Anchor Fish & Chips offers authentic Irish fare
Unless you arrive especially early or late, there's a good chance that your evening at the Anchor Fish & Chips will begin across the street at the Peacock Lounge. That's because the tiny Irish chippery doesn't take reservations, and every night since it opened the place has been packed to the gills. Technically, Anchor's liquor license doesn't allow the staff to serve you a drink unless you order an entrée, so your best bet is to pop in, put your name on the list, and then hit the Peacock for a bit.
Anchor is the labor of love of three friends—Irish expats Kathryn Hayes and Luke Kyle, and Minnesota native Jenny Crouser—who wanted to create a late-night eatery for northeast Minneapolis. The team put in several months of sweat equity to convert the former Gallery 13 at 13th and University into a restaurant. With the help of family, neighbors, and friends, they've produced a 36-seat eatery with a rustic, vintage ambiance that's pitch-perfect for the budget-hip neighborhood. The dining room's blood-red walls are decorated with striking black-and-white portraits shot by Jenny's brother, the photographer Michael Crouser. The bar, made from repurposed barn wood, was built and installed by Northern Lights Timber Framing down the street in exchange for 420 beers. (The crew has been working its way through the tab during weekly post-work card-playing sessions.)
Anchor's short, affordable menu—nothing costs more than $10—consists of the hearty, traditional Irish fare that Hayes and Kyle grew up on, right down to the baby-food-style mushy peas. Depending on how you feel about a cuisine known for being as drab as a misty moorland, you can decide if it's worth waiting an hour to eat. But the Northeast crowd that packs places like Psycho Suzy's, Donny Dirk's, and the 331 has already decided its answer is a resounding "yes."
While several nice tables and booths line Anchor's walls, the seats at the counter are the best spot to watch the cooks in action—you'll be close enough to the bubbling vats that you could practically deep-fry your schnoz. Kyle, who previously worked at the Band Box Diner, apprenticed for six months in an Irish chippery, where he developed his formula for Anchor's titular fish and chips.
An order consists of a battered-and-fried hunk of wild Alaskan cod that's nearly as big as a child's shin, alongside a whole mess of sturdy, thick-cut potatoes. The chips are lightly browned, and ordering a side of gravy or gloppy curry will add more interest than tipping the tabletop bottles of white vinegar. (The Irish favor white vinegar, Hayes explains, and the English malt vinegar.) As for the fish, it's flaky and moist, an equal partner to its crust, which is as crisp as the edge of a hash brown. I thought the mild-tasting batter could have used something—salt, at least—to boost its impact; otherwise, the flavor of the cooking oil, which is made from beef fat, dominates.
If, like me, you're not a strict classicist when it comes to fish and chips, you'll probably prefer the more heavily tinkered-with preparations at places like Sea Change or Victory 44. And if you also have trouble shaking your American biases, you might miss the lemon and tartar sauce, whose tart and pickled bite I find an indispensable partner to fried fish. Just make a request and your server will provide them.
Among the other menu items, I liked the robust, spicy, batter-fried sausage, but it left me feeling like it was two-thirds of the Scotch egg I would have preferred. The pasty (pronounced pah-stee, not pay-stee—you'll thank me later) is like a bland, European version of an Indian samosa. Anchor's pasty differs from the ones beloved in northern Michigan in its lack of a thick dough shell: It's just a ball of ground pork and mashed vegetables sealed with flour, covered in the same batter as the fish and chips and sausage, and plunked into the deep fryer.
One of my favorite dishes at Anchor is the shepherd's pie, which is more robustly seasoned than some recipes, with substantial chunks of ground beef and carrot buried beneath a snow-white layer of creamy mashed potatoes. The other is the Helicopter Burger, a dense, tender patty made of grass-fed beef that's topped, Dagwood-like, with Irish cheddar, Fischer Farms ham, a fried egg, and a pillowy bun. Hayes likes to refer to it as a "dude burger," and if you're willing to risk being airlifted to a medical facility, it's delicious. After you've tried a Helicopter, every burger without a fried egg on top starts to seem sort of plain and lonely.
Anchor offers a short list of tap beers, including Guinness poured the "right way," Hayes says, by which she means the glass is half-filled, then left to settle for several minutes before being topped off. They also sell house red and white wines, both organic, served by the $4 juice glass or the half- or full carafe—chemistry beakers found at Ax-Man, actually—for $8 and $15 respectively. The setup is all very comfortable and unpretentious, a bit like drinking box wine from a Nalgene on a camping trip.
While I thought Anchor's dinner was fine, I found myself far more enamored of its weekend Irish breakfasts, the likes of which are nearly impossible to find around these parts. I'd recommend the $12 Full Whack, which is large enough to split if you have a modest appetite (Half Whacks and Mini Whacks are also offered). As my friend forked through each item on the massive dinner-as-breakfast plate, she periodically exclaimed, "I don't know what this is, but I like it."
Some of the Whack's elements are easy to identify: eggs, which our waitress recommended we order basted (like over easy, but with a more custardy yolk), plus grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, and Heinz beans, which are a bit like the baked beans of American picnic fare, but the sauce is less sweet and more tomato-y. Other items will look more familiar than they sound, including the "banger," a mildly seasoned sausage link, and the salty, smoky "rasher." (Otherwise known as Canadian or Irish bacon, rashers are thin-sliced, meaty cuts from the pig's back, versus the fat-striped stuff from the belly).
And then the training wheels come off: It's time for black and white pudding. Slices of the white taste a little like Thanksgiving stuffing, with a similarly soft and bready texture belying its composite of oats, barley, and pork sausage. The dark, speckled rounds of black pudding have a nuttier, slightly livery flavor. After you've finished, ask your server to reveal the secret to its rich hue. (For the impatient—spoiler alert—it's blood.) Sop all this up with a slice of fried potato bread, which is sort of like a cross between a latke and naan, and you'll have just one thought: Screw cereal.
For all its accomplishments in the kitchen, though, what Anchor really has going for it is its sense of place—the conviviality, the cool, or whatever it is that makes people willing to wait for a seat. Part of that energy comes from the chatty, helpful staff, the majority of whom are longtime friends of the owners.
One night our server felt enough camaraderie with my group that she didn't shy away from hiking up her skirt and tussling with her sagging stockings right in front of our table. Later, when she noticed that my friend was not punctuating his conversation with wild hand gestures but instead killing a swarm of fruit flies, she comped him a beer in appreciation for extermination services rendered. How's that for Irish luck?
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