He Said / She Said: Where to catch the perfect fry

There are around 9,000 fish and chip shops across the U.K., about seven for every one McDonald’s. These chippies, as they’re called, have a loyal clientele who keeps them going. In the States, though, fish and chips is a bit harder to come by, especially the kind that keeps you coming back for more. And in the U.S., about the only common thing from place to place is that the fish is battered and fried. The fish can be anything from cod to catfish, and the chips – the British term for what we call french fries – might be steak fries, shoestring potatoes or they might be some variety of house-made potato chips.

Becky’s Fish and Chips Profile: I’m looking for fish and chips (aka fries here in the States) rather than fish and crisps (that’s potato chips to Americans), and the saltier, the better. The batter should be distinctive but the flavors shouldn’t overpower the fish. Extra points if there are crunchy batter drips.

Simon’s Fish and Chips Profile: I’m always on the hunt for authentic British fish and chips here in the States, like the ones I used to get while living in London for six years. Just because it’s fried doesn’t mean it should be greasy, and I’m as much about the accessories like beer and malt vinegar as I am about the fish.

The Scottish Arms
8 S. Sarah St., St. Louis | 314.535.0551
Mon. – 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Tue. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 4 p.m. to midnight

S: First good sign: The malt vinegar was on the table. The restaurant served a fish and chips that made me feel like I was back in London – truly authentic. I knew the fish and I would get along from the moment I laid eyes on it. It was a beautiful, large piece of fish – so large it almost looked butterflied. The batter was golden brown – a sign of a perfect frying job. The chips were steak-style, which is not my favorite but is the way they traditionally come in Britain. Celtic crisps are also offered on the menu. Next time I might order those on the side.

B: The fish is haddock, and it was light, flaky and very fresh. It was dipped in their batter, which had a hint of beer flavor. The fries were crispy even though they’re steak fries. Though only one piece of fish came with the order, it was huge, with lots of crispy batter drips. We managed to share it without coming to fisticuffs.

S: Beer is the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips – a nice brew can really bring out the flavors of the batter, especially if it’s a beer batter. The brew menu is legendary here, with a number of dark ales that really pair well with fish and chips.

B: My new favorite beer is Alba Scots Pine Ale. It’s got a distinctly piney flavor, and somehow that really complemented the haddock. A few things that completed the ambiance and made me feel like this was an authentic fish and chips experience: The male staff cheerfully wore kilts, and the walls were decked in tartans. And the big-screen TVs in the bar show soccer, er, football – très European.

S: The tartar sauce was good, too. Sometimes tartar sauce can be grainy or oily, but here it was smooth and creamy. The Scottish Arms has definitely earned its coat of arms.

Trailhead Brewery
921 S. Riverside Drive, St. Charles | 636.946.2739
Sun. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Bar until 1 a.m.), Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Bar until 1 a.m.)

S: The first thing you notice when you walk in is the shiny stainless steel brew tanks. Some tasty beer is produced here. The fish and chips, however, was undercooked and a little soggy. The oil probably wasn’t hot enough to seal the batter. The portions were generous, though.

B: It is worth noting that the fish and chips – and everything else in the restaurant – is fried in oil with zero trans fat. (Ditto the Scottish Arms and The Schlafly Tap Room.)

S: The beer selection was what you’d hope for from a brew house, with a menu of tried-and-true beers and a few seasonal brews for spice. I had the Old Courthouse Stout, which was dark and rich and very potent.

B: I had the Missouri Brown Dark Ale – very tasty, with hints of coffee on the palate. The chips were steak fries – too thick for my taste if they’re not cooked right, and I found them overly soft. The brewery claims a lot of history, as it is situated near the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition kicked off. Unfortunately, the gustatory experience was much less memorable. Soon after the meal, the fish and chips had faded from my mind.

S: I have to agree. It’s worth coming here for the ambiance alone though, and it’s located in the heart of Old St. Charles, so there’s a lot within walking distance.

The Schlafly Tap Room
2100 Locust St., St. Louis | 314.241.2337
Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Bar until 1 a.m.), Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to midnight (Bar until 1 a.m.), Sun. – noon to 9 p.m. (Bar until 10 p.m.)

B: Fish and chips is our standby item. When we can’t decide what to order, we split a large fish and chips. At The Tap Room, the large Fish and Fries was more than enough food for the two of us – and yes, it’s called Fish and Fries. The fries were just the way I like them – not steak fries but not too thin, either, and not the least bit soggy.

S: The Tap Room serves Icelandic cod fried in a Schlafly Hefeweizen batter. It was quite tasty, and the fries were great – really dark and crispy without being burnt. The fish had a light, crisp exterior, but it was still very moist inside. Bonus: It came to the table steaming hot! The ambiance was nice, too – the place had a warm, lodge feel and the fresh-brewed beer offerings were delicious. This is top-notch fare.

B: The wait staff was great at suggesting beers to pair with your food, and for the Fish and Fries our server recommended the Pale Ale or the Hefeweizen. I was happy with the fish, but I really loved the fries. This was the perfect fry. It was crispy all the way through, but not crunchy (a fine distinction here), with a golden color and just enough salt to bring out the flavor. And the pile was huge – we couldn’t have eaten our way through all those fries to save ourselves, and believe me, we gave it the college try. If you ask, they’ll bring out spicy seasoned ketchup to go with the fries.

S: They are generous, too, with the tartar sauce. Usually we end up fighting over the last smears of the stuff, but at The Tap Room there was some left when the fish was gone.

John D. McGurk’s
1200 Russell Blvd., St. Louis | 314.776.8309
Mon. to Sat. – 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 3 p.m. to midnight

S: McGurk’s is a pub with some savage fish and chips. Though it’s technically Fish and crisps, as the dish is served with thin, freshly sliced and fried potato chips that are crispy with a bit of moisture still left inside. We should admit upfront, McGurk’s is our local pub and we’re regulars here. In fact, I brought Becky here for our very first date. Fish and chips is apparently the way to a woman’s heart.

B: It was the beer. Or maybe the food. The fish and chips is delicious, after all. In the large order, you get four pieces of fresh, battered cod, and you never know exactly what shape or size they’ll be, which tells you they’re hand-cut – no Mrs. Paul’s here. The fish is never greasy, and the flavor of the fish really comes through the batter. In the crisps, even though they’re thin and really crisp, you get full potato flavor.

S: I love the crunch that the fish made when I bit into it – a well-done, lightly oiled coating. The batter and the fish were really well-balanced – neither overpowered the other. And McGurk’s serves a true pint of Guinness, which makes me feel right at home.

B: I think a good ambiance makes the food taste even better, and McGurk’s definitely has that going for it. With its dark wood interior and steady stream of live music, McGurk’s is the real deal.