New restaurant can’t compare with old Fitzpatrick’s

Posted July 23, 2010, at 5:48 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

Fitzpatrick’s Cafe, although long gone from Sharp’s Wharf on the Camden waterfront, was far more than a “breakfast place,” as described in a Sunday restaurant review. It was a state of mind.

It was a gathering place which every community must have, a place where you could start the day by being verbally mauled by Terrance Fitzpatrick or his band of merry men, or be charmed by Denise Fitzpatrick, the wife and trainer of Terrance.

In between scathing insults, you would meet at least half the people you were supposed to know and get the latest gossip and news in an instant. Unless it was one of those horrible, snowy February afternoons, you always knew someone sitting on the stools.

A fisherman would sit beside the town attorney who might be sitting next to a Pulitzer Prize winner, next to a mechanic, next to a house painter. Fitzy knew them all. If there was a better cheeseburger in town, I never found it. And I looked.

There were fundraisers for every school activity, televised Red Sox-Yankee games when you could not hear yourself think, Super Bowls when you could not get a seat. It was home, if your mother ever offered a fisherman a free breakfast if he knocked you out.

They had a wall collecting stupid questions asked by tourists and the tourists loved it. (Does the tide come in every day?)

Fitzy and Denise quit a few years ago, after decades of burgers and omelets and now live peacefully on their stock portfolio. Denise makes sure that his daily naps occur before or after the Red Sox game, but never during one. If there is a new gathering place on the level of Fitzpatrick’s I have not learned of it. Maybe no one wants to tell me.

Enter the new waterfront tenant, the very fancy White Lion Raw Bar & Bistro. Let N.L. English and the Maine Sunday Telegram tell the tale.

The White Lion restaurant “surrounds a wide granite bar, with ship models displayed against a wall of dark, diagonal paneling to one side. One table has two comfortable upholstered chairs drawn close, but others are ringed with painted wooden chairs in a handsome mishmash of style and color.”

“My dinner companions were local residents who could describe the earlier business in this space, Fitzpatrick’s Cafe, a breakfast place. With a tray to slide along a counter and short-order cooks at the ready, it was a far cry from the White Lion’s tranquil comfort, with placemats of woven bamboo lying on flowered tablecloths.”

For your information, the oysters were accompanied by three little pots of sauce: cocktail sauce with extra horseradish and spice, cucumber mignonette and ponzu sauce, and a tangy citrus and soy mixture. A Grey Goose Vodka with fresh-squeezed grape juice and garnished with grapes ($10) is called a “grapetini.”

“The halibut ($23) was mild, enriched with coconut milk and accompanied by soft and almost creamy white rice. This was the one dish we tried that was not aggressively hot and salty, and it made a welcome contrast to the other entrees. Lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, limes and Thai chili make it a cross between Tom Yum Soup and Tom Kha coconut soup. Salmon ($20) had been perfectly seared, which releases its fragrant oils, and given a salty, peppery crust.”

There is more.

“A crunchy risotto cake was like a vegetable echo, salty and crunchy on the exterior and soft and rich inside. Watercress and parsley, chives, dill and cilantro lay over it all, adding green peppery and aromatic notes, which balanced the spicy crust of the fish. A sauce made of brown butter with rosemary, thyme and a little citrus added its own complexities,” the review stated.

But alas, the creme brulee ($5) had a stiff texture.

I’m sure that N.L. English is a fine person and certainly knows a lot more about food and wine than I ever will. I am sure the White Lion is another great restaurant on the Camden waterfront.

But I can just close my eyes and see a lobster fisherman walk into the old “Fitzy’s” and order a $10 “grapetini,” oysters with cucumber mignonette sauce and his halibut cooked in coconut milk, with creme brulee for dessert.

Another knockout.

The new place may be fancier, with a “handsome mishmash of style and color” and no offensive food trays to slide.

But it’s no Fitzpatrick’s.

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