Bakeries make the best sandwiches because they already have great bread. So it makes sense that a seafood shop would be in the best position to operate a fish shack because they already have great seafood. That's the premise behind the new Fish Shack & Grill (3156 West 25th St., 216-661-7225), which is run by the good folks who run Kate's Fish at the West Side Market.
Rob Bryant, an employee at Kate's, partnered up with his boss (Kate McIntyre) and her son Tom to open the casual seafood restaurant in early September.
"It just made sense; Kate is such a great partner," says Bryant.
At one time, Bryant ran the take-out joint Fish House on Clark Avenue until an illness forced him to shut it down. This time around he's right around the corner on West 25th, ideally situated to service employees at Metro Hospital and residents of both Ohio City and Tremont. Joining the Fish Shack team is Tom Tontimonia, a Market Garden Brewery alum.
The interior of this no-frills, mostly take-out restaurant mirrors the eclectic fish houses of the Florida Panhandle. The owners say that they'll add a few tables and chairs in the coming weeks.
We started with a bowl of New England clam chowder ($6), flush with perfectly cooked clams and accented by hints of thyme and fresh basil. A bowl of gumbo ($6) is appropriately spiced, with chicken, smoked sausage and shrimp in a delicious brew fortified with tender rice.
The catfish dinner ($10) is vintage Louisiana. The two filets are seasoned with a dry rub that imparts both heat and sweet before being sautéed and served with sides. All fish entrees can be ordered fried, blackened or sautéed. They come with fries or rice, coleslaw and a roll and butter. Fish is also available as a sandwich.
We added a side of greens ($4), and I'm glad we did. Bryant swaps out the traditional smoked ham hock for smoked turkey necks, putting a unique spin on this Southern classic. "A lot of people today are not eating pork," he explains. "This is a nice change."
For the fried walleye ($13), Bryant moves away from the usual heavy beer batter in favor of a light dusting of cornmeal and flour. Most of the seasoning is added after the fish is fried, another spin. On Bryant's recommendation we tacked on an order of rice and beans, one of his specialties.
"I lived in Puerto Rico for awhile and practically lived on rice and beans," he says.
Despite the name, this shack also does some pretty fine barbecue, with the ribs being a major surprise. They're slowly smoked for 10 hours over applewood, giving them a complex depth of flavor. "I've found that applewood is the only way to go," says Bryant.
And who would have expected to find an authentic Cubano ($9) at a fish joint? This one's the real deal, with smoked pork, thick slices of grilled ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and dill pickles all loaded onto French bread from nearby Mazzone & Sons Bakery. It's pressed and heated and served warm and delicious. Fried plantains ($3) are served on the side with a dipping sauce made from ketchup, mayo, sriracha and garlic.
The Shack's version of sweet potato pie ($3) has the smooth texture of a pumpkin pie, but with a more savory flavor profile tempered with sweetness.
When you combine quality seafood with hard-working talent, you usually end up with a winning combination. Here's hoping that's the formula at the Fish Shack.