On one hand, I should have probably visited France before I turned 40. Maybe it would have been more interesting if I had been 20 years old, backpacking and hitch-hiking my way through Europe, free as a bird without a care or concern or shred of responsibility. Or maybe that would have been a terrible idea, because who would want to sleep in a dirty hostel when Amex has a Fine Hotels Collection? Who knew about this when they were 20? Regardless of the benefit of better lodging, there’s one other desire I discovered on my recent trip that likely would have been lost on 20 year old me: The allure of outdoor dining.
While wandering our way through that foreign land I do believe we only ate three or four meals in-doors. This outdoor style had nothing to do with weather, as we ate outside as frequently in sunny Provence as we did in rainy Paris. On my first full day home, I met up with a client who is also a friend and we decided to eat breakfast at Simple. It was a lovely spring morning, warm and dry. The patio beckoned. But when I asked to be seated on the patio I was told that I couldn’t eat there. That it was closed. That the outdoor server wasn’t in yet. When I suggested that the indoor server could step a few feet out of the door and voila, become the outdoor server, I was met with resistance. We ate inside, much to our chagrin and much to the offense of my newly adopted habit.
Last Friday night it was a bit rainy, a bit cloudy, a bit windy. But Novak’s in Fontana was up for their turn on the Fish Fry Freighter, and so we pulled in and found a seat on their outdoor patio. Their patio has old metal chairs and tables, a lovely old iron fence, and ample umbrellas, so many that had it been raining we may not have even noticed. There is no remarkable view from this patio, no lake waves to watch, just a side of the fire station and a distant view of the gas station. Still, the landscaped boulevards in Fontana are in bloom and the grasses pushed and pressed with the wind, and the scene, in spite of any focal view, was rather delightful.
The fish fry at Novak’s is rather straight forward. It’s fried or broiled cod, served with a side of potato and all of the traditional accoutrements. The cod meal is served as three pieces. If you want two, you’re out of luck. Expecting four small pieces? Hit the door. It’s three and you’re going to like it. When we inquired of our waitress whether or not we could do half and half, we were told no. Perhaps that’s because they can’t properly split three pieces. Maybe they have no tolerance for half pieces of fish, and they interpreted our request literally, with no wiggle room. My wife ordered the baked and I ordered the fried, thereby working around their no substitution rule. We were bored and hungry so we ordered the cheese curds to pregame.
It should be noted that while the patio is quite nice, the interior space lacks any particular panache. It’s just a restaurant space. You won’t remember it. Our waitress was polite and prompt, perhaps owing to the fact that at a bit after 5 pm we were one of only two occupied tables. I’m guessing the restaurant filled up after we left. We drank our water and watched the boulevard grasses dance in the lake breeze.
The curds were out within several minutes. They were smallish, and pale in color. I like my curds bronzed, but these were pale, almost yellow. Never mind the color, they tasted right, even if there was more chew to the cheese than I prefer. The cod was out a few minutes later, a nice little platter of fish and potato. The baked cod was covered in what we thought looked like dill, though it didn’t carry a heavy dill favor. The baked was well seasoned, nicely salted, and overall quite good. The pieces, however, were small. I could have used a slightly larger fish.
My wife ordered fries with her dinner, and we both agreed the fries were memorable. They are basically the same french fry that Gordy’s serves, which are among the best in the area. If you don’t eat french fries because you’re super fit and can’t spare the handful of calories, I weep for you. My potato pancake was singular, and it was just decent. I found it to be too dry for my liking. It was close, but not close enough. Too much time on the griddle, or not enough mayo, sour cream, or whatever they use as a moistening agent.
The fried cod was properly crunchy, nicely salted, and nearly perfect. But there was something amiss. The batter was a bit soggy around the fish, so even though the exterior was crisped, the full bite featured some soggy batter. Still, the fried portion was larger than the baked, and at the end of the dinner my wife and I both agreed that while we’ve had better, we’ve had many that were worse. The tartar sauce was sweet and nicely seasoned, and while the applesauce won points for being served in a larger than typical plastic tub, it was too smooth for me.
I’d definitely add Novak’s to your Friday Fish Fry rotation. The patio might not transport you to Paris, but it’s better than sitting inside. At $14 per dinner it was in line with my pricing expectations, and the waitress was both polite and prompt, which is really all any of us can hope for. The fish was properly cooked, properly seasoned, and quite enjoyable. It wasn’t perfect, mind you, but attention was paid, and I appreciated their effort.
158 Fontana Boulevard, Fontana
$14 For Baked or Fried Cod