When Red Mill's John and Babe Shepherd announced they'd leased the historic Totem House, the former curio shop which closed in 2010 after 65 years of serving as a restaurant, excitement centered on the survival of the longhouse-style building. Folks were also keen to have Red Mill burgers in Ballard. But the potential preeminence of the Shepherds' fish and chips was rarely discussed.
I've got nothing against architecture or burgers, but the fish and chips have turned out to be the defining storyline at Red Mill Totem House. Other fish shacks may have more impressive views, but I haven't yet found a local joint with a recipe to rival Red Mill's preparation. As Seattle Met's Kathryn Robinson reported earlier this year, Gail Shepherd devised a cornmeal-matzo breading glinting with Old Bay, whole thyme and a few more secret seasonings.
The results are fantastic. Underneath its thick, flavorful coat, Red Mill's hand-cut wild Alaskan cod tastes fresh and clean. It's a testament to the prevalence of bad fish and chips that wowed eaters first notice all the things that Red Mill's version is not: It's not oily, smoky, slippery, lukewarm or inexplicably sweet. Rather, it's a totem of the Pacific Northwest finest regional eats.