In Portland, there's only one place you can go for a fish-and-chips basket fried up by the same people who caught the fish. And oddly enough, that's the Woodstock neighborhood.
In a shop that looks as if it were airdropped from the business end of Newport Bay, the Portland Fish Market sells house-smoked cod and pepper coho, sushi-grade bigeye and whole sea bass that might have been swimming in the ocean just hours previously, processed not by some large, intermediary facility but often by the same people who hauled it in. All fish are wild, all caught either by the shop's owners or by a tight network of friends who fish along Oregon's rivers and coastline.
And this fall, the market installed a net-to-fork fish-and-chips window—just like the fisherman-run stalls you find every now and then along the docks of the Oregon Coast. Every Wednesday to Sunday, you'll see a hinged wood awning propped up on the side wall of the fish shop, next to a few freshly stained picnic tables and a little yellow sign announcing that, Oregon Liquor Control Commission willing, the young women behind the window might one day serve you beer.
Stuck to the glass, you'll see a menu with precisely two food items on it: fish and chips.
Three pieces of cod and chips cost $9.95. The same with halibut is $15.95. And if there's a large catch of something else, you might get lucky enough to happen onto something like a three-piece rockfish and chips for $12.50.
The canola-oil, steak-cut fries at Portland Fish Market are nothing special, though they come with a welcome bit of British-style malt vinegar. But that rockfish? That was some of the best fried fish I've had in town—a layer cake of fatty feeling with crisp and buttery breading around equally buttery fish. It evokes a sense of well-being that has history to it, lodged deep in the memory of anyone raised on trips to both Horse Brass and the coast. If you see the rockfish, or any other fish of the day, that's what you should order.
Just don't spring for the halibut. Though it's a more expensive fish, it's not clear it's ever been well-served as fish and chips compared to cod; the halibut's flat fillets are both dense in their fishiness and overwhelmed by the breading, whereas the thick cod chunks maintain a better ratio of breading to flaky, lovely fish. And at lunchtime, you can pick up a two-piece basket of cod and chips for a mere $6.99.
This is not fancy food, but it is the food that fishermen eat. It is also the food that they make for themselves out on the coast. And for one brief moment at the picnic tables, eating fish with one hand while pulling your jacket tight against the wind and rain with the other, you can fool yourself into thinking that's where you are.
EAT: Portland Fish Market, 4404 SE Woodstock Blvd., 503-477-6988, portlandfishmarket.com. The fish-and-chips window is open 11:30 am-7 pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11:30 am-6 pm Sunday.