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Friday, May 29, 2009

Lunch Report: Mr. Cod...

This is one of those cases where both my wife and I walked into a restaurant planning to throw down our cash, take a few bites, take a few pictures and if it wasn't good, we'd simply walk out and head next door to What-A-Burger. The fact is, with all the bad reports from readers (which we do appreciate, by the way), we could have easily just skipped it and moved on to the opening of the next restaurant in the area.

Thankfully, we didn't.
Not even ten minutes before going to try Mr. Cod, our neighbors gave us a mixed review of their own experience. There was an issue of consistency in the cooking, some complaints about fries (chips), no iced tea, and only having ketchup as a condiment.When we walked in, business was brisk. The place was clean, and getting cleaner by the minute as the owner walked around with a spray bottle and towel cleaning windows and doors and tables and such.

The restaurant was transformed from the old Pizza Hut (soon to open across the street), and it is suddenly a lot brighter inside. The booths were clean and comfortable, and the entire seating area seems pretty roomy.

My wife and I walked up to the counter, both ordered the lunch special which includes a hunk of fish (cod), a trip to the salad bar, chips and a drink. $5.99 each. As a test, I ordered tea (since one reader mentioned the tea machine was not working), and it was available and good.
While we waited for our order, we went to the salad bar to load up on green food. The salad bar is one of those types where things are chilled, so the lettuce and fixin's were nice and chilled (as they should be). The only casualty was a chunk of sliced egg I grabbed that seemed to be frozen. Aside from that, no complaints at all.Before we had even finished making our salads, the fish and chips were delivered to our table. Both of us took time eating our salads, because I think we were pretty much worried about what we would find once we started on the main course.I scooped up the last black olive from my salad bowl and reached for the bottle of malt vinegar located on the table next to the ketchup and the Cholula. Important Note: Though tarter sauce packets are available, do not ruin your British style fish and chips with any other condiment besides malt vinegar. You do not need ketchup for your chips and you do not require tarter sauce for your fish. Simply douse both with the vinegar.I broke apart the hunk of fish and let the steam rise from it, then took a cautious bite into it. I had heard numerous reports of the fish being undercooked, and I am here to tell you that I do not do sushi, at all.

Thankfully, the fish was cooked completely, the fried batter had a nice taste to it and I immediately took a second enjoyable bite. My wife asked me if it was okay to proceed and I told her that mine was fine.
She started with the chips (fries) and immediately gave approval. The biggest complaint we had heard was that they were soggy, undercooked, and in one case, clumped together. We experienced none of that. You may not like it, but these are exactly as I recall the chips in England. But please, try them with the malt vinegar for the full affect.

Somebody noted that the fish had the taste of Long John Silvers. I can certainly buy that comparison, but I'd say (at least today) Mr. Cod was much closer to the real British fish & chips I remember. And frankly, I can't even walk into an LJS without needing a shower for the grease in the air.
In the end, we both ate all the fish and all the chips and my wife said before I had even thought of it that she could easily see coming back for more. She wondered how the shrimp might taste. So, I went up to the counter and ordered two shrimp (99 cents each). I think they make a batch of them and set them in sort of a holding case or something. I found the shrimp to be slightly chewy.

We have found that a first visit usually makes or breaks whether or not we ever return for a second. The only place I can think of where we gave them multiple tries, simply because they were local was Lone Star Grill on Tezel. I never was impressed per se, but I know several of the regulars here loved the place. In this case, I think several of you gave Mr. Cod an honest shot and will never return for a second try. I can't blame you if that was your experience, but you might consider trying them out again in a few weeks.

As we were finishing up, the owner came over and introduced himself. He asked us how things were and we told him (honestly) we were pleased with the fish. He specifically asked about it being cooked properly and also asked us how we felt about the fries (chips). Again, we were happy with it. My wife mentioned that she would have preferred there be napkins on the table as opposed to the single napkin that comes in the packet of plastic ware. As it turns out, the guy from Ace-Mart was there delivering the napkin holders.

Turns out, just like the opening being delayed, there were quite a few issues of things that didn't get fixed or simply weren't ready on time because the owner was stuck in Mexico City. Yes, remember that whole Swine Flu (H1N1) thing that we were all freaking out about a few weeks ago? Well, this guy apparently got caught up in all that mess. As such, a lot of things that needed to get done, didn't.

He showed us where more work still needed to be done on the restaurant, changes to the salad bar, the signage etc. It is also pretty obvious that he got the message from disgruntled customers and as was the case with our fish today, somebody has adjusted the cooking times.

