Thursday, April 7, 2011

Best Fish and Chips in Utah

Best Fish & Chips in Utah - revised 21 October 2013

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

(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 over a dozen and a half places in this state that batter their own fish. If they come already battered from the distributor - they get the ax - never any good. That's the first question we ask a cafe if it has "fish & chips" on the menu.

We've tried every restaurant and drive-in we've found that batters their own fish in Utah.

(The top 2 are basically interchangeable, depending on the day and frying conditions; but overall this is our order:)

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. (Cafe 300 also has the best clam chowder in the state, in our opinion.)  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 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. 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. And deservedly so. Battered fish pieces are big, like England's. Cod is frozen, from Alaska, 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 13 they had fixed an earlier concern we had - the tell-tall scent of fish being refrigerated too long, but on this trip the fish was was excellent.) Very good batter as well! 

The above are the Top 2 by far. The next 2 are still good - they get a B.

3. State Street Grill, Pleasant Grove. Grade: B. The only FRESH cod among those tested. The fish, like "A Little Taste of Britain," is huge, like in the UK. The batter is better now, but a bit too thick for our likes. The above two places have it nailed down.

4. Red Robbin (national burger chain). Grade: B (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.)

The next group are B-minuses.

5. Archibald's, in Gardiner Village, South Jordan. Grade: B-. Get the halibut, the cod is too chewy, like frozen cod usually is. 

6. Virg's Fish & Chips, Utah chain. Grade: 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."

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

8. 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.


Fair places. First are drive-ins, which all rate a C:

a.   Neil’s Halibut and Seafood, Draper (brother to Sommerhay’s).  Not bad fish for around here. Burgers are decent, too.  Go for the swai first, then the other selections. Fun place to eat with some other fast-food dishes worth trying, and really nice people.

b.    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.)

c.    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.

d. 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.

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

Fair places, continued. These are  restaurants (pricier, plus you tip servers), which all rate a C or C+: 

a. Red Rock Brewery on 200 West, SLC

b.  Wasatch Brew Pub in SLC.  Chef Michael Jewell serves a really decent Pacific Rock Cod.  Sometimes we like it better than Red Rock's halibut, above.

c.     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:

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


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

f. Ruby River Steakhouse

The above 6 are not in order; the 4 below are. But all 10 are in the C category:



g. Denny's, national chain. C+

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

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

j. Village Inn, national chain C-

Historical footnotes (about 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 two surprisingly good places!


BEST FISH SANDWICHES IN UTAH

-revised 20 June 2013

1. The Harvest, Thanksgiving Point, Lehi. Salmon sandwich. 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, but this year, in 2013, they may re- release it for a few weeks in late July 2013. Not even the employees know about it at some locations.

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.
 
8.  Neil's Halibut and Chips, in Draper.  Not bad, but not that great: Best in order: grilled salmon, swai, halibut, and cod.  Next best:  The same fish, the same order, but battered.  (In general, Battered fish is our favorite fish in the whole world, but in sandwiches, it usually takes a back seat to grilled.)

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 14 June 2013

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 great.)

2. Cracker Barrel in Springville off I-15 and other locations (plus nationwide). My best friend from high school, 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. Texas Roadhouse (national chain): B

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