The Quays, Portavogie

It's fitting really, that my inaugural food blog post should be about fish and chips in Northern Ireland. Fitting, because immediately forces me to answer how on earth I happen to casually be in Portavogie, Northern Ireland, the remote fishing town famous for its scampi. Fitting, because Northern Ireland is such an amazing and accidental part of my life. And fitting because it also happens to be home of some of the best fish and chips in the United Kingdom, and therefore the world. 

Battered haddock on a bed of mushy peas with a twist-- peas, double cream, mint and pepper. So delicious. Combined with house-made tartar sauce. It's enough to make you weak in the knees.

Battered haddock on a bed of mushy peas with a twist-- peas, double cream, mint and pepper. So delicious. Combined with house-made tartar sauce. It's enough to make you weak in the knees.

Doesn't that look crazy good? It's one of the perks of marrying an Irishman who lives near the sea. When we were dating he introduced me to my first-ever bite of Haddock fish and chips. It was at that moment I knew, no matter what the cost, I'd need to make this dish a regular part of my life. Turns out the way to my heart was through my stomach. 

So today, when he suggested we drive down the peninsula to Portavogie The Quays, I was powerless to say no. The Quays opened in 1998 by chef Aaron Hanna and is pretty famous for it's fresh seafood. Less than 100 steps from the harbour (I counted), you can watch fishing boats come in from the Irish Sea while you eat. 

We sat down and were promptly brought a pot of tea, which we welcomed after being nearly swept into the sea by the wind on the way in. After being slightly tempted by the baked brie and carrot coriander soup for a starter, I settled on the crab claws because it felt like a crime not to order seafood. 

My crab claws were dressing in a sweet chili sauce which was perfect because the richness of the crab meat was balanced be the subtle heat of the chilis. Whoa, yum. 

My crab claws were dressing in a sweet chili sauce which was perfect because the richness of the crab meat was balanced be the subtle heat of the chilis. Whoa, yum. 

Tea in hand we talked. We've never had trouble talking. He's an introverted musician, and I'm an extroverted lover of people. We both work and travel with his band full-time, which is perhaps how we found ourselves with nothing better to do on a Monday mid-afternoon but drive to the ridiculously remote Portavogie. With lots of road and time we got a chance to unwind from the weekend where we worked and played at a festival in England. We landed back in Northern Ireland starved and ready for something hearty and good. Nothing better or more widely available than fish and chips on a bank holiday too.

Most of the ride down was along the coast of the peninsula. Waves crashing on one side and fields on the other we day-dreamed about what it would be like to settle down in one of the coastal homes we saw for sale along the ocean front. My mom always asks if we run out of things to say to each other since we work, live, and travel together all the time. But when I think about it, that's the first thing I noticed about Christopher when I met him in a coffee shop about three years ago, that I didn't really ever want to stop talking to him and hearing what he had to say. 

Chris ordered the mussels cooked and steamed in salt water. They were a triumph bathed in a white wine béchamel. It really made me realize the key  (the quay?) to incredible seafood is freshness. Straight from the ocean, onto the plate.

Chris ordered the mussels cooked and steamed in salt water. They were a triumph bathed in a white wine béchamel. It really made me realize the key  (the quay?) to incredible seafood is freshness. Straight from the ocean, onto the plate.

Our first conversation was about Northern Ireland. I had visited and fallen in love with this corner of the UK and so there, in that little coffee shop in Wisconsin, we talked about all the places we loved and called home (in my heart and in his passport.)

But some places are like that aren't they? They pull at the heart strings that make you happy to be alive. Northern Ireland makes me feel happy to be alive, it always has. Portavogie is one of those places that's a bit remote. There's nothing fancy about it, no tourist attractions or particular reason to visit (other than the amazing food at The Quays), but it's excellent and simple. And there's something exhilarating and dangerous feeling about counting on something temperamental for a living. The fisherman of Portavogie rely on the presence of fish to make their lives work, Christopher and I depend on music for ours. 

Sometimes the inspiration is there, other times you wait for the tide and currents to bring it in, and sometimes you need to sail out into the deep to chase it down. We've found marriage is a bit like that too. Somedays are easy and you go on afternoon drives and eat seafood. And other days you wake up at 4:00a.m. to catch a plane for a job you're not sure you wanted to do in the first place. You wonder if it's worth it. Admit it, we all harbor our secret doubts about life. Stress has a way of bringing those doubts to the water's surface. 

For Chris and I home isn't a place on the coast of Northern Ireland, and it isn't in America's heartland either. It's on the road, home is our nomadic existence with each other. We keep each other grounded and sheltered from the waves and wind. 

But places like The Quays with delicious, homey food help it all feel a bit more settled. Even if it's just for wee while.