Like bangers and mash or bubble & squeak, fish and chips is the kind of perfect pairing you'll find at any decent English pub. It's also the only way most parents can get their kids to eat fish -- because everything is better when battered and fried.
For this week's battle, we pitted the fish & chips at a local bar known for their beer batter against a similar offering at a quirky English pub slash takeout joint. Will the Americans best the Brits in a battle of fish & chips? We'll see.
In One Corner: The Codfather
1618 E. Bell Rd. in Phoenix
With a name like The Codfather, we weren't sure whether to take this little fish & chips shop in North Phoenix seriously. But word on the street (and on the 'net) has it they make a tasty version you just can't refuse. So we plodded up to the little shop tucked in the corner of a strip mall on Bell Rd. One half of The Codfather is a typical takeout joint, with a light-up picture menu above the ordering counter and standard wooden slat booths like those found at Kyoto bowl.
What's not so typical is the huge selection of British import foods -- especially sweets -- behind the counter and the picture of the Queen Mother on the wall. That, together with the oak bar and vintage billiards table in the bar room next door give the place an eclectic pub feel.
The Codfather offers other Brit favorites such as bangers & mash and Scotch eggs, but they specialize in fish & chips, offered in small and large sizes with a variety of fish. At about $6 for a small order and $8-9 for a larger one, it's a pretty good deal.
My dining buddy of the day and I opted for the mahi-mahi and chips, a lighter alternative to the traditional cod. A few minutes later, a heaping plate of skin-on fries and several large crispy pieces of fish arrived on our table with a side of tartar sauce. At first whiff, there was no hint of fishiness. Always a good sign.
"I can't decide if the fish is greasy, or just buttery," said my friend as he bit into a large breaded piece.
I voted for greasy. Though the fish was indeed buttery, The Codfather's version had that finger-lickin' greasiness I associate with fast-food joints. Not a dealbreaker, especially for an order-at-the-counter place, but disappointing. The chips were less greasy, with a slight crispness. They needed more salt, but were otherwise palatable.
The flavor of the fish was good -- mild but slightly fishy, with a delicate sweetness to the thick, soppy breading that contrasted well with both the traditional malt vinegar and tangy tartar sauce. My breading slid off the fish in a few places, a sure sign the oils in the fish were getting out of hand. I can just imagine what it would've been like had I ordered the oilier sea bass. Eek!
In the Other Corner: Four Peaks Brewery
1340 E. 8th St. in Tempe
When we asked our East Valley contacts about the best local joint for fish & chips, we got a universal answer: Four Peaks Brewery.
Located in a cool historic brick building in the backwoods of Tempe, the restaurant brews beer on-site in the monolithic steel tanks visible from the bar area. The huge patio is a popular spot on fair weather days, so that's where we landed -- right next to a weird set of pipes and spigots that made for an interesting conversation piece.
Unlike the Codfather, Four Peaks isn't really about the food. Sure, the grub's pretty enticing, from the delicious breakfast burger topped with a fried egg to salads, wings and beer bread, but from the amount of tables getting drinks with their breakfast, it's clear folks come here for the beer. We ordered up the fish & chips, advertised as having a beer battler made with Four Peaks Kiltlifter ale.
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SHOW ME HOW
Our plate arrived with a handful of deep golden brown Icelandic cod strips next to a pile of classic fries with a few bits of skin still on. The "chips" were decent; not too greasy, with enough thickness and crispness to propel them above standard fast-food fries.
The fish wasn't greasy, either. The skin was crisper and more golden than The Codfather's version, but had a slightly bitter taste to it. The fish itself was mild in flavor, with a firm texture and no hint of fishiness. The orange-tinged tartar sauce was sweet, which helped to cut the bitterness of the breading. All in all, a good dish.
"I can really taste the beer in this," remarked my companion. "Makes me thirsty for a real Kiltlifter." Guess that explains all of the beer glasses at the adjacent table with three orders of fish & chips on it.
The Winner: It's a tough call, but Four Peaks' less greasy version wins out for taste and texture. Please, Codfather, don't whack us. Isn't your daughter's wedding today?