In Cod We Trust.
It’s a phrase emblazoned above the picture window at OK UK Fish-n-Chips in south Fort Myers, and it symbolizes the restaurant's laser-like focus on this staple British dish.
John Nattani and his father-in-law, John Norton, opened the first OK UK in North Fort Myers in 2014. Four years later, Nattani opened this second location in Plymouth Plaza, an older strip mall across from Jamaica Bay on U.S. 41.
It was a rough start, beginning with a 13-month delay at the hands of Hurricane Irma. Then, just when this chippies shop was picking up steam, COVID delivered yet another blow. So much has changed since OK UK's start, but its authentic British food remains the same.
The only thing not British is the accent of the owners — well, one of them. Nattani worked in the corporate world for decades; it’s what brought him to Southwest Florida. Ready for a change, he partnered with his father-in-law, who is English and a lover of fish and chips, to enter the restaurant world.
“I like being an owner and operator,” Nattani said. “It’s a lot of work, it’s physical, but it’s very rewarding.”
Photos of London’s most famous sights line OK UK's walls. It’s a casual spot with blue-and-white checkered table coverings and fast-casual service. Order at the counter, grab a soda or beer from the cooler along with a chilled glass, and take a seat.
OK UK makes its food to order in an effort to serve it at the optimal temperature and crunch. That crunch is what regulars rave about, and it's thanks to the restaurant's signature beer batter which coats not just fish but shrimp and chicken, too.
“It’s thin and crispy and tasty,” Nattani said.
Cod is OK UK's fish of choice. Nattani and his team cut and weigh the fillets by hand to ensure consistency. They serve the cold-water fish in fish cakes, sandwiches, wraps and in new fish tacos that Nattani described as “simple, but ... really, really good.”
Where OK UK's cod really shines is in the famous fish and chips. The kitchen fries the fillets until the batter turns a golden brown, then places them top of mounds of chips, or what we call fries here in the States. Served in a basket, the meals comes with coleslaw, tartar sauce and a roll.
Besides the signature beer batter, fresh oil is another key ingredient. Nattani calls it a science — an expensive and time-consuming science. He has three fryers, one of them dedicated to the chips and crisps. He constantly monitors the oil in each for heat and freshness.
Instead of small and large portions, OK UK's dishes come in king and queen sizes. The king features eight ounces of protein, while the queen has six — be it cod, chicken or shrimp.
As with the fillets, Nattani's staff also hand-cut their chips from Idaho potatoes.
“It’s a little more work to make them this way,” Nattani said. “It takes time, but people appreciate it and recognize the fact that they are fresh.”
Coat them in malt vinegar or dip them in a side of curry sauce. Ketchup is also on the tables for the Yanks.
And don’t forget the traditional mushy peas. To make this classic, Nattani soaks split peas overnight then simmers them until they start to break down. He then mixes in salt and seasonings until the peas become a thick, green puree.
“They are just what they sound like,” Nattani said. “You either love them or hate them.”
It’s not just OK UK's decor and cuisine that delight British ex-pats and Anglophiles, it’s the little extras, like the counter lined with iconic British candies such as Curly Wurly, Bassetts Liquorice and the infamous Cadbury Crunchie bars.
British pantry staples stock a shelf in the back, including Typhoo Tea, jars of mincemeat, curry powder and gravy mix, the latter of which is used for OK UK's comforting bangers and mash.
For takeout, a case of frozen fare (meat pies, bangers, shepherd’s pie and more) is available from Cameron’s British Food, a purveyor in Cape Coral specializing in goods from across the pond.
While Nattani’s father-in-law has stepped back from the restaurant’s daily operations, it remains very much a family affair. Nattani’s son Shane bounces between the south Fort Myers and North Fort Myers locations, and his wife, Fiona, also lends a hand.
The key to OK UK’s success, according to Nattani: “Simple, niche food, comfort food.”
And, of course, their loyal following.
“Our customers make it for us. They are not customers, they are almost like family,” he said.
“That’s the best part.”
Gina Birch writes about food, wine and spirits for The News-Press and at thebirchbeat.blogspot.com. Follow her as @ginabirch on Twitter and find her on Facebook.
OK UK Fish-n-Chips
Locations: 15200 S. Tamiami Trail, south Fort Myers and 13971 N. Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers
Phone: 239-288-6124 (south Fort Myers); 239-599-2328 (North Fort Myers)
More: Find it on Facebook
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: British restaurants Fort Myers: OK UK Fish and Chips trusts in cod