Fish and chips is pretty much just crispy fish and a plate of fries, right?
Blimey, no! There’s more to the traditional English pub dish than just fried cod and potatoes — and whatever you do, don’t call them french fries.
Authentic fish and chips is all about hot cod in a clinging, crispy batter, paired with what Dickens delectably called “husky chips of potatoes, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.” A shaker of malt vinegar is a must, even if you don’t use it. There’s no harm in a good, house-made tartar sauce, and it all goes best with beer.
Fish and chips is on a lot of area menus, especially during Lent, so here’s your guide to the Four Stars of Fish and Chips to help you meet your Lenten obligation.
Naturally enough, Whistle Binkies Olde World Pub and its south-side sibling, Whistle Binkies on the Lake, have fantastic fish and chips for $10.95: Three pieces of cod, deep-fried in a light batter made with Oregon’s Rusty Truck Ale, served steaming hot with a generous helping of beefy steak fries. Ask for vinegar on the side, and you’ll have it all.
Pedro Leveron, who’s kitchen manager at the north Binkies but works in both shops, schooled me in how they fix their fish and chips. The batter recipe is top secret, aside from the dark beer, but they get fresh cod three times a week, he says, and they serve about 150 pounds a week, more during Lent.
If you haven’t been to the north restaurant for a while, you’ll be amazed how it’s expanded into the adjacent space to the west without losing the tight, rowdy charm of the cramped original space. And if you haven’t been to the south Binkies for a while, you’ll find that the patio area has been enclosed, which opens up new possibilities there.
It may be counterintuitive to think of Newt’s burger bars for fish, but Newt’s also has juicy, pub-style fish and chips ($9.95), a basket flul of three big pieces of cod and skin-on fries. Ditto at Grand Rounds Brewpub downtown. There, you get two 6-ounce pieces of cod, with an eggroll-thin crust made with their Kolsch brew, served atop a ton of skin-on fries, with a few green sprouts on top for good luck, for $18.
Over in Kutzky Park, Forager Brewery’s chef Jordan Bell has a typically creative approach. Your Great-uncle Jeeves wouldn’t recognize it from the days of the Blitz, but he’d like it anyway. They use fresh rainbow trout, and I mean really fresh — they get live trout from a farm in Stockton, west of Winona, and prepare it in-house, then dress it up with a light Panko bread crumb batter and deep-fry it to a dark, crispy crunch.
Their chips are whisper-thin kettle chips, made from North Dakota White Diamond potatoes, which are low in starch content and don’t require blanching. They go straight from slicing into the hot oil, and you can tell the light and snappy difference. Jordan, who worked at Nosh restaurant in Lake City for several years and has run Forager’s kitchen since the brewpub opened in August, takes advantage of the brewery and uses hops to flavor the malt vinegar and blends brewer’s malt into the aioli for dipping.
With all the careful attention to detail, $12 is a great deal for fresh fish and chips.
Agree or disagree? That’s what Four Stars is all about. Tell me what fish you’re hooked on and I’ll add it to the list next time.
FOUR STARS OF FISH AND CHIPS
4 Third St. SW, Rochester
Downtown: 216 1/2 First Ave. SW, Rochester, 507-289-0577
North: 5231 U.S. 52 Frontage Road E., Rochester, 507-226-8266
South: 1201 S. Broadway, Rochester, 507-258-7575
Olde World Pub: 3120 Wellner Drive NE, Rochester
On the Lake: 247 Woodlake Drive SE, Rochester
1005 Sixth St. NW, Rochester