Story by Alan G. Luke
WITLESS BAY, NEWFOUNDLAND & LABRADOR — How can one of Canada’s best kept secrets be legendary? It took a quest for the best fish and chips to discover why. During my tour of Newfoundland, affectionately known as “The Rock,” I was directed to the Avalon Peninsula’s southern shore. To experience one of the reputedly finest fish-and-chip establishments we went to Mobile, 35 kilometres (22miles) south of the provincial capital and close to the larger neighbouring community of Witless Bay.
While the food is worth the journey, to truly experience the essence of the eatery one should also embrace its history.
On October 9, 1867, a vicious gale pounded the jagged coast of Labrador. Sealing captain William Jackman was already sheltered from the storm with his ship and crew. Overlooking the shoreline being lashed by the sea, he saw a fishing schooner stranded on a reef a few hundred metres in the distance. The vessel (Sea Clipper) had taken on the passengers of another schooner with which it had collided after a storm ravaged it. Evidently, there were 27 crew and passengers aboard the schooner. With a thick rope tied around his waist, Jackman plunged into the sea, making multiple return trips to save everyone. For Jackman’s maritime rescuing prowess he was awarded a medal for courage by England’s Royal Humane Society. He modestly gave it to his wife and told her to put it away. He never spoke of the medal again.
In 1992, Jackman was officially acknowledged as a legendary Canadian hero. Canada Post issued a 42-cent stamp in honour of his feat. A framed enlargement of the stamp, with a painting of the muscular captain on it, greets you as you enter the restaurant whose name he inspired.
The co-owner and head chef of Captain’s Table, Arthur Jackman, is the hero’s great-grandson. His wife and restaurant manager, Phyllis, says, “The Captain’s Table restaurant not only commemorates, but is guided by the principles of one of the greatest men that ever lived.
A Canadian Hero’s Tale Lives On
A schooner has been replicated in front of the restaurant, while a cozy nautical-themed environment greets you inside. We enjoyed substantial portions of tender fish fillets covered with a light and crispy batter. “Captain Jackman readily saved souls, we happily serve souls,” Phyllis Jackman proudly says.
“So what constitutes quality fish and chips?” I inquired.
“Well,” she confides, “here it’s our Captain’s secret batter with frequent oil changes and fresh fish.”
These three things accompanied by a homey atmosphere were enough to sell this diner. A couple from Manchester, England at an adjacent table appeared to have a voracious appetite that was apparently appeased with ample seafood platters.
“Pretty much like being across the pond. This chippy is great without the mushy peas,” said the gentleman, comparing it to the quintessential British dish. I was satiated, too. I went looking for a lunch and left having discovered a legend.
MORE ABOUT THE CAPTAIN’S TABLE
Location: NL-10, Witless Bay, NL (see map below)
Hours: Open daily during the summer from 11:30 am to 9 pm
Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism: www.newfoundlandandlabrador.com