He also told us about the potatoes. If you ever go to 95% of the restaurants around here, they are using pre-packaged, frozen french fries. That's fine - I think most would agree that McDonald's makes a pretty good french fry and they are frozen and consistent. The Mr. Cod franchise insists on the potatoes being peeled and cut, fresh in the store. I'm gonna be honest, I like it that way. If they seem a little soggy, that is fine, as long as they are cooked.

So bottom line is, we'll go back. I probably won't stray far from the fish and chips, and basically, that was all I was looking for when I saw we were getting this style restaurant.

If you do happen to make a return trip, I'd love to hear how things turned out second time around.


Maureen said...

Excellent news.

deep forest said...

Very good review. It sounds like they're getting it together and the food is improving as we type. I guess it's safe to swing over there and grab a bite (based on your recommendations Dave).

KeithAlanK said...

I have said it before and I'll say it again:
NEVER go to a brand new restaurant until they have had a week or two to get their act together.
Let some OTHER people get food poisoning or toss their meal in the trash.
Mr. Cod proves my point.

Would you let someone fresh out of med school operate on your brain?
No--you want someone with experience.
Same thing with fry cooks.

Dave said...

NEVER go to a brand new restaurant until they have had a week or two to get their act together.
I'd say you've nailed it here. Unlike opening another restaurant like McDonald's or Bill Miller's where they can bring in crew from other local stores to help the new people get going, Mr. Cod had to basically start from scratch.

New rule of thumb: When a restaurant opens, take a week long vacation, then go try it out.

brenty said...

I think you're right. Unfortunately, I went the first day. BIG MISTAKE! I'll still wait a while before I go back. The pict of the fish you got did not look like anything I had. My fish looked like it just barely had it's head and tail chopped off. Maybe I got their 'test' fish.

Dave said...

My fish looked like it just barely had it's head and tail chopped off. Maybe I got their 'test' fish.

Hey, somebody has to be the first. You should go back and tell them you'd like a do-over!

M2 said...

OK, here's a second (or is it third, or forth?) opinion...I just had to try it as I have been jones'ing for some UK-style fish & chips since I had some in the UK last January. So tonight I drove over to try out Mr Cod. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. For one, the piece of cod I got was small, way too small for the price. Secondly, it had a strong odor, which is an indication that it wasn't fresh. And the taste matched the odor, not fresh. Getting small, stale cod did not make a positive impression on me.

The fries were a bit closer to what you'd get in the UK, except they were cut too thin. British chips are thick, about 4x thicker than what they served. And since Mr Cod is a UK-based chain (see www.mrcod.com), I would expect the old corporate HQ to ensure the dimensions were correct. However, they were very fresh, and Dave's comments about them being cut on site is very believable. A few were overcooked (British chips area always a bit soggy, but that is their charm), but they had the potential to being very close to the original!

So overall it wasn't what I hoped it would be, and the place didn't feel like a franchised restaurant. But much like German restaurants here, I don't think we'll ever see anything close to a real UK chippie!

Cheers! M2

Dave said...

M2 - Thanks for trying it and leaving a comment - I was hoping for someone with some recent experience with the real thing to chime in.

If these folks want to make it, they need to work on it. Simple as that.

Since our visit on Friday, I have had several folks e-mail me or tell me in person that they enjoyed it, but overwhelmingly, the reviews here have been negative.

We will give them another try but it won't be for at least a few weeks. They need to be consistent and if they want to come across as UK-like fish & chips, they need to get it right. Otherwise, we can all just go to Fred's Fish Fry and call it a day.

KeithAlanK said...

We're going to test the Cod in a couple of weeks.
I'm sure it'll be special.

For fried fish I prefer Cantu's Coastal Trout & Flounder.
My monthly fish fix from a retired USAF master sergeant who lives to catch and cook fish from the gulf and did a tour in England back in the '60s.
Always perfect home cooking.

frankvw said...

Well I took the family to Mr Cod for lunch on Saturday. I thought the food was ok, but pricey (I had the #4 meal which is 1 med-sized Cod, fries and a drink for $8.90). Business was brisk and wait time was less around 5 mins. Food arrived hot yet a little greasy for my taste. Although slow, service was with a smile. I think my wife enjoyed it more than I did so we'll probably be back if we're ever in the neighborhood. I still prefer Sea Island.

Lora said...

First thanks for all the food blogging. We don't get around that much and enjoy finding new places via this blog.

We waited with drooling mouths for Mr Cod. Hubby was stationed in Norfolk, GB about 30 years ago so he is PICKY about his fish.

We went tonight and did have to wait to put in the order but it was wonderful and up to hubby's standards for English fish and chips.

Having lived in Japan we do do sushi...but that and English fish are worlds apart. But both must be fresh and the place should NOT smell of fish.

We give it 2 happy filled tummies...

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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