Savoring a basket of fish and chips on a sunny day is one of the many summer delights in the Pacific Northwest. Here are three spots to try.
777 Waterfront Way, Suite 101, Vancouver; 360-718-7701
What a Catch’s window on Vancouver’s waterfront is easy to find on a sunny day at lunchtime. Just look for a line of people waiting near Grant Pier. The popular window is open from April to sometime in October, depending on weather. Business tends to trail off on cold, rainy days, according to Attila Szabo, president and operating partner of WildFin American Grill, which runs What a Catch.
Customers can choose from cod or halibut for their fish and chips, with two to four pieces of fish per order ($9.69-$19.89).
“The cod is a bit more popular, but we sell a lot of both,” Szabo said.
Both types of fish are sourced from Pacific Seafood and Northern Fish, vendors with which WildFin has worked for years.
WildFin picked these vendors based on sourcing methods and how they handle fish from the water to the restaurant, Szabo said. The fish and chips at What a Catch are made with fresh fish. Vendors tell the business when the fish was caught so WildFin can ensure that customers get a high-quality product.
“If it smells like fish, don’t eat it,” Szabo said. “Great fish doesn’t smell like fish.”
Freshness of a piece of fish can also be determined by color and texture, Szabo said. Halibut should be bright white in color and have a fresh appearance. The texture should be firm to the touch, not mushy or flaky.
On a recent afternoon, I visited the waterfront and had a basket of the Alaskan halibut fish and chips. The fish, as promised, was bright white and firm with a mild flavor. The coating was so light and crisp that it shattered against my teeth. According to Szabo, this lightness comes from the dry ingredients and hand dipping each piece to order. The chips had a crispy exterior coating and a creamy center. The housemade tartar sauce was sprinkled with fresh herbs that gave it a ranch dressinglike flavor. I also liked the creaminess and heat of the jalapeno aioli.
Fourteen miles north in Ridgefield, Pacific Northwest Best Fish Co. offers a slightly different take on fish and chips. The cafe is an offshoot of the attached fish store, so it offers abundant seafood choices.
For the past 20 years, owners Kelly and Carrie Beckwith have offered panko-breaded fish and chips with halibut or salmon or a beer-battered cod served with French fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce at this small cafe.
“We tried a lot of beer-battered and breaded fish, and this is what we came up with,” Kelly Beckwith said. “We thought it was unique. Panko is always used as a fine overcoat. It’s crispy and allows the food to stay together.”
Ketchup and malt vinegar are also available. Halibut fish and chips come with one to four pieces of fish ($9.99-$19.99).
Guests can eat on the small patio by the cafe. Cafe menu items can also be ordered from and delivered to 3 Peaks Taproom next door, which is owned by the Beckwiths. 3 Peaks has an airy indoor space, plenty of picnic tables outside, and 16 rotating taps of craft beer.
Waits can be 45 minutes to an hour on summer weekends, because the fish and chips are made to order.
“It’s going to take time. It’s not your 15-minute McDonald’s meal,” Kelly Beckwith said.
He said customers can call ahead to check on wait times or to pre-order their food, but if it’s really busy, the phone might not get answered. The addition of other food trucks provides some quicker food choices.
“Customers can order nachos for their kiddos while sipping beer and waiting for their fish,” Beckwith said.
At Southern Girl Delights food truck in Hazel Dell, Dorothy Golson serves a dish that she watched her mother make in the kitchen as a girl: catfish.
“It’s part of something I grew up eating in the South. On this side of the bridge, I couldn’t find it, so I decided to bring it to the community,” Golson said.
The catfish at Southern Girl Delights is made with the traditional cornmeal breading that Golson’s mother used, but Golson has added a couple secret ingredients to modify it.
She gets her flash-frozen catfish from Mississippi, and over the past year, the price charged by her vendor has increased. Golson thought about taking it off the menu, but for now it will stay.
“Catfish is an acquired taste,” she said. “In the Pacific Northwest, people are used to halibut and salmon. Catfish aren’t flaky, but thick. It’s hard to describe.”
The flavor and texture of fish is influenced by many factors. It’s common to think of land-grown products like grapes having terroir, flavor influenced by the natural environment where it’s produced.
Likewise, seafood’s taste is influenced by its environment. Catfish is a freshwater fish. Popular Pacific Northwest fish like halibut and cod are saltwater fish. Saltwater fish produce various chemicals in their bodies to counterbalance the salt in their environment. These chemicals, as well as water temperature and muscle composition, affect the way fish tastes.
Each order of catfish, like everything else at Southern Girl Delights, is made to order. Golson recommends eating the dish while it’s at its best — still piping hot. A basket ($16) comes with two fist-sized pieces of catfish, fries, tartar sauce and Golson’s secret hot sauce. For those who like a touch of fire, dipping the fish in this special hot sauce really makes the fish sing.
It’s good to order ahead by phone. It can take a while to get your food, but it’s well worth the wait for this Southern treat.
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