Thursday, February 23, 2012

[HOT LIST] Fish fry

Photo by Chris Jones (stopherjones) on Flickr.
"You buy we fry." You'll see this sign posted in big block lettering on white cardboard or all lit up in red and blue neon everywhere you go in the city outside of the trendy central MidCorkDown districts. I love coffeehouses, creperies and craft beer bars as much as the next hipster (hey, I'll cop to wearing skinny jeans), but these places still don't represent the majority of the businesses and consumers in the other 100-and-some square miles of the city.

Take a drive down 8, 7 or 6 Mile. The Davison. Livernois. Grand River. You know what you see? Fish markets. An endless parade of fish markets. They aren't in the prettiest neighborhoods and they might not be in the prettiest buildings, but these neighborhood joints take the concept of the fish fry VERY seriously. Many are carry-out only, a lot of them also serve barbecue or chicken, and the "You buy we fry" means you can either buy the fish there and take it home to cook yourself or they'll fry it up for you while you wait. They might not be glamorous, but these places represent one of Detroit's unique regional specialties. (And a moment of silence for the old Dot and Etta's Shrimp Hut, a Detroit staple for decades.)

#1 Mr C Fish Market (Detroit)
Order a sandwich (which includes three pieces of boneless fish) or a dinner (five pieces with two sides) from their huge menu which includes whiting fillets, pickerel, orange perch fillets, crappie, crab claws, cod and smelt. They also serve fish-and-shrimp combos and sell shrimp, scallops and oysters by the pound. For those who don't like critters that swim, they have chicken wings and wing dings. For a great snack try their house specialty: perfectly breaded and seasoned catfish nuggets (and add some hush puppies).

Photo by Hane C. Lee (calamity_hane) on Flickr
#2 Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips (Detroit)
Scotty Simpson's has been in NW Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for over 60 years. It is a Detroit classic, frozen in time with its old-school wood paneling and carved wooden fish hanging on the walls. It's not a market but a dine-in and carry-out restaurant, and they specialize in one thing in particular. If you guessed that thing is fish and chips, you are exceedingly astute. Flaky snow-white cod fried up to crispy, golden brown perfection - and to be clear, the difference between carry-out and dine-in is the difference between soggy (if flavorful) batter and hot, crispy-crunchy batter fresh out of the fryer. It's worth popping a squat and soaking in the ambiance of crusty Americana.

#3 Fresh Fish House (Southfield, Highland Park, Redford)
They pride themselves on carrying fresh fish from around the world (availability may change with seasons), but the local favorites are the catfish, cod and tilapia. Get your fish as a sandwich served simply on wheat bread with plenty of Frank's Red Hot, or get a whole dinner with tasty fries and slaw. Also try their house "Gumbolaya" (a Creole/Cajun hybrid of gumbo and jambalaya, just like it sounds) and don't miss out on their okra.

#4 Detroit Shrimp and Fish (Southfield, Clinton Twp., Pontiac)
The specialty at Detroit Shrimp and Fish is their tilapia, which is responsibly-raised and sourced from Regal Springs aqua farm. They also serve non-American and genuine American Southern-raised catfish, walleye, white bass, yellow perch, and truly JUMBO shrimp. Order a sandwich or lunch special, a half-pound dinner, giant one-pound dinner, or take home the fish only. The beer-battered cod served with steak fries (aka fish and chips) and slaw is another favorite, and don't miss their thick, indulgent banana pudding (made with Nilla wafers!) or the 7UP pound cake. 

#5 Lenten Fish Frys (Detroit, Hamtramck)
Okay, so not a market or restaurant but it is appropriate to the season. You don't have to be a Christian fasting for Lent to enjoy some good fried fish, but if you are, several local churches and community organization centers host weekly Friday fish frys. In Hamtramck, check out the Moose Lodge and the P.L.A.V. Post #10 (which is taking up the mantel of the old Hamtramck Knights of Columbus Friday fish frys after the building was sold to a Bengali group). Many other local Knights of Columbus chapters host a weekly Friday fish fry; call yours to check. Detroit's St. Francis D'Assisi will have a fish fry every Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for only $8 (and that includes the fish, fries, slaw, fruit, a roll with butter, cake AND beverage). The Polish ethnic Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit always hosts a Friday fish fry during Lent which includes fried fish, baked fish, mac and cheese, pierogi and more. For more area listings, check the Archdiocese of Detroit's website (they assured the complete listings will be posted this week).

Bubbling under Mr. Fish (Detroit), Nu Wave Fish and Chicken (Detroit, Southfield, Ypsilanti), Bet and Jessie's Fish and Chips (Redford), The Original Redford Fish and Seafood Market (Redford), Miley and Miley Shrimp Shack (Highland Park), Vergotes (Detroit), O'quin's Shrimp House (Detroit), Detroit Shrimp and Fish (Detroit - separate ownership from #4)