Most of us know what a good serving of fish and chips is supposed to taste like, but there are so many opportunities for disappointment that we have been conditioned to accept mediocrity. While I acknowledge the handful of establishments in Toronto that serve pretty good fish and chips, Sea Witch is a game changer, and it’s all because of Kevin and Jackie.
After years in the industry (Kevin perfected his fry skills at Penrose Fish and Chips while Jackie was in the bar management business), husband and wife co-owners Kevin Kowalcyzk and Jackie Strahl decided it was time to put their perfect storm of experiences to good use and open up a place of their own. And with their young children in tow, it made sense to open up a family-friendly establishment in their own neighbourhood.
The décor has a light nautical touch, and the mini-booth seats and harvest table are designed to encourage conversation and comfort while dining-in or waiting for a take-out order. There are even a few children’s books to entertain the little ones while adults enjoy the last of their chips.
The one-page menu offers five types of fish in different combinations. At the moment, you have your choice of Atlantic Haddock, Pacific Cod, Pacific Halibut (Jackie’s favourite), Pickerlel (Kevin’s favourite) and Artic Char. Have the fish on its own, with chips (my recommendation), a tower of onion rings (for an extra $3), in a double order, or in a sandwich. A fish & chips order ranges from $11-15, depending on the type of fish.
Other than the onion rings (battered in the same batter as the fish), your other side options include the halibut cakes (light and crispy with a beautiful panko crust), coleslaw (creamy and made with fresh Ontario cabbage daily), their Witch’s Brew (a house chowder made with fish, carrots, potatoes, and plenty of cream), or a poutine (somewhat unnecessary but available if you have a hankering for one).
While their reviews online have generally been very positive, there are a few haters out there who seem to collectively harbor two major complaints: that the dishes are too expensive, and they do not have a liquor license. The latter (license), they are working on, but with all due respect to the haters, these prices are pretty reasonable for the quality received. First of all, the overwhelming difference between this place and many others is that the fish and onion rings are fried in beef tallow, which is the only kind of fat that gives off that beautiful rich golden brown colour. Second of all, everything is basically made from scratch. While Kevin spent years perfecting his fish and chips recipe and works the fryer like it’s nobody’s business (but his own!), Jackie is a very thoughtful cook and baker and has created all the supporting dishes with her customers in mind. The mayonnaise-based tartar sauce has fresh gherkins cut into it. The beautiful pickled onions are the perfect balance to the halibut cake. The story goes that she used to make brilliant pies as well, but no one had room to eat any after their heavy meals. Instead, she creates little treats available at the front for anyone who just wants a little something sweet at the end without sending their body into shock. Finally, Sea Witch is also an Ocean Wise partner. While only a modest percentage (20-25%) of their fish is Ocean Wise, this number is fairly respectable in this industry.
You should come here if: you appreciate time-honoured traditions and food made with full fats designed for sheer indulgence.
You should not come here if: You have any major dietary restrictions or are watching your weight.
Final Note: While battered and fried pieces of fish and potatoes are not something anyone should eat every day, it’s nice to know that there’s a beef tallow haven to come to if you ever have a craving that needs satisfying.
Location: 636 St. Clair Ave. W (at Wychwood Avenue), Toronto, ON
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Sea Witch Fish & Chips at a media event.