Mastering the batter is what truly matters when you make a memorable plate of fish and chips. Four years before they opened The Governor, Paul and Janice Buttinger bought a small, deep fat fryer to start testing recipes at home. Neither had a background in commercial cooking. But they craved fish and chips similar to the way they'd eaten it in England, at a shop near Paul's parents' home in Norwich. For a couple of years, Paul recalls, the batter was nowhere near what they wanted it to be. "Then, about a year or two ago, things just started to click," he says. The couple started to try out and refine other recipes like risotto, bangers and mash, and savory pies.
The fully formed Governor's menu now stands as a greatest hits list of hearty British gastropub fare. "We enjoy cooking and we enjoy hosting," Janice says. "We came a long way to come here and do it as a profession." On the way to becoming one of the newest tenants at Oakland's Jingletown Eats, the Buttingers invited friends over as they experimented with different batters. "More often than not, our friends would have a commercial kitchen experience or background," Paul says. They tried various beers or soda water with different kinds of flour. And the key ingredient they settled on for the frying process, clearly stated on the menu, is the use of beef tallow, or rendered beef fat.
"It's traditionally used at fish and chip shops in England," Paul says. "They call it beef dripping, and it makes quite a difference as well." Once they'd arrived at a battered fish recipe and technique close enough to the ones in England, Paul says they sat down and asked themselves, "Is this really something that the Bay Area would enjoy?" After answering "yes," the Buttingers felt they were prepared enough to rent a space in Jingletown Eats.
Home to approximately 30 kitchens, Jingletown Eats provided them with a model perfectly suited to opening a food business during the pandemic. Without a dining room, The Governor could concentrate on food-to-go, for delivery or pick up. My delivery order included the pea and asparagus risotto, beer-battered cod with steak-cut french fries, a homity pie and profiteroles. I was needlessly worried that the fish wouldn't be crispy after traveling. Whatever final combination of batter ingredients the Buttingers landed on worked for me. The cod was tender and warm inside a thick, dark brown coating. All of the condiments—lemon wedges, tartar sauce, ketchup, malt vinegar—are served in small side containers. You can doctor the fish up with all or none of the above as you see fit.
I wanted to try one of the "pub-style pucker pie" options. Instead of the steak-and-ale or the chicken, ham and leek pie, I chose something I'd never heard of, a homity pie. I opened the container to find a "lid" made with layers of puff pastry. Underneath the lid was a mixture of potato and cheddar cheese in a creamy, parsley sauce. Turns out the homity pie was as new to me as it was to Paul. He says it was a recipe he stumbled across about six months ago. He and Janice wanted to have a vegetarian option. After trying a dozen recipes, it was the best of the bunch.
The risotto appears to still be in beta mode. I'm used to my husband's home-cooked recipes, which frequently feature butternut squash, mushrooms or zucchini. Parmesan is listed on The Governor's menu as a topping for it. But when it's included in the simmering process, the dish becomes lusher and much less like a stir-fried rice dish. There is an option to add pan-fried cod to it, and that might be the way to go.
Ultimately, Paul says that he could envision The Governor as a pub. In the Covid-19 meantime, he notes that there are other "ghost" kitchens around the Bay Area like Jingletown. "We could copy this pattern in multiple locations," he says. "We certainly don't see this as the start and the end of The Governor. It's merely the first stepping stone to something else."
The Governor, open Monday to Thursday 11am–9:30pm, Friday & Saturday 11am–11pm, Sunday 11am–9pm, 2353 E. 12th St., Oakland. 510.381.3351. thegovernoroakland.com.