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May 11th, 2005 KELLY CLARKE | Bite Club
 

BIG FISH

     
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DAVID MACKAY
IMAGE: TOM OLIVER
"She's a haw-uh-uh-on-key tonk whoo-man," belts out the big, moustached man behind the counter at Halibut's, Northeast Alberta Street's new fish-and-chips joint. As the Stones blare over the tiny restaurant's sound system, he shimmies to the right and plops a thick butter bomb on top of a cup of creamy clam chowder. Then he grooves to the left and instructs his employee to dunk a basket of fist-sized Alaskan halibut chunks into the deep fat fryer for exactly three minutes. Exactly.

"I never overcook my fish," he swears. "It's a sin in my book."

The non-sinning fish crooner is David Mackay, the burly, 50-year-old ex-bartender who opened Halibut's exactly 20 days ago. That's long enough to perfume a four-block section of the Alberta neighborhood with the scent of fresh-fried fish-a lure only a Vita Cafe regular could resist.

But even diehard vegheads might fold if Mackay had five minutes with them. The man expounds on the transformative power a canola-corn oil blend can have on a hunk of halibut with the conviction of a Midwestern preacher, persuading old ladies and Alberta art punks to up their orders to a full half-pound portion ($11) of his addictive, silky-moist fish and chips from lunch until dinnertime. "I'll have to call it my ass-widening charter," he says of his penchant for big portions and fatty cooking practices. "But I want you to come out saying these are the best damn fish and chips ever. I'm not messin' around." Obviously.

It's a no-nonsense operation: three fryers, a chowder pot and a mountain of takeout boxes. Mackay decorated the small spot himself with man-stuff he found in his own basement, leading to a congenial ship's galley-meets-regional sports fan motif-Oregon Ducks memorabilia, malt vinegar bottles and a big TV.

This town has a few great F&C options, from the Horse Brass Tavern's pub fry and to the mostly gluten-free Corbett Fish House. But aside from a pedestrian scoop of coleslaw, Mackay's tiny menu is already a local standout. His batter ("pure gold," as he calls it) provides a thin, salty shell for molten hunks of moist halibut, Pacific salmon, catfish and cod. His chips are suitably thick-cut. And that chowder, dotted with soft hunks of potato and clams, actually oozes cream and butter. To top it off, starting in June he's adding Sauvie Island sweet white corn on the cob and lemon-peppered, charbroiled fish to that menu.

But until then, Mackay will stick to killing us softly-with his deep fat fryer.

Add brewery buds Jerry Fechter and Don Younger to the list of restaurant and bar owners putting down roots in North Portland. Fechter and Younger, who own the New Old Lompoc and Southeast Division Street upstart the Hedge House, will open a new brewery/distillery in an old warehouse on the corner of North Williams Avenue and Failing Street this fall. Even better, the pair is toying with the fate-tempting idea of calling the space Failing Williams. The new bar will share the roomy space with its current Division Street neighbor, Pix Pâtisserie. Pix's Cheryl Wakerhauser is launching a second Pix branch that she's terming a French-style "chocolate laboratory" featuring white lab coats and good-quality cognacs in August. Holy hell, why don't we just move Pioneer Courthouse Square to NoPo right now and make the migration complete?


Halibut's, 2525 NE Alberta St., 808-9601.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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