips, but I always thought that theirs was pretty good.” Howard recommends O’Malley’s Pub in Rathdrum, calling their fish and chips “absolutely killer.” Lynne’s comment was “the Office Tavern in mid-town and Capone's both have pretty good fish and chips.”

No place received as much unbridled enthusiasm as O’Shay’s on Lake Cd’A Drive. “It’s O'Shays fish and chips for me, especially when they do the Salmon. We were in Ireland and Scotland and had a lot of fish and chips and none compared,” says the local blogger known as “Me”. An anonymous commenter agreed, saying “O’Shays has the best fish and chips ever, and they pour a beautiful Guinness.” On that thirst-inducing note, I will definitely be seeing you there.


Unknown said...

Just wondering, what do you hear about Skippers near the Mall, for comparison. I am clearly not a connoisseur of fish and chips, but thought that theirs was pretty good.

John Rank

Anonymous said...

For some of the best fish & chips, try O'Shay's Irish Pub on Coeur d'Alene Lake Blvd. Large pieces of fish, crispy batter, seasons fries. And chase it with a pint of brew. I will say, the service isn't always very good, but the food never fails to satisfy.


Unknown said...

O'Malley's Pub & Grill in Rathrdum has absolutely killer fish and chips. Highly recommended.

k said...

O'Shays Fish and Chips for me - especially when they do the Salmon ones. Their breading is VERY good and we were in Ireland and Scotland and had alot of fish and chips - none compared to O'Shays.

Lynne said...

The Office Tavern in mid-town and Capone's both have pretty good fish and chips.

Anonymous said...

Oshays Irish Pub has the best fish and chips EVER! And they pour a beautiful Guiness! I've eaten fish and chips everywhere I've traveled and nothing compares!

Anonymous said...

As a Wisconsin native and now North Idaho resident, I feel obligated to set the record straight about Friday nite fish frys in the Dairy state. They started when there was an abundance of fresh lake perch in Green Bay (the body of water, not the city) and many of the lakes in the state. Perch was breaded and fried and served in wooden bowl for FREE, like popcorn or peanuts at many of the taverns on the Bay.
As the perch supply became more limited, the taverns began selling a "perch plate" on Friday evenings. A plate consisted of 2-3 fish, cold slaw, fries and rye bread. Last time I was back in Wisconsin a plate was going for about $8-$10 at most places. If perch isn't available, Walleye might be on the menu. Most people go to their favorite tavern for fish rather than church basements or cafeterias. The "all you can eat" days are long gone.

There are some excellent perch fishing lakes in North Idaho. If you haven't tried fresh lake perch, you should.


Anonymous said...

The American Legion folks out in Athol have been hosting a Friday night fish fry for several years now Patrick. You really missed the boat on this one, dude.

--Athol fish eater

Anonymous said...

When this fish fry blog was originally posted a couple weeks ago, there was a link to another review of Ron's Seafood, that had given you some pause. Could you provide that link again? I haven't been able to locate the original version of this post.


Old Milwaukee said...

Packerbacker is completely wrong about Wisconsin fish frys starting in Green Bay because of the abundance of Lake Perch locally.
It was a Catholic tradition in response to the church rule about not eating meat on Fridays. Period.

Anonymous said...

We like to go out to the Cabin at the outlet Mall and have their fish and chips. They are well known for their fish and chips.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post but Fort Ground Grill has some awesome fish and chips. Their coleslaw isn't very good so we skip that and ask for some extra fries. The order comes with 3 fillets my husband and I order an extra one and share the meal.

jade said...

so it holds it's shape better and when not over cooked comes out juicy even after poaching. But last time I taught the fish class, Richard

fish finder reviews said...

It's been a great dinner. I got hungry :)