fishhouse

$10 Challenge: The Fish House & Cafe Beignet

I had to try The Fish House when the restaurant received my mother’s seal of approval.

Mommy has always been a notoriously finicky eater. And a few years