925 E Pike St
If every English class I've ever taken is to be believed, one cannot truly understand a work of art without first understanding its creator.
No one cares about the artist's life (if by “no one” you mean “me,” and I do in fact mean “me,” so suck it if you don't like it). If you pay attention too closely to the artist's life you get shit like that movie about when Metallica went to therapy. I don't give a fuck about James Hetfield's grandma, Lars Ulrich's collection of Basquiats (which I'm sure he was forced to unload for the paltry sum of $2 million because Napster was ruining him), or which brand of activator Kirk Hammet uses in his jerry curl. And I SURE AS HELL don't care about the new douchebag bass player they hired who used to be in Suicidal Tendencies.
Likewise, I don't give a FUCK about any chef. I don't care about the chef's kids. I don't care about the chef's dog. I don't care about what the chef likes to eat at home. I don't care about how hot the chef's mom might be, although mostly because I'm fucking the chef's mom and my standards are dismally low, which is of course why I don't care how hot she is. The only thing I care about is how good the food is. I don't have time or energy to spend worrying about the personal details of a chef's life because we're in the middle of a WAR, an eternal battle going on between good taste and bad. We're all conscripts. You're either on the side of good taste, or you eat at Arby's. There's no grey area here.
Now I'm going to contradict all of that crap I just typed about my indifference to chefs. It's unavoidable, really. I blame the internets and all of the knowledge which Al Gore has personally fisted into its various tubes. All of that information on the interwebs has osmosed into my brain, and now I know something about the Pike Street Fish Fry. The man who owns it started out with an underground supper club in Portland. Lately he's personally gotten mixed reviews: a magnificent hero to some, a sperm guzzler to others. Yet isn't that true of us all? It is at this point sufficient to say that the dude started a restaurant, closed a restaurant, moved, then opened another restaurant. His rise and fall has been luridly documented by the chumps who care about that crap, but if you ask me you might as well just insert a Seinfeldian “yadda yadda” into the boring middle parts of the dude's story and skip straight to the menu. Which I will do. Right now.
While everything on the menu isn't fried, I for one don't order ANYTHING from a place called “Fish Fry” that hasn't been previously dipped in boiling oil. The halibut ($8) had a crisp panko coating, was VERY fresh tasting, and was so succulent and juicy, it was like the fish meat was weeping tears of pure deliciousness into your mouth with every bite. Unfortunately, you only got three small pieces.
Fried prawns were also $8. These were coated in a very light, thin beer batter. This was a nice change of pace from the usual huge puffy parka of fried dough which less- skilled frymasters usually try to pass off as beer batter. The prawns were tender, but I was disappointed again by the price, since for eight dollars you only got FOUR shrimp. One thing which I found interesting about the halibut and shrimp were that the traditional breadings were reversed: shrimp usually gets a panko crust and halibut usually gets beer batter, but here it was the other way around. Maybe it was a stylistic play on expectations. Or maybe they got the order wrong.
Calamari was (surprise) $8, which I'm guessing is the default price for seafood. At least you got a LOT for your money: the bowl was overflowing with a big pile of rings and tentacles. The squid had been dusted with cornmeal, and was expertly fried without a hint of the lame chewiness which plagues lesser calamaris.
I should point out that everything comes with fries. And not pussy fries, either, like the ones at Oddfellow's Cafe. Pike Street Fish Fry sells the kind of greasy, hand- cut, hangover- slaying fries that are similar to the ones at Dick's, but better, the kind of fries you can get two bums to fight each other over. Best of all, you get LOTS of them, so even if they skimp on the prawns and halibut, you can at least have a massive bowl of carbs to fall back on. In fact, Pike Street Fish Fry piles SO MANY fries into each bowl, the cooks carefully construct a newsprint retaining wall around the perimeter of the bowl to keep the mountain of fries from becoming a fry- slide. Or would it be called a “french slide?” Either way, it's the most delicious geological formation known to man. Besides the Big Rock Candy Mountain, of course.
Are there any REAL vegetables available at this place? Answer: yes, although they too are fried. Green beans were $5, and were dipped in a thin egg wash batter. The batter was pretty well seasoned, and the beans were cooked just until only a wire- thin tenuous vein of crispness remained in the center of each bean.
One major misstep these motherfuckers made were hushpuppies. For $4.50 you get about 6 shitty, dense hush puppies that settle down into your stomach like a black hole and pull your appetite into its event horizon. Bad hush puppies are worse than shitty gnocchi. Frying hush puppies is counterintuitive: if you cook them until the outside is an appealing golden brown, the inside remains raw. You've got to fry the exterior to a dark mahogany color, so that it seems like it's burned, in order to steam the interior into delightful fluffiness. A good hush puppy has a crisp crust but the inside is like flaky, crumbly, sweet cornbread.
I have one more thing to complain about. I didn't play the “I'm from the South” card when discussing the prawns, but I will now: I'm from the South, and NO ONE PUTS CHEDDAR CHEESE OR JALAPENOS INTO HUSH PUPPIES. The cheese only made the density problem worse. So when you bit into the hushpuppies, what you got was a soggy, solid core of cool cornbread batter strung through with shitty cheese. And spiciness. Lame.
In general, this place certainly knows how to fry the fuck out of ANYTHING. Except hushpuppies. But everything else that I tried came in a different type of batter, and nothing was overcooked at all. In fact, it was spooky how perfectly the fish, prawns, fries, and green beans were prepared. In fact, it was almost like the dude who owns Pike Street Fish Fry sold his soul to Satan in return for his success and mythological frying ability. I personally would've traded my soul for something better, like a cotton candy machine and some guns, but to each his own.
Rating: 7 demagogues out of 10
PS I didn't try it, but for $14 you can buy something called the “Old 96er,” which I imagine is an homage to the gigantic porterhouse consumed by John Candy in The Great Outdoors. It's a sandwich with any item on the menu as the main ingredient, and topped with cole slaw, fried green beans, and french fries. If you can finish the Old 96er in 5 minutes, it's free, plus you win a beer. One day when I'm feeling bulimic I'll be sure to try one of these behemoths.