July 5, 2009 in Idaho Voices

We’re missing Fish Friday, but fine fish and chips abound

By The Spokesman-Review

I received an e-mail 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 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 its 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 $5 a head. Extended families get gussied up and gather 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.

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 filets. The fried batter is always dense, golden brown and crunchy, and Zip’s 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 more than 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 U.S. 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 homemade 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 $10.

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 Coeur d’Alene Drive. “It’s O’Shay’s 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’Shay’s 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.

Contact correspondent Patrick Jacobs by e-mail at orangetv@yahoo.com. Previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. For more restaurant and nightlife reviews, music commentary and random thoughts and photos, visit his blog at getoutnorthidaho.com.

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