Thursday, April 7, 2011

Best Fish and Chips in Utah

Best Fish & Chips in Utah - revised 20 July 2014

Check out our OTHER FOOD REVIEWS at TasterTestersClub.BlogSpot.com.

Especially see "Best Seafood in Utah" at: http://tastetestersclub.blogspot.com/2014/06/best-seafood-in-utah.html

and "Best Restaurants in Utah" at:
http://tastetestersclub.blogspot.com/2013/09/best-restaurant-food-in-utah-2.html

(Lower on this page:) Best Fish Sandwiches in Utah

 and Best Catfish in Utah

 Introduction

They’ll never be able to match true fresh fish off the coasts because it’s not truly “fresh,” and here’s why:  The government allows the definition of “fresh fish” to be, in reality, nothing more than softly frozen – which ALTERS the taste and texture of fresh fish.  Gotta head to the coasts, baby.  Still, two are surprisingly good.

We've tried every cafe and drive-in in Utah that batters their own fish - over four dozen places. First thing we ask is if their fish comes already battered from the distributor - if they do, they get the ax - never any good. 

A note about batter: most places use beer batter. If you are not into beer, as we are not, then no worries - the alcohol is cooked out. Some places use either too strong of an ale or too much. The beer of choice for top-notch chefs, and used at Franck's and Sqatters below, is Hefeweizen. However, the best-tasting beer batter we have found is at Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City, and they use their own. Also good batter is using milk - Virg's swtiched years ago from beer batter to milk batter. A really top notch restaurant in SLC, Pago, uses soda water. Our favorite overall batters were at O'Shucks, Cafe 300 (which adds herbs), Wasatch Brew Pub, Red Robbin, Wild Mustang, Archibald's, and A Little Taste of Britain. Some places make the batter too puffy like a corn dog. Others too thick and crispy. We like a thin crust texture, and some of us prefer some kind of flavor in the batter.


The List

Not listed: Franck's Restaurant, Holladay. It rates a B+ but is only served on special occasions - we've only seen it once - in winter 2014. 
1. Cafe 300 in Provo at 300 South and 279 East. SERVED FRIDAYS ONLY. Grade: B+ (a grade lower than L.A.'s best F&C places. (See our reviews for Best Fish and Chips in Los Angeles. To get the best you have to get it freshly caught PLUS they have to have a great batter. (Cafe 300 also has one of the best clam chowders in the state, in our opinion.) Grade: B+
Notes about them: Opened December 2012. They experimented with the batter recipe for two weeks, and it paid off. The thick cod pieces are not overcooked like most places are here, and the delectibly battered fish melts in your mouth. Their plan was to serve it only for Lent, but bingo - it was a hit and they're featuring it every Friday. (P.S. Their french toast and omelletes are tied for our favorites as well.) They're open Tuesday - Sunday 7 A.M till 3 P.M. But Friday is fish day, starting 5:30 PM. (They open for dinner only on Friday-Saturday.) 

2. O'Shuck's, Park City (allows kids). 3 fairly small pieces, but worth it. Grade: B+

3. O'Hana's Grill, Springville. This is breaded swai at a Polynesian cafe, not battered the traditional way and they don't call it fish and chips. Excellent. B+

4. A Little Taste of Britain. Layton, Utah, on Main Street. Grade: B+ This was a best-kept secret until KSL TV did a feature on them in July 2012, then they had lines out the doors for weeks. Battered fish pieces are big, like England's. Cod is frozen, unfortunately, as nearly all places in Utah are except for a handful where noted below, but it's not chewy like most places that use frozen cod, and they don't overcook it like most do. We weren't crazy about the chips. The onion rings are OK. (On our last trip on 13 June 20 they had fixed an earlier concern we had - the tell-tall scent of fish being refrigerated too long at several visits the previous year, but on this trip the fish was excellent.) Very good batter as well. B/B+

5. Wasatch Brew Pub (kid-friendly), Park City. (The one at the airport may use the same recipe. Squatters downtown SLC has same ownership but different recipe, not as good. This place has the best beer batter in the state, using their own, producing great flavor and crunch. But cod pieces are frozen with a slight chewy texture (most places have a very chewy texture that serve it from frozen state (except Pago and State Street Grill, which are fresh, and Cafe 300, which cooks it to taste like fresh). However, the cod pieces at Wasatch are too thin for our liking. Still, it's worth getting. B/B+

6. Blue Boar Inn, Midway
a. fish and chips (but very thin, like calamari, and not much to portion, but very good batter)

The above are the Top 6. The next 7 are still good; they get a B

7. Matty's Bistro, Midway
a. fish and chips (good batter, cod too chewy)

8. State Street Grill, Pleasant Grove. Grade: B. The only FRESH cod, along with Pago below, among those tested. The fish, like "A Little Taste of Britain," is huge, like in the UK. The batter is better now, but we feel they need to switch to the beer that Wasatch Brew Pub uses - Polygamy Porter - for a much better batter. 

