728 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Neighborhood: Alexandria, Alexandria, Old Town
Cuisines: Seafood, English/Irish/Scottish
Monday through Wednesday 11 to 10, Thursday 11 to 11, Friday and Saturday 11 to midnight, and Sunday 11 to 9.
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Nearby Metro Stops: King St.
Price Range: Inexpensive
Noise Level: Chatty
Reservations: Not Accepted
Codwich; fried cod or grouper; coleslaw; Kitty O'Shea and Marie Rose sauces for dipping.
$2.50 to $8.
Special Features: Wheelchair Accessible, Kid Friendly
If it can be battered and withstand boiling oil, chances are you’ll find it at Eamonn’s, an Old Town temple to fish ’n’ chips and all things fried.
Owners Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong have co-opted the gleaming-mahogany, wavy-mirrored look of an Irish pub and taken it up a few notches. You’ll find trestle tables, a raft of clever sauces for dipping, Guinness on draft, and Smithwick’s in bottles. This isn’t your typical chippie.
Oh, you still have to queue up and order at the counter, there’s limited seating, and everything comes in paper bags. But it’s not a “grease soaking hole”—a term of endearment in the UK, where they love their chippies. And it’s light years from that fried-fish warehouse on Field Lane in Dickens’s Oliver Twist.
Eamonn’s, named for the Armstrongs’ second child—Restaurant Eve was a nod to their first—is all irreverence and wit. The same puckish sensibility that dreamed up the girly pink birthday cake at Restaurant Eve is at work here. From the motto, “Thanks Be to Cod,” to U2 on the sound system to the artisanal and all-natural ingredients touted on the menu, the Armstrongs are going for a hipster Irish vibe with the soul of Leo Burdock’s in Dublin.
Upstairs is PX, a smart, posh “speakeasy” that’s the domain of Eve bartender/sommelier Todd Thrasher. Here Thrasher plays mad scientist, conjuring up such potions as the Sweet Basil, with Lillet, orange water, and basil simple syrup, and the Yin and Tonic, with house-made tonic and Bombay Sapphire Gin. Open only when the blue light is on, PX has a clubby, “we’re all insiders” appeal. You enter through an unmarked door around the corner from Eamonn’s, and on the weekends the wise have reservations. Depending on whether you prefer to drink then eat or eat then drink, the lounge works as an engaging prelude or postlude to a date with the frier.
How’s that cod? Dewy and flaky within, all golden crunch without. The recipe is a secret; word from the Armstrongs is “it’s good for you.” That likely means the kitchen is forgoing beef drippings, still used at some UK chippers, in favor of more cholesterol-friendly vegetable oil.
The duo is more forthcoming about the chips—thick, hand-cut fries with a nice snap. They’re fried immediately upon ordering before going into a paper sack.
As good as the classic embellishments of salt and malt vinegar are, Armstong’s original sauces—a mildly spicy warm curry, an olive-and-caper-studded sun-dried tomato, and a fiery chili aioli—add fun. A tiny ramekin of house coleslaw doesn’t do much to cut the fat, but it makes a fine mate for all that fry. And it’s better than the baked beans and mushy peas—authentic, but an acquired taste.
Though the bunless fried burger and sausage with a brittle shell of batter are fine, it’s the fish that’s fabulous. Besides the cod, there are specials of ray, a delicious if bony proposition, which should come with a set of instructions: Scrape flesh off bones on one side, then flip fish over and repeat. Sardines and soft-shell crabs make appearances when in season, but only the cod and ray have been there on my visits.
The deep-fryer also yields respectable doughnuts (a.k.a. Dough Balls), fried bananas, and fried Mars bars. The Scots get dubious credit for this last gooey creation—one of those gotta-try-it-once novelties. For those who have gone fry shy, a regulation UK candy bar, like the Cadbury Flake or CurlyWurly—should sate the longings sweets. They might even taste like health food.-November 2006