KettleFish aims to bring good food in a casual setting to Gig Harbor location
It’s not just a clever name.
The “kettle” in KettleFish, which recently opened on Pioneer Way in downtown Gig Harbor, refers to the seafood spot’s unique method of preparing its food.
KettleFish employs a steam kettle cooking system, in which superheated steam is pumped into the jacket of a metal kettle. A half-cup of water can heat KettleFish’s entire battery of 2-quart kettles in just a few minutes, said co-owner Dave Montoure.
“You have all that energy, just by converting it into steam. And the heat is not escaping,” Montoure said. “It’s very fast, very precise and you don’t lose a lot of energy or water.”
Efficiency isn’t the only benefit, co-owner Paddy O’Brien said.
“It’s really impossible to scorch or overcook something,” O’Brien said. “It’s great for seafood.”
Opening was eagerly anticipated
KettleFish’s long-awaited opening occurred on Oct. 7, just in time for a busy weekend that included the autumn Sip & Stroll. Its first day of full service was Monday, Oct. 10, and by midweek customers were crowding into its cozy confines for fish and chips, chowder and more.
For months, passers-by stopped to read a sign outside the restaurant near the busy corner of Pioneer and Harborview Drive that promised a spring 2022 opening. A combination of permitting delays, construction snags and some issues unrelated to KettleFish pushed the opening back.
Judging by the reaction in the first week of operation, the delays only built up anticipation.
“We’ve been busy” since opening, O’Brien said. “I think I kind of expected it.”
KettleFish occupies a location that for many years was Kelly’s Cafe and Espresso, and before that was Kelly’s Toys. KettleFish’s partners viewed it as the perfect spot to open their second location, following one that opened in Silverdale in 2019.
“This is the ideal location for this kind of menu … it’s walkable and there’s always something going on down here,” Montoure said.
Good food in a casual atmosphere
The concept behind the menu is to offer well-prepared seafood in a nontraditional setting. KettleFish aims to offer customers sit-down-restaurant quality food in a casual, walk-up-to-the counter eatery.
“It’s a very refined menu. Very small,” Montoure said. “We don’t want to get too far out of our lane.”
It’s the same menu offered at the first store, in Silverdale’s Old Town neighborhood. Along with the always-popular clam chowder and fish and chips, menu highlights include crab mac ’n’ cheese and fish tacos.
The refined menu — and that steam kettle cooking system — helps keep the operation efficient and the prices down.
KettleFish’s menu offers cioppino for $22 and bouillabaisse for the same price. Those are on the higher end of the price scale, but you can also get prawns and chips for $12.50 or a generous bowl of chowder for $14.
“Those are really popular, and again, because it’s coming out of the kettle you can get a bowl of bouillabaisse for $20,” Montoure said.
How they got in this kettle
Arriving on the kettle system was a journey, literally. They studied the concept for 6 months, even traveling to Sparks, Nevada, to check out a similar system in operation at John’s Oyster Bar, inside the Nugget Casino Resort.
O’Brien said the steam kettle cooking system enjoyed popularity for a time in the East and South. Chefs commonly used it for creole dishes.
Online reviews of the practice indicate it offers a uniform cooking surface, making it — as O’Brien noted — nearly impossible to overcook a dish. One online article indicates it was developed for use on Civil War-era Navy ships as a way to prepare food without open flame.
Montoure refers to the Silverdale store as a “proof of concept” of both the use of steam kettle cooking and the blend of higher-end dishes in an informal setting.
Silverdale proved the concept, despite opening shortly before the pandemic hit. Gig Harbor carries it forward, and the partners don’t plan to stop there.
If things continue to go well, O’Brien and Montoure hope to build even more restaurants. They’ve got the background for it. Montoure has been in the restaurant business for 20 years, including operating a popular West Seattle eatery called West5 before it closed earlier this year — which was another factor in delaying the opening of the Gig Harbor KettleFish.
“Kind of feels like everything we did in Silverdale led up to this location,” Montoure said. “And everything we do here will lead up to the next location.”
KettleFish is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at 7806 Pioneer Way. The phone number there is 253-642-0700.