A "chipper" lands in northeast Minneapolis. Crowds follow. Get in line.
What's to like about Anchor Fish & Chips? Just about everything.
Starting with its namesake dish. It's a generous slab of wild Alaskan cod, dipped in a delicate water-based batter and fried until an outer shell -- light, golden, gently crunchy and relatively grease-free -- forms a protective seal around the moist, succulent fish.
The slightest pressure from a fork breaks through that delicate crust, causing a clean-smelling steam to rise up, which tickles the nose and whets the appetite for the dense whitefish, which falls away in hefty chunks. Anyone raised on McDonald's abominable Filet-o-Fish sandwich -- present company included -- will find it a revelation. Each table comes authentically equipped with a bottle of white vinegar, and its bracing bite hits the spot.
The chips side of the equation is equally alluring: fabulous thick-cut, Minnesota-raised fried potatoes -- barely crisp on the outside, hot and tender on the inside. Order them with a side of the tangy, slightly sweet curry sauce, and you'll know what it is to encounter bar-food brilliance.
The pub is a partnership of first-time restaurateurs Kathryn Hayes, Luke Kyle and Jenny Crouser. That they met and became friends in a northeast Minneapolis bar speaks volumes about the Anchor's good vibrations. What I find particularly admirable about their venture is that it isn't trying to be anything other than exactly what it is, a low-key late-nighter where folks of all stripes can enjoy a cold beer, a plate of well-prepared bar fare and a dose of genuine hospitality, all at blue-collar prices. That's a business plan we can all stand behind.
Those fish and chips not only headline the brief menu, but overshadow all that follows. That's a shame. There's the toasty delight that is the grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich, a scandalously buttery thing of beauty. Vegetarians don't catch much of a break at the Anchor (the fryer is no stranger to wicked-but-wonderful beef tallow), but they can indulge in a well-made black bean/wild rice burger, imported from the nearby Mill City Cafe. Weekend breakfast means plentiful, South Beach Diet-style plates of eggs and sausages. Then there's the superb burger, a thick, well-seasoned and perfectly grilled monster that pops with a bold, beefy flavor. The menu proclaims it to be "ridiculously good," an understated self-assessment.
I wasn't crazy about the dull, heavy deep-fried pasties, but the zesty sausages, a blend of fine-ground pork and bright seasonings made at Sentyrz Liquor & Supermarket -- battered and deep-fried, of course -- are terrific.
Not everything is zapped in hot oil. There's a wonderfully satisfying shepherd's pie, a ramekin generously filled with a stew of ground beef, tomatoes, peas and carrots and topped with a thick swipe of mashed potatoes.
Speaking of comfort food, I'm crazy about the mushy peas, which are just that: A small, semi-creamy bowl of Green Giants mashed with vegetable stock and a rather sinful amount of butter. It's baby food for grown-ups. As for the Heinz baked beans, uh, not so much.
Good luck on the getting-a-seat thing, because the Anchor is that ruthless combination of popularity (crowds), scarcity (roughly 35 seats) and no reservations. My longest delay was 75 minutes, which, frankly, was testing my desire to wait for deep-fried fish and potatoes, even ones this good. But standing around taught me a few valuable lessons: Go early (before 5 p.m.) or late (after 9), and ask if you can cool your heels in one of the coveted chairs in the "library," the cozy book-lined (Irish and British titles, naturally) nook in the rear.
It's not exactly in the chipper tradition to seek out something sweet, but why stand on ceremony? This is northeast Minneapolis, not Belfast, and chasing grease with chocolate is a bedrock principle of the Minnesota State Fair. I just wish I had been an Anchor insider, clued in to the knowledge that the kitchen occasionally cranks out Bailey's- and Guinness-filled cupcakes, or deep-fried Mars Bars (the super-caramel-ey ones from the British Isles), since neither appears on the menu. At least not yet.
The unpretentious setting meets all neighborhood-joint qualifications. It's nothing fancy, just blood-red walls, gleaming black tiles, a beautifully restored tin ceiling (a calling card from the address' days as a butcher shop) and a wide-open kitchen, but it has character.
That's due, in part, to a series of striking black-and-white portraits by photographer Mike Crouser, Jenny's brother; while you're waiting, guess which image is their father. The room's two booths are the money tables, but my favorite seats are the half-dozen that line the counter, since they offer front-row views of Kyle -- he manages the cooking -- and his crew, sporting thickly knit stocking caps as they go about their work. If you're lucky, you'll get a glimpse of the room's other cool decorative touch, a tattoo on Kyle's forearm. Wouldn't you know it? It's an anchor.
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757