First Pike Street Fish Fry closed, quietly, in November—which made me take stock of everything I thought I knew.
Because man, that fish. When it opened in 2008 in the skinny space next to Neumo’s I knew it would be good—a partnership which included Mike McConnell (Caffe Vita, Via Tribunali) and Michael Hebb (the Ripe empire in Portland) wasn’t going to be bad—but I’m not sure I was expecting great.
And great it was, from its delicate batter-cloaked cod and not-entirely-greaseless-(thank-God) fries with an array of dipping sauces to its catfish, oysters, even smelt in summer. Owners changed, diffident service didn’t—but their attention to really fresh seasonal fish fried with restraint remained uppermost. And though Pike Street Fish Fry holds the distinction of being the recipient of the single most mortifying reporting question that has ever regrettably left my mouth—“So besides the halibut, do you do any other boning in your kitchen?” gaaaaaah—it remained my go-to well beyond those monthly Free Fry Fridays.
So imagine my dismay to learn that Chippy’s Fish and Drink was also slated for closure. The project of viral restaurateur Ethan Stowell was a little confusing signage-wise, but its fish was “just angelically, impossibly good…cloaked in a just-shy-of-sweet batter and gilded in the fryer to a spectacular crunch.” That’s how I described it when pronouncing Chippy’s one of the ten best new restaurants of 2014, and how I felt about it until its last day in business, which was Sunday.
So what happened?
At Pike Street, it seems, construction happened. “After two years of disruption to our business due to massive development in our street, we decided to stop fighting the losses we were incurring and take this time to temporarily close for a renovation and cleanup,” the Capitol Hill Seattle blog quoted Pike Street Fish Fry. They weren’t the only ones singing those blues; Restaurant Zoe and Quinn’s owner Scott Staples told me last month “all the businesses around Quinn’s have seen a huge hit, with no place to park day or night.” Staples conceded that things were starting to improve...just before announcing that he was throwing in the towel on Zoe as a restaurant and turning it into an event space. So it's hard to know whether or when to expect another act in the fish Fry space, as “temporarily close” would suggest. (There was some talk, now suspended, about its owners opening a Fish Fry in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.)
As for Chippy’s, Stowell is transforming it into an a la carte adjunct of next-door Staple and Fancy called Marine Hardware. “The simple reason is, it was busy in summer but not in the winter,” Stowell told me last week. “That’s just not sustainable long-term.” Besides, diners eat healthier now, Stowell said, adding that he himself steers away from fish and chips.
That explanation invites a few intriguing ponderables. Why, for instance, do we prefer heavy fried food when the weather is warmer and we’ve got more skin on display? Relatedly, could it be that fish and chips rates poorly among both junk-foodies (because fish seems inherently virtuous) and health nuts (because frying seems inherently wicked)? More broadly, the closure of both high-end/lowbrow places—which could be regarded, to varying degrees, as dives for connoisseurs—invites us to wonder whether Seattleites are able to embrace casual food done for discriminating palates.
Perhaps the expectations clash, not to mention the sticker shock, is just too weird for us.