9. Archibald's, in Gardiner Village, South Jordan. Grade: B. We suggest you get their cod or haddock only - not halibut, which we feel is not as good. 

10.  Pago, SLC. Served at lunch only. Fresh wild caught cod in batter of soda water rather than beer. Crispy but kind of tasteless batter. Grade: B

11. Red Robbin (national burger chain). (Most national chains serve pre-battered fish from the freezer via their distributor, and it's awful. But this one they batter themselves and it's surprisingly not bad.) Grade: B

12. Virg's Fish & Chips, Salt Lake Valley and Tooele chain. Grade: inconsistent day to day: C to B, with an average of B-. They vary on the day and location perhaps. They have 4 locations: 5770 S Redwood Rd, SLC; another off the 123rd south exit in Draper, another in West Valley on 3500 South and about 3200 West, and one in Tooele. They batter their own cod, which is usually a B, 2nd best is haddock, at B-, and the halibut rates a C.

Note 1 : At the location on 5770 S. Redwood Rd., we've usually had B grade and sometimes C. At the Draper location we tried once, it was a C.

Note 2: Virg's has been around over 40 years, when it was at 3150 South State in SLC and before that at 30 east 1700 south as a cute dive. Most of the years they served fish only. Moved and enlarged, it's now served with other diner food that makes the fish & chips shine.  (In other words, stick to the fish.) Used to be our fav fish shop for 25 years (after Sheila's Fish and Chips went out of business, per below), but in our opinion it's not as good as then - a main reason was they used to serve thicker pieces of fish). The cod is chewy, as most frozen cod is when cooked, but is usually the best of the 3 or 4 fish offered there. It's worth testing haddock, halibut, and swai and/or tilapia if they have it. Get the "mix and match."

13. Wild Mustang, Orem. Batter gets an A. The frozen cod with its typical texture gets a C. Overall: B

The next group are B-minuses.

11.  Rumerz pub, South Jordan, at the District, about 114th South and Bangerter, just north of the theaters. Allows kids.. B-
 (Sometimes it rates a B for us.)

12. Sizzlers. B- (believe it or not, that amazingly mediocre-minus steak place - unless you love cardboard-tasting steaks - has decent battered cod.  See Note for Red Robbin (#4) above.

13. Flannigan's Pub, Park City (allows kids). B-

Fair places, which all rate in the C's:

a.   Miner's Sports Bar, Park City

b. Squatters's Pub and Grill, downtown SLC

c.    Glade’s Drive In, Spanish Fork (Unfortunately, they use shortening to fry in hydrogenated oil - which is outlawed in the state of New York for all it’s 33,000 restaurants, and rightly so.  Even so, Glade’s tastes pretty decent for the area.)

d.    Daley-Freeze Drive-in, in Payson.  Another small-town surprise.  You can't sit down in the place, but the fish is worth standing in the cold, waiting for it at the walk-up counter.

e. Sommerhays, Salt Lake City, 4870 South Higland Dr. This is not a drive-in, but you pay at the counter like drive-ins and don't have to leave a tip, so it's cheaper, like drive-ins are. Currently they are serving only battered haddock and halibut. Both rate a C+. The swai was the best fish they ever had there - a B. (Cod is wisely no longer served, it was a C- / D+ and chewy). Nice people, quaint atmosphere. We like it. (Check out the grilled salmon sandwich, the best fish sandwich we've found in Salt Lake Valley - See our reviews for Best Fish Sandwiches - we found a couple amazing places in Utah Valley.

f. Scaddy's. Halibut, overall: C/C+. The batter rates a B- - but the fish is overcooked and chewy and gets a C.

