The regular customers at Fishland Fish Market are so excited about the food that one walked up to me before I placed my order to tell me how wonderful everything was. And to my pleasant surprise, it was.
One reason is that the Asian women who have run the small eatery on Walzem Road for 18 months now go far beyond any expectation you may have based on the eatery’s modest looks. Their fish list, for example, includes your choice of red snapper, fillet of sole, cod, drum, tilapia and whiting in addition to the expected catfish.
What they do with that seafood in terms of flavor and texture also reaches beyond what’s expected. On my first visit, I started with an appetizer portion of fried calamari. Like the rest of the seafood, it was coated in cornmeal before frying. (That’s right, nothing’s blackened, sautéed or poached. So forget all that nonsense.) Each ring was crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and just right for a dab or two of fiery hot sauce. (You’ll know which squeeze bottle is the hot sauce if you pay attention: Though the ketchup and hot sauce both appear in red squeeze bottles, the hot sauce is the one with the rubber band around it.)
I opted for the cool tartar sauce on the four piping hot, medium-sized red snapper fillets that I had ordered ($6.99 with fries, salad and roll at lunch). The medium-bodied fish stayed whole, thanks to the crust, offering fine fish flavor in every bite.
The fries that day were perfection. Thin, narrow strips with plenty of crunch, heat and flavor, they would have been the envy of the Golden Arches. On the second visit, the fries were a step below the lofty standard that had been set, but they were still good enough to vanish quickly. Or maybe the fries were upstaged by the excellent hush puppies, small and crackly on the outside, moist and full of rich corn flavor inside.
For the second visit, I brought along friends, so we could all try a variety of the remaining dishes, from the shrimp to the oysters.
The big hit was the cod lunch special, with the thick, firm-fleshed fish offering a mouthful of flavor. The sole was a little more delicate and moist, but still delicious.
If you want jumbo shrimp, make sure you specify that when you’re ordering. Otherwise, you could get medium shrimp, which are very good; they boast an unbeatable sweetness, but they just aren’t as substantial when you bite into them as their larger cousins.
I enjoyed the oysters because the batter on the outside boasted a great crunch while the briny bivalves themselves were smooth, a little slippery, as is usual, and filled with tales of the sea.
The green salad that comes with the meal is a fresh mix of romaine and vegetables (no iceberg). If you don’t care for the Italian dressing that comes with it, just mix a squeeze of tartar and ketchup together for a quick version of thousand island. I used it on both lettuce and a few fries.
Not everything rated as highly. The coleslaw had an odd, almost sweet-sour taste that was slightly off balance and left a tinny finish. And the rolls were dull, but they were almost an afterthought, rather than an integral part of the meal.
Don’t pass by the carrot cake filled with nuts, raisins and spices. It was moist, dense and most definitely worth repeating.
The women who run Fishland are friendly and extremely conscientious about the cleanliness of their place, which is attested to by the certificate of a perfect inspection that has been taped to the door. They also sell fish by the pound, if you want to take it home and prepare it yourself. I guess that might appeal to those who don’t want their fish fried, but I can’t understand that, at least not after two visits.
By the way, there aren’t a lot of tables at Fishland, and there is a brisk takeout business. Because the staff is only two and everything is prepared to order, you may want to call in advance.
Fishland Fish Market
4941 Walzem Road
Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday