Spencer Makenzie's, a favorite among locals
A grand reopening
By Nicholas Franklin 04/03/2014
806 E. Thompson Blvd.
Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company has that distinctive chummy, local diner feel. During two recent sunny lunch hours, it was clear that many guests knew each other or the servers as they chatted at the long counter inside; you could picture much of the crowd here gathering at the beach when the surf looks the way it does in the photos of Ventura waves that beautify the walls. Cops love this place, too. There’s a strong community vibe — sleepy, beachy, small-town Ventura — which stops just short of being quaint enough to merit a Cheers comparison.
After closing for most of February to remodel, the expanded patio is now more open to the street and has shade-cloths arrayed over the tables. Eating inside has a lot more appeal now. The new dining room is a bright, handsome space with aqua-blue walls and honey-colored wood paneling. You can order from the table inside and, if you’re lucky, the booth by the wide corner window is a real score. There’s a nice view of the ocean, and with the freeway obscured, you get a hint of what Ventura would feel like without the 101.
There’s a diverse spread of options here, but the anchor is the giant fish taco. Between 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, these are a come-up at two-for-one ($5). Both the grilled and fried versions had moist and flaky cod, and with shredded cabbage, cilantro and bell peppers on top, the flavors were fresh and fortifying. With the 6-inch flour tortilla, the spicy cream (Spencer sauce) and sweet bell peppers in the mix, these aren’t traditional, but they’re tasty (especially when doused with the Little Sweet, Lotta Heat hot sauce).
There are also tacos with calamari, shrimp or ahi. Then there are little street tacos on corn tortillas with cilantro and onion. Also there are parmesan hard-shell tacos that come with either grilled shrimp or meat (shredded chicken, ground beef or asada) plus cabbage and cheddar. There are a lot of different tacos, and the weird layout of the menu doesn’t help you keep track of the choices.
The clam chowder here is lightly infused with smokiness from a bit of bacon, though clam stock is the backbone of the strong flavor. The body of this chowder was lightly thickened and judiciously creamy, well-laden with clam meat, too — there’s a completely likable recipe at work here. Same with the fish and chips, which benefits from an airy, layered tempura crust and some lightly dressed cole slaw.
Along with all these standards, there are other less common specialties on this menu. The ahi pockets have sushi rice stuffed into a tofu-skin pocket, and are topped with hunks of yellowfin tossed in creamy dynamite sauce. These are fun to start a meal off with; they’re perfect for sampling the hot sauces. The sweet chili fire was great with these.
Getting a couple of these is preferable to the poki salad. Though it’s cool that there is a salad with seaweed, there was an inordinate amount of an Asian marinade (half the container deep) that was out of balance from too much rice vinegar. If you want to enjoy some ahi, it’s better to go with the pockets or the tuna on fire, which comes with sushi rice.
The best thing about Spencer Makenzie’s is that along with comfort food, like fish and chips and clam chowder, are a lot of light and healthy offerings. Even items like fish tacos and ceviche come with more vegetables than in other places, and the grilled vegetable burrito is great if you want to go meatless —grilled broccoli, zucchini and yellow squash, cauliflower, carrots and bell peppers rolled up with cabbage, white rice and teriyaki sauce.
But the best new thing at the spruced-up Spencer Makenzie’s — it’s now serving beer and a few house wines. You can finally go crazy with the house-specialty hot sauces and gulp some Lagunitas IPA to quell the heat.