g. Eating Establishment, Park City

h. Collie's Sports Bar and Grill, Park City

i. No Name Saloon, Park City (actually C-) (no kids allowed)

j. Red Rock Brewery on 200 West, SLC

k.     Christopher’s Steak and Seafood.  Pricey but fair.  This and Red Rock serve pretty thick halibut - not my fav for fish & chips, but pretty darn OK.  A few other places have thick halibut as well and are about as good – like:

l.     Marriott Hotel, SLC.  Another thick halibut, pricey. 

m. Hoppers Seafood and Grill on Fort Union Blvd in Sandy, 

n. Ruby River Steakhouse

o. Claimjumpers, Heber City

p. Market Street Grill, 3 Salt Lake Valley locations

The above 14 are not in order; the 4 below are. But all 10 are in the C category:

q. Denny's, national chain. C+

r. Iggy's, Utah chain. C. 
    Has overcooked halibut, small pieces.

s. Hook and Ladder, SLC on California Ave.. C 

t. Village Inn, national chain C-

Historical footnotes (good places now gone:) 

a. Our all-time fav in Utah is only in the history books.  It was Sheila's Fish & Chips, later Audrey's Fish and Chips (even written about by fish & chips aficionados in L.A.)  Two old ladies from Liverpool launched the best fish place probably ever in the Rocky Mountains, located at 9th East and 9th South in SLC; then retired and sold it in 1980 to a couple Afghan guys, who started up an Afghan restaurant but kept the SAME FISH recipes, and cooked it right!  (Their Afghan fare was pretty decent too.) But alas, they folded their nomadic tents and disappeared into the desert in the mid-80's, taking the sacred Liverpool recipes with them.  Allah is looking down on them most favorably for their years of extra great fish they brought us. 

b. A Salt Lake icon for decades, now gone: Chris's Fish and Chips on about 2800 South State in SLC was around 30+ years but folded when the married couple from Maryland retired around 2004 or so. It was decent, about on a par with Virg's then (when Virg's was a solid B and thicker and better), but Chris's had a different, flakier/crispier batter, kind of like Red Robbins now.


c. Another old icon: Picadilly Fish and Chips. Started in early 70s in Provo, spread with several locations to SLC. The fish never rated above a C+, but the clam chowder was the best in the state. The old owner sold it, went on to start the Health Rider craze and made millions, but was disheartened that the new owner changed the chowder recipe his wife had developed. For nostalgia buffs, you can get the same fish (if it's still there) at a Chinese place calls Lee's, in Layton, just off Main Street. The wife of the husband-wife team who runs it used to work at Picadilly's under the first owner and brought the fish recipe with her. Even the fish was a bit better under the original owner. Picadilly finally closed after 40 years, after going through several locations, sometime in about 2012. The last one was on State Street, around 15th south; before that one, for over a decade, was the one on 2100 South and about 200 East. 

c. Last historical footnote:  Rocky Mountain Drive-In of Provo is now out of business (the one across from D.I is gone, but another one with different owners and not the same recipes is still around). Why do we list it?  The former owner might see this some time and give his recipe to somebody still in business:  It had little green herb specks in the batter and other herbs that really rocked, similar to Crown and Anchor Pub in Vegas, and the batter was exceptionally good. Update: Cafe 300 has that same magic in their batter. Not exactly the same recipe, and it's actually a little better. Most who remember Rocky Mountain Drive-In across from D.I. and who try Cafe 300 might agree.

RE: Fish and Chips. The East and West Coast is where you'll find the best.  Check our "Best Fish & Chips in Los Angeles" (we found two incredible places of well over a dozen we've tried that were rated the best over a several year period by visiting Brits and UK ex-pats).  Elsewhere off the Sacred Coasts . . . check for Best Fish & Chips in Vegas for one pretty good place only. 


BEST FISH SANDWICHES IN UTAH

-revised 28 May 2014

1. The Harvest, Thanksgiving Point, Lehi. Salmon sandwich. A/A- (but pricey!)

2. Gloria's Little Italy, Provo. Salmon with sage and other herbs in a top-notch sub bun. A/A-

3.  Quisno's, national chain. Lobster Sandwich. B+. Not bad. Comes in March for a few weeks - Lent through Easter, sometimes back again for summer, depending on how much lobster that corporate buys. (2013 was a banner year for low pricing for lobster, and it is trending up again in price.) 

