My British son-in-law tells me that fish and chips, to be fully appreciated, should be wrapped in newspaper and eaten at a seaside bench on a gray and drizzly day. For those to whom that option is not available, there is Alfie’s of Lompoc, which has been serving up authentic English fish and chips since 1969, and it’s a surprisingly good alternative.
Now, after 50 years in its current location in a nondescript strip mall on H Street, Alfie’s is about to relocate to a larger facility a few blocks away. Curious about the staying power of the place, and as a bit of a fish-and-chips aficionado myself, I decided to stop by for lunch in the original setting before the move.
Owner-operators Nellie and Mike Sewall joined me in a booth and filled me in on Alfie’s history. The restaurant was started by a Scottish couple, Margaret and Jack Cairney, in 1969, as the franchise of a national chain. But that corporation went bankrupt in 1972, leaving each restaurant under family control. The Cairneys sold theirs to Colleen Staffel, and it was purchased by the Sewalls 19 years ago. Earlier this year, the original location in Texas City, Texas, shut down, which means this is the last Alfie’s standing.
Mike believes its longevity can be attributed to three not-so-secret ingredients: consistency, authenticity, and dedication. He grew up in Lompoc and can remember eating at Alfie’s as a kid, and he has worked here, right here, in every capacity.
The food speaks for itself. I ordered the basic one-piece fish and chips, a generous portion of delicate Alaskan pollock encrusted with light English-style batter. (“It’s got to be battered, not breaded,” says Nellie.) Chips in this context are simply fries, thick ones, and there were hush puppies (slightly sweet and corn-bready) and coleslaw on the side. On the table was an array of malt vinegars and HP brown sauce — the latter is a traditional U.K. condiment that even my son-in-law has not been able to explain.
It was hot outside, and California sunlight slanted into the cool dark of the dining area. In my normal life, this would have been a kale salad and quinoa day, but — blimey! — I sure enjoyed my fish and chips.
The new Alfie’s will have more of a pub atmosphere, with 20 different kinds of beer, including classic, English, and regional brews, and some on tap. The kitchen will be more modern, but nostalgic touches such as the red English telephone booth will be kept, along with the shelves of English goods: tins of mushy peas, McVitie’s Digestives, and other sundry delights.
Above all, the food will be a comforting constant in a volatile world. The menu also includes shrimp, scallops, clam chowder, and fried Twinkie for dessert, but it’s mostly about the fish and chips. Ask the “English Ladies,” a group of British expats who have been meeting at Alfie’s monthly since it opened. The place has a loyal following, and it’s easy to see why.
And it’s yet another reason to stop by the often-underappreciated city of Lompoc. Check out the Lompoc Museum, housed in a 1910 former Carnegie Library, on a street lined with Italian stone pines, which offers two floors of fascinating exhibits of history, Chumash artifacts, and geology. Wander through Old Town and note the colorful outdoor murals and old houses and vintage buildings. Look a little more closely at Lompoc, and there’s quite a lot to like.
610 N. H Street, Lompoc; 736-0154; alfiesfish.com