Friday, July 04, 2008

Helen's Fish and Chips New Owners, Mixed Reviews of Popular Port Credit Restaurant

Helen's Fish and Chips, located on the west side of the Credit River and Lakeshore, just steps from the lighthouse in Port Credit (Mississauga, Ontario) is a place we go to 'just for the halibut' :-)

And in May, new owners took over the long established, family owned eatery. The menu is not all that different from the previous owners (see original post and pictures from October 2007). I've had a few meals since then, with mixed results. Here's what I've found.

On May 15, I ordered the usual halibut special ($9.95) that comes with fries and a choice of salad (I like their Greek salad). The halibut had a different batter on it -- denser, more like a thin cake batter, not greasy, light. The salad had bits of veggies well past their prime, to the point that it was obvious that someone had mixed up the 'Toss' pile with the 'Salad' pile to the detriment of the salad. They'd also forgotten to add the Greek dressing, so I took my plate back to the counter, asked dressing and left the bits of compost (brown lettuce bits and chunks of celery).

We'd tucked into the meal when a man came over to the table, identifying himself as part of the new ownership, saying Helen's is still a family owned business. He apologized profusely for the salad incident, saying they had a new chap starting today who was a little rough around the edges.

We had a nice chat about Port Credit, the menu old and new, Gordon Ramsey as a mutual favourite, the owners' previous restaurants (all franchises, if I recall), their plans for the future (basically, keep on with the same proven menu as before, with less popular items winnowed out), and keeping it as a Cash Only establishment versus adding an ATM. It was all 'Hail, Fellow! Well Met!

And so we decided to give them some time to settle in. In early June we stopped in, as my friend simply had to have some clam chowder. Alas, there is no chowder to be had, so we walked over the bridge to Snug Harbour, where there is plenty of chowder.

From time to time, we stopped into Helen's but only for fries and a drink. Today, it was time again for the halibut special. We had one hour to walk to Helen's, order and eat, and get back to leave for work.

When we got there, I noticed something new on the chalkboard: Halibut Nuggets, with fries and salad, for $5.95, which I ordered. The cheerful girl at the cash said, "Oh, no, it's fries OR salad with the nuggets," so I chose fries. My friend had the full Halibut special, also with fries and Greek salad, still $9.95.

We took our seats while we waited for our food. After an inordinately long time, I went over to the counter to see what was keeping it. Another gal behind the counter was setting up two plates, loaded with fries, and salad. When the cook placed the fish on those plates, she called out, "Number 37." A young chap came up, took the tray and left. Since he had ordered after we did, I asked what had become of our orders, which I repeated down to the exact amount of cash I had forked over.

The order taker looked flustered, said 'no idea' etc. etc. just as my friend came up to the counter, to see what was taking so long. As we were trying to sort this out, the young chap comes back with the tray of food. Apparently he had taken our food in error. No one had thought to check to see if he had the correct order. (Now I am sure he is a nice clean chap who hadn't touched any of our meal, and I didn't want to further embarrass him, but still. I mean really!)

I told the staff that since both those plates had salad, I had assumed they were for another order. "Oh, no - the nuggets come with BOTH fries and salad," said the Plate Preparer.

Okay, long story too long. Sorry. On to the food. The portion size versus the price makes the nuggets a bargain lunch for sure! That's the good news.

Halibut Nuggets, Chips and Greek Salad Special

The Halibut Nuggets special is almost as amply portioned as the full special. The previous salad issues seem to have been solved by the use of packaged salad mix, to which Helen's add fresh tomatoes, black olives and Greek dressing. The fries were fresh, though a little limp - it's so hard to find crispy fries -- but not an issue.

The batter is again the traditional batter, fairly thin and crisp, not too greasy. But see the white area on the piece of fish lower right edge of the plate? Ah that's the not so good part. So eager was the cook to get the meals out fast that cooking times were fudged. About half the pieces were absolutely tasty. Other pieces, that did not enjoy a favourable spot in the fryer, spurted a white gel stuff that prompts immediate spit-out on my part. But there were enough to choose from, and I wasn't all that hungry.

So it seems my love affair with the classic local diner is a little tarnished. I'll give it another try in a month or so, when I need a fix of fish and chips. Let me know if you go, and how your meal was.

UPDATE DEC 2008:It's all good again :-)

Helen's Fish and Chips Nugget style
I had Helen's Halibut nuggets and chips and Greek salad last month for take out lunch, and again last night for an early dinner, and both times, the food was really good. (Whew!) And the dinner size Halibut and chips, too, was perfectly cooked. I still think the Halibut Nuggets meal is the better option; though the price has gone up by a dollar since the summer time, it's still a good deal.

UPDATE March 14, 2009 Just back from Helen's for lunch. The place was packed this Saturday noon! Helen's now accepts debit cards for payment, and has increased the price of the halibut nuggets to $7.95, which still includes Greek salad and a small portion of fries.