4. Somerhays, 4870 S. Highland Dr., Salt Lake. Salmon sandwich. B+ overall.
    The grilled salmon here gets a B-, the upscale bun higher, and the creamy-mayo dressing adds the needed moisture to the fish, making it all: B+

5. Culvers, in American Fork (out of Wisconsin). Nice thick piece of cod works well with the super- soft bun they use. B

6. Jason's Deli salmon sandwich. B  
    Normally comes in a wrap - we requested it on whole wheat. Nice having it with guac and decent leaf lettuce. But overcooked, frozen salmon doesn't cut it. Still, it's good.

7. Virg's - get it with cod, but haddock ok.
 
Notes about others: 

1. Red Robbin gets a C for their sandwich, though their cod alone rates a B. Why? One of the reasons is too much slaw - in fact, any slaw, in our opinion, kills a fish sandwich, drowning out the flavor, since fish is mild anyway. Slaw should stick with pulled pork sandwiches.

2. the Fillet o’ Sole Sandwich at McDonalds in the 70’s and early 80’s pulled an A-. Now it's the "Fillet o' Fish and it's a C. The nice soft bun and tartar sauce is what semi-saves this sandwich. They ruined them by turning them thin AND switching from sole to a cheap fish -- pollack (the fast food world's first "bait and switch," apologies for the pun).

3. Arctic Circle and many others have overcooked fish, even when halibut. Kids seem to like it but it's not in the league of those at the top of the list above.

Historical footnote:  The Champ fast food place in Provo, in the mid 70’s, across from Stan’s Drive in on 9th East. The Champ had surprisingly good, big halibut pieces in large buns and were battered right, but alas, that was a different century. It died fairly fast, taking its great sandwich with it.

BEST CATFISH IN UTAH

- revised 28 May 2014

1 great place, 6 worth trying:

1. Bucket O' Crawfish. West Valley at about 1850 west 3500 south. Get the catffish and see if they'll let you have the garlic sauce that they normally serve with their crawfish. (The crawfish is decent, the catfish is very good.)

2. Cracker Barrel in Springville off I-15 and other locations (plus nationwide). My best friend from high school, fellow southern buddy Hugh O. whom I went to school with in Alabama, loves the place. Overall, it's #2. And gets a B.

3..Boudreaux's Bistro, Payson. Get it "smothered" with their amazing sauce over the catfish and rice. While there, check out their crawfish Etouffee. Their burger is great as well. (See our Best Burgers in Utah.) Not crazy about the other offerings we tried - about 9 total on the menu, including the fried gator.

4. Mama's Southern Plantation, Sandy. Go to Fort Union Blvd and 1300 East and turn south, go a half mile or so to Warl-mart, turn left into their parking lot and look for a strip mall place in their parking lot. Why would I bother with directions? They've moved several times over the years and on the web it took me an hour and several attempts to find the latest location and current phone number. This was the best of the Southern Plantation places when it was on about 90th South State in SLC, run by the original Mama K from Indiana, but she had the soul food recipes down pat. Her daughter has continued the legacy. Order the catfish and whiting, and the most amazing yams and peach cobbler I've ever had! (The slaw, beans, hopping john, and cornbread are good too; I've had everything on their menu, but these listed are by far the best.)


5. Famous Dave's, Sandy (national chain): B (their marmalade fish sauce: A-, and their cream sauce: B+)

6. Texas Roadhouse (national chain): B

7. Chubby's, Pleasant Grove: THURSDAYS ONLY. The FRESH fish itself is an A, and so is the homemade shrimp sauce served with it - the best we ever had!). They fly it in fresh on Thursdays - THE ONLY DAY THEY SERVE IT  - but we don't love the batter.  In 2011 we had it and the batter was good - in 2013 we didn't care for it - tried it two different weeks. But the fish is great.

Historical Note:
BLAST IT - THIS PLACE IS GONE NOW. IT WAS NUMERO UNO: Soul and Bones, Ogden. Best fried catfish I ever had outside the country diners which specialized in catfish in Alabama - and that's saying a lot for a southern kid who used to hit those places out in the country - places that knew how to make it right! Bar none, this was the best in Utah. They flew it in fresh from Louisiana, so it was "sorta fresh." 

Best Fish Sauces:
1. Marmalade sauce for catfish: Famous Dave's: A-
2. Cream sauce for catfish: Famous Dave's: B+
While we're on fish sauces:
3.Tartar sauce: #1 Red Lobster, #2 Chubby's
4. Shrimp sauce: #1 Chubby's homemade, #2 Red Lobster


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