Fish & Whistle will be just fine no matter what I say in this review. Not that I have any intention to pan the sustainability-focused, contemporary fish shack on Biddeford’s Main Street corridor. All you have to do is peek at my star rating to see that I think co-owners and co-chefs Jason Eckerson and Kate Hamm deserve the under-the-radar success they’ve been enjoying since the restaurant opened in early June.

If I had my way, Fish & Whistle would have its 28-seat dining room filled to capacity every day, as it was when I visited on a midweek evening in March. My guest and I (barely) snagged the only empty two-top in the place, then watched as prospective diners peeked around the line-drawn fish decals on the plate glass window, in search of a table. Remember, we’re months away from tourist season. Fish & Whistle doesn’t need any sort of boost from me.

Too bad.

Fish & Whistle’s signature dish, locally sourced fish and chips. Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

Portlanders might recognize Eckerson from his seven years (including as a sous-chef) at Eventide, and Hamm from her time at Tao Yuan and her James Beard-nominated turn as Leeward’s original pastry chef. With those credentials, you’d expect curious food-lovers to follow the duo’s current project. But when I sat down after placing my order at the counter, it didn’t take long to figure out that many of the diners in the room hadn’t traveled far for their fish-and-chips.

“Can I ask you a question?” the woman with a “Bonkers 4 Border Collies” keychain inquired from the next table. “I heard you order the chowder. Is it good? I walk here with my friends a couple of times a week and always wondered about that.”

I hadn’t tasted the soup yet, but I promised to fill her in, then caught her watching as I took my first few bites of the mostly traditional chowder Eckerson brews up from clam stock, thyme, bacon and garlic, as well as fish scraps left behind by other dishes ($10).


“You’d love it,” I told her. “It’s not too creamy, not overthickened. Terrific.”

On her way out, she tapped a neighbor at another table on the shoulder and told him to order the chowder when they met up later that same week. I get it. If I lived in Biddeford, I’d dedicate at least one of my 21 weekly meals to Fish & Whistle, too.

Impressively, Hamm and Eckerson have succeeded at attracting a broad-ranging customer base where others in the area have struggled. “You know, Kate and I live in Saco. We have a good set of friends and community in Biddeford, and we really tried to sculpt this business so that it would work best where we are, which is Biddeford-Saco, not Portland,” Eckerson told me. “There’s a needle to thread. We’re trying to do quality stuff and be conscious of not overcharging for it, and making it approachable.”

The late John Prine’s 45 record Fish and Whistle hangs on the wall at the restaurant named for the song. The refrain includes “Fish and whistle, Whistle and fish, Eat everything, That they put on your dish…” Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

The homey space helps, too. In its previous incarnation as Yeto’s – a sweet restaurant with an intensely personal, quirkily designed interior – there was no shortage of décor to distract. Fish & Whistle, on the other hand, is understated, awash in shades of muted greens and pale blue. Its flashiest design element, a glossy, copper-clad bar, isn’t even visible until you’re standing right next to it.

Informal counter-service and a soft-serve ice cream menu with sea-salt vanilla and salted caramel flavors ($5) are also key components of the low-key seaside vibe. But Hamm’s custardy and crystal-free ice cream topped with crisp caramelized milk bread crumbs ($1) is anything but inconspicuous. Bobbing in a small-format float made with vanilla soft-serve and Maine Root root beer ($6), it’s even more outrageously tasty.

So too, Fish & Whistle’s signature dish, a simple-looking basket of locally sourced, sustainably harvested fish, fried in a crunchy, yeasted batter and tucked in alongside house-made tartar sauce with a generous pile of hand-cut Green Thumb fries ($16/$26). Break into the golden shell, and you’ll discover a steaming white tranche of pollock, rather than pricier, overfished haddock or cod.


“We cleave more to hake and pollock, the less-loved fish. Dogfish, monkfish, whole-fried fluke…” Eckerson said. “Any fish that’s treated properly is delicious. We’re not trying to ram education down people’s throats, but it’s good for them to know how things are changing. Something’s happening, and I can’t put my finger on it, but haddock these days is a little bland. There’s bigger and better pollock right now.”

It’s hard to argue, especially given Eckerson’s stint as a fish purveyor. But it’s not all about the fish. Those fries I mentioned? They’re pretty special, too, especially sprinkled with a few drops of malt vinegar or, if you want a real treat, dunked into a cup of Eckerson’s fragrant Green Goddess dressing.

Fish & Whistle isn’t perfect (yet), but its most glaring problems are small. The restaurant’s cole slaw ($5) is fresh and light, but falls just shy of enough vinegar or sugar to bring the dish together. It tastes mostly of celery seeds. Service can also be a bit distracted when the restaurant gets busy, which it invariably is.

The Squidwich Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

What astounds me most is that, even amid a crush of customers, the kitchen pulls off complicated dishes like the marinara “squidwich,” a Rhode-Island Italian-inspired sandwich where one of Hamm’s marvelous toasted, Japanese milk-bread rolls is split, toasted and buttered, then filled with battered, fried squid. Both parts, the rings/hood that Eckerson scores but doesn’t fully detach so that they “transform into this cool, blooming-onion sort of thing” as well as curly, purple-mottled tentacles are present and very correct, seasoned with sweet, garlicky marinara and spicy cherry peppers.

Hamm and Eckerson have been in business for only nine months, but already Fish & Whistle feels like it has hit a comfortable stride, even in what is typically the quietest time of year for restaurants. I know that writing this review will only attract more diners come June, but I get the feeling that Fish & Whistle is ready for them.

Alexander Buechner and son Jackson, almost 2 years old, of Shapleigh, shared a half portion of fish and chips and a high five at Fish & Whistle earlier this month. Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

RATING: ****


WHERE: 299 Main St., Biddeford. 207-571-4520.

SERVING: Wednesday to Sunday, noon-8 p.m.

PRICE RANGE: Sandwiches and baskets: $13-$26

NOISE LEVEL: Table tennis club

VEGETARIAN: Few dishes



BAR: Beer and wine


BOTTOM LINE: If you didn’t have “Two culinary stars from Portland start a fish-and-chip shop in Biddeford” on your Bingo card, that’s OK. Nobody did. But boy are we happy co-owners and co-chefs Jason Eckerson and Kate Hamm opened Fish & Whistle, a sustainability-focused, casual-service restaurant that has already established itself as a must-visit for local food-lovers. Go now, while you can still snag one of the 28 seats. Order the deep-fried pollock dunked in yeasted batter and served with terrific French fries (that demand a dunking in Eckerson’s aromatic Green Goddess dressing … trust me). Or a marinara-slathered squidwich, whose mild heat is offset by Hamm’s world-class shokupan-style bun. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with soft-serve ice cream served either dusted with caramelized breadcrumbs or splashing around in locally bottled root beer. A delight.

Kaitlynn Gatchell, of Westbrook, liked her fish sandwich and chowder. She also loved the chowder daddy cap she just bought at Fish & Whistle. Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):

* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

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