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Fish with crunch: On a quest for perfect fish and chips

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Jan. 25, 2013 at 12:02 am | No Comments »
January 25, 2013 12:15 pm
Fish at Laura's Bayview comes with a beer batter, but the cod is first coated in a cracker breading. Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer
Fish at Laura’s Bayview comes with a beer batter, but the cod is first coated in a cracker breading. Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer

A few months ago, reader Don Peterson sent me on a fish-and-chips quest. You might remember the column I wrote posing Peterson’s quandary: He wanted to know where to find breaded, not battered, fish and chips in Tacoma resembling those found at Spuds, an iconic Seattle fish stand known for its fish with a cracker-meal breading – applied after a quick dip in a thin batter – and fries that are fresh-cut, not frozen.

I told Peterson and readers a few favorites that come close (you can see my original recommendations at the end of this post). I turned to you for suggestions – where to get the best version around here? Readers sent me all over town and their recommendations covered broad territory – from battered to crunchy. My favorite find – Laura’s Bayview in the St. Helens neighborhood. Read on.

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Laura’s Bayview serves three pieces of cod in its fish and chips meal, which comes with a choice of soup or salad.

 

Laura’s Bayview Bar and Grill
Where: 229 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1015.

For battered fish, readers Mary Thorson and Tom Krilich suggested Laura’s Bayview, a small St. Helens neighborhood bar and grill about to celebrate its third anniversary in March.

Wrote Thorson, “I’ve probably had the fish and fries there more than a dozen times. They’re the best. Also, I dislike watery or warm coleslaw – actually am not a coleslaw fan at all – and at Laura’s, you have your choice of soup or salad included with the fish dinner, and the salads are great.”

Indeed, Thorson was correct. I was served three large flaky cod filets in clingy battered jackets. The fish tasted evenly seasoned, and the beer batter was pleasantly flavored with Mirror Pond pale ale. The fries were frozen, but they were skins-on fries with a thicker cut and just the right level of crispness – they went well with the house-made tartar.

The meal was a bargain at $10.95 with soup or salad. I ordered Caesar and was rewarded with chopped romaine with shaved parmesan and house-made croutons.
Of all the fish sampled for this report, Laura’s Bayview won for value and execution.

I asked chef-owner Laura Carlson – who some locals might recall as a 10-year veteran of Harbor Lights – how she gets her batter so clingy and she told me the trick is in the breading. That’s right, she breads the fish first with crushed crackers, then hand dips it in the beer batter. I wish more restaurants would do what Carlson does: trim off any unappealing brown pieces from the cod. I want to see snow white fish under the batter or breading. Carlson got it right.

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You can get as much fish as you want if you dine-in on Sundays at the Harmon, the regular dinner on any other day comes with two pieces of cod.

Harmon Brewery and Eatery
Where: 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-2739
Readers alerted me to the all-you-can-eat fish and chips ($12.99) Sunday special at downtown Tacoma’s Harmon Brewery.
While I thought the panko breading was perfect for crunchiness, the fish and breading both tasted underseasoned, leaving me to rely too much on the tartar sauce and lemon. The garlic fries were worth the trip. The portion was mammoth, the garlic probably strong enough to ward off flu and vampires.
Note to Harmon servers: Please don’t clear my half-full plate without asking whether I’m finished.

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Wally’s has a Monday-Friday all-you-can-eat cod special for $8.99.

Wally’s Drive-In
Where: 282 Highway 410 N., Buckley; 360-829-0871
Reader Mary Harrison was right when she said the order of fish was so big at Wally’s, a drive-in burger restaurant in Buckley, that she could eat off it for a few days. The cod filets were thin and wide, approaching the size of a salad plate. However, a consequence of thin-cut filets is that the fish can easily get overcooked. That’s what happened to my dry-tasting two-piece fish plate ($10.99) with thicker-cut fries that were good, not great. Tip: All-you-can-eat fish and chips are $8.99 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

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At Indochine, the meal comes with four pieces of fried cod.

Indochine
Where: 1924 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-8200
I was surprised when readers recommended this downtown Tacoma Thai fusion restaurant for breaded fish and fries. Diners will find Asian fish and chips on the appetizer menu ($14.50). While the sweet chili and spicy aioli dipping sauces provided garlicky-sweet yin-yang flavors, I couldn’t detect any of the promised soy-garlic-cumin marinade on the cod. The fries also tasted underseasoned. Aside from low seasoning, the kitchen did get the breading right – it was crisp and the fish inside tasted high quality.

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The fish and chips meal at the Ram comes with a single battered filet. The menu did not say if the fish was cod, but the receipt called it haddock.

The Ram Restaurant and Brewery
Where: 10403 156th St. E., Puyallup; 253-445-1005 (find other locations here)
The Ram’s fish and chips ($14.99) didn’t impress me. A single filet was battered, but it came laden with grease, and the fish was streaked with brown spots. As it cooled, the batter separated from the fish. The fries were lukewarm.

 

 

 

My original recommendations two months ago when I started this dining series:

Steamers at Titlow Beach (8802 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-565-4532), which serves cod with a crunchier breading – but the fries at Steamers tasted frozen. What I did like: Steamers is one of the most economical waterfront view restaurants in town. The chowder is pretty darn good - order a cup, it's a fair sized portion served in a mug.
Steamers fish and chips, $8 for a two-piece cod, $10 for a three-piece. With coleslaw.

Steamers at Titlow Beach (8802 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-565-4532)  serves cod with a crunchier breading – but the fries at Steamers tasted frozen. What I did like: Steamers is one of the most economical waterfront view restaurants in town. The chowder is pretty darn good – order a cup, it’s a fair sized portion served in a mug.

Paya Thai/Fish and Chips at Freighthouse Square (430 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253-627-8432) was a solid destination for crunchy-coated fish that’s something in between a batter and breading (too puffy to be considered a pure crunchy coating and too crisp to be considered battered), but not for the fries. They were good - not great. This restaurant earns extra points for having fun with garnishes - a lemon and an American flag. I love this little fish counter. Never mind that it's called a Thai restaurant - it's really a fish and chips destination.
Paya Thai/Fish and Chips, $7.25 for a two-piece cod, $9.25 for a three-piece. Add a buck for coleslaw.

Paya Thai/Fish and Chips at Freighthouse Square (430 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253-627-8432) was a solid destination for crunchy-coated fish that’s something in between a batter and breading (too puffy to be considered a pure crunchy coating and too crunchy-crisp to be considered battered), but not for the fries. They were good – not great. This restaurant earns extra points for having fun with garnishes – a lemon and an American flag. Never mind that it’s also called a Thai restaurant – it’s really a fish and chips destination.

Northern Fish/Fish Tale Bistro (2201 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253-272-4104) came closer to the fries Peterson likes – skins-on fries – but while the fish was quite delicious, it was battered, not breaded. I like that you can stop in here and buy a filet to cook at home and pick up an order of fish and chips. They also have a small parking area out front.
Northern Fish/Fish Tale Bistro, $7.95 for a two-piece cod, $8.95 for a three-piece. Comes with coleslaw.

Northern Fish/Fish Tale Bistro (2201 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253-272-4104) came closer to the fries Peterson likes – skins-on fries – but while the fish was quite delicious, it was battered, not breaded. I like that you can stop in here and buy a filet to cook at home and pick up an order of fish and chips to go. They also have a small parking area out front.

The Fish House Cafe in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood (1814 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 253-383-7144) has catfish with a crunchy breading, but it’s a southern-style cornmeal breading and the freezer fries were crinkle cut. Bonus: You can get hush puppies or fried okra here.
The Fish House Cafe, $7.99-$8.99 for a catfish and chips dinner.

The Fish House Cafe in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood (1814 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 253-383-7144) has catfish with a crunchy breading, but it’s a southern-style cornmeal breading and the freezer fries were crinkle cut. Bonus: You can get hush puppies or fried okra here. The Philly also is a solid choice if you like a big, gooey cheese-and-meat sandwich.

Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.

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