It is now the week before Easter and if like so many you are abstaining from meat for Lent, you may well be running out of interesting and delicious ideas of what non-meat meals to eat on Fridays. Raised Catholic, I know your pain. The Fridays of my childhood (not just Lenten Fridays, but all Fridays back then) my mother (God bless her!) served the dreaded and tasteless meals of Tuna Fish Casserole (the kind with the crushed potato chips on top), frozen fish sticks and fish cakes. There was an occasional meal of frozen breaded clam strips that were not much better. I did not know that fish had another and very real form until my sister caught a Rainbow trout when I was about 9 years old and I learned how good fresh caught fish could be. What’s even more amazing is that we lived four of those years in Maine with its abundance of fresh seafood.
Fast forward to today. No longer a Catholic, I married a Catholic who follows his religious requirements seriously. As an avowed foodie, the horrid meals of my youth are unacceptable. Even so, with seven meals (including Ash Wednesday) to plan for, I sometimes get tired and less creative near the end of the season. There is one meal we have at least once during Lent that my husband really loves – British pub-style fish and chips.
Fish and chips are served in all types of restaurants these days. Having actually eaten fish and chips at a very good restaurant and take-away shop in London many years ago, my standards of what constitutes good fish and chips is very high.
There are numerous English and Irish pubs (or imitations) in the Tampa Bay area. Here are four for now.
Topping the list is Cricketeers in Dunedin. Located in a strip mall right before going onto the causeway, it is a pretty good replica of an English pub with dark wood, dart boards and soccer on the big screen tellies. The menu has a good selection of English pub grub – think Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers n’Mash, etc. Go for their fish and chips, which are the best in Tampa Bay. Highly unusual is that they offer three types of fish to choose from – pollock, cod and haddock. Get the haddock – it’s worth the extra cost. The three pieces of fish are huge and the beer batter is just right – golden with a perfect crunchiness, not too heavy and not greasy. The fish is moist and delicious. Dinners are served with chips (fries) and coleslaw. I do find fault with their chips as they are regular fries not the wide planks one gets in the UK. The bonus – Cricketeers makes their own tartar sauce in house. For smaller appetites, try the haddock fingers appetizer. Fingers is the British term for fish sticks. The photo to the left shows they are not a stick at all, but thick portions of beer battered haddock served on a bed of shredded romaine lettuce. A side order of coleslaw makes for a perfect light meal. There are several UK beers to choose from to enjoy with your meal or teetotalers can have a mug of milky hot tea, great on a cool foggy evening or iced tea or soda. Cricketeers is very popular with the locals and can be very crowded. Wednesday evenings there is live music and all-you-can eat crab so the place is packed with senior citizens making it hard to get a table.
My second choice is The Pub at International Plaza’s Baystreet in Tampa. The Pub is another good replica of a British pub with a bit more upscale vibe. The servers wear kilt-style skirts with black tee shirts with the restaurant’s logo on the front and shnarky Brit comments on the back. Their version of fish and chips is very good – one good sized piece of haddock with a light non-greasy beer batter accompanied by fries and coleslaw. Wash it down with their selection of beers from the UK.
Peggy O’Neills Irish Sports Bar and Eatery (West Hillsborough/Oldsmar location) will do in a pinch. The fish and chips can be hit and miss here – good one time and a bit greasy another. For a change of pace, I tried the beer battered shrimp ‘n chips The shrimp were ladened with too much batter which makes for a stuffed feeling after eating them. The best item on the menu is their amazing Cheese Soup.
At the bottom of my list is Maloney’s Local Irish Pub in Westchase. Every time I walk by here, the place is crazy busy. Besides the beer, I am obviously missing what others find good about this place. I can assure you its not the fish and chips. Their version is the strangest I’ve ever seen – the fish piece was totally flat like it had been pounded thin or something heavy had been placed on top of it. It was greasy and had an off taste. We have not been back here since.
We’ll keep researching more fish and chips in the Tampa Bay area and let you know where the best catch is in another post next year.