Rock Paper Fish is yet another fast-casual Micah Camden restaurant, and yet another quick pandemic pivot. Open since mid-August, it's a pickup- and delivery-only seafood window, operating out of what used to be Boxer Ramen in the Burnside 26 building—aka the place where "Luke and Jess" lived.
But its story started at a steakhouse.
Camden, whose food-biz portfolio includes co-founding Little Big Burger and Blue Star Donuts as well as the more recent SuperDeluxe and Little Chickpea, has been a regular at the family-run West Burnside classic RingSide Steakhouse for 16 years, during which time he's gotten to know third-generation owner Craig Peterson. And when Camden and Portland-bred NFL star Ndamukong Suh opened Baes Fried Chicken downtown, Peterson fell hard for Baes' bird.
"I noticed he was there like three times in a week," said Camden. "I was like, 'Dude, you're gonna get a heart attack if you just keep eating fried chicken.'"
Before the pandemic, the two men used to dream up restaurant concepts, some more viable the others. The term "millennial steakhouse" may have come up. But now, Camden was just trying to figure out what to do with his existing spaces. For a time, Baes was the only one of his restaurants that stayed open. Most have since returned. But Boxer Ramen's short-term future didn't look so good.
"Boxer Ramen has always been one of my favorite restaurants," Camden said. "I have five locations. But nobody in the world orders ramen to go."
That's especially true in the summer. So Boxer's Sellwood location became another Baes, while Camden asked Peterson to join him and Suh on something fishy. Peterson had already done seafood with RingSide's Fish House at Fox Tower, which closed in 2018, while Camden knew a lot about fast-casual hits and misses. Given the scale of RingSide's operation, Peterson could get some wholesale deals on Pacific Northwest proteins, while Camden's contacts at the delivery apps—Rock Paper Fish's website only links to Caviar and Door Dash—suggested there was a hole in the market for fish and chips, which were doing surprisingly well in Seattle.
The seafood may be mostly local or regional, but the style is New England, not only for a different kind of taste experience, but for better takeout and delivery. Beer-battered fish and hips is perfect at the pub or in a cone while walking down the street, but doesn't travel well once boxed and steamy. "It sogs out," says Camden.
The key to Baes' chicken is that it holds up well on delivery, so Rock Paper Fish uses a similar double-battered, double-fried approach. The fish is also dipped in apple juice, and seasoned with Old Bay. "We had to work our recipes to make it to where it would be able to withstand travel," says Camden. "With that double frying, you're wicking a lot of that moisture out of there."
The Pacific halibut and chips ($16) holds up as advertised. A half-hour after pickup, the chips—thick and reminiscent of Belgian frites—could have used a few minutes of refresh in the oven, but the halibut was still impeccable, with a craggy crunch, tender inside, and minimal separation between fish and batter. You get two healthy pieces of halibut and a generous pile of chips (you'll have leftovers), plus herby tartar sauce, ketchup and the obligatory lemon.
Keeping with the "like Maine, but Oregon" theme, there's a Dungeness crab and Bay shrimp roll ($15, with chips) instead of lobster roll, while the New England clam chowder ($6 for a cup, $10 for a bowl) also comes as "poutine" over chips. Vegetarians can get the artichoke "crab" cakes" (two for $6): super-crispy fritters made from artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, zucchini and chickpeas seasoned with Old Bay—perfect as a sauce-delivery vehicle. In addition to tartar, ketchup and spicy remoulade, there's cocktail, cranberry chile and truffle aioli (50 cents each for extra).
In addition to the halibut, there's Atlantic cod and chips ($14), which Camden originally told Eater PDX he wouldn't serve, opting for albacore instead. Then the emails and Instagram messages starting pouring in.
"It was like 50 a week," Camden says. "'Can you do cod? Can you do cod? Can you do cod?'"
This did not come as a surprise to Peterson.
"I told him to serve cod right off the bat," he says. "I had a fish house—I know what kind of fish and chips they want! They want cod. And personally I like cod over halibut."
EAT: 2605 SE Burnside St., rockpaperfishandchips.com. 11 am-9 pm Wednesday-Sunday. Delivery and takeout only.