It was over 50 years ago that the Argyle first opened in Kearny, New Jersey, back then just serving a few groups at a time. You may not know the scope of the expansion now by dining in their front room, but a big dining hall in the back can open on large occasions. Originally it was mostly just a place to get the best fish and chips, and after all these years, that dish remains the reason to come as our waitress was keen to point out. Fresh catch is brought in daily for the fried dish ("fried dish" is a bit redundant with "food" in Scotland).
The main dining room reads like the cafeteria of a small church, an extremely informal setting with cheap furniture and tacky decor. I love it. A flag hangs, tartan patterns abound, a five foot high wainscot straight from grandma's half-renovated basement, and an attached gift shop selling all manner of "my ancestors might be Scottish" paraphernalia all add to the high level of charm. A Scottish person walking in would probably be horrified, the place is definitely American with Scottish inspirations straight from the book of stereotypes. Did I mention I love it?
Service is fun and friendly, if a bit stressed out. The place was not so busy, but we were in no rush to eat after a full day of enjoying New Jersey, so we settled into the rhythm and waited our turn. Our first choice was for one Scotch egg ($4.95, below), more delicious on paper than in reality, especially here. I fear that large batches of these are made and frozen, then fried up when the order comes in as there was just something ho hum about it.
I wanted haggis, but not a full dinner of it, so the Highland oysters ($7.95, below) provided the perfect vehicle. The menu never describes what haggis is, and it's probably unnecessary, as those ordering the internal organs would probably inquire before taking the leap. In fried form, the sheep's pluck is fairly tame, but the iron does come through the breading. A plastic cup of HP Sauce comes on the plate, despite a bottle being on every table. The dish even announces it comes with HP, a thoroughly British product (although now owned by Heinz and produced in Holland).
Craving scallops, we ordered the mixed fry ($17.95, below) with the option of fish, shrimp, and scallops. Crab cakes are also available, and no matter what, everything is fried and comes with a generous portion of fries. Cheap tartar and cocktail sauces come with it, as well as cole slaw. Besides its humble nature, and a real let down from the sauces, the seafood is all very fresh and in big portion.
The famous fish & chips ($13.95) can be upgraded to the Scottish surf and turf ($16.95, below), adding a "delicious meat pie" to the plate. Again the fish here is big and fresh and good, while the very tasty pie adds another side to a fine couple plates of seafood.
Even before our food started arriving, I noticed desserts coming fast and furious from the kitchen, apparently you are not supposed to leave here without a mountain of sugar after your meal. In this respect, we failed.
Signs were up for the upcoming Tartan Day festivities when we dined here on a Friday evening. We were joyfully encouraged to come, but figured a trip back to Kearny was unfortunately not in the cards for the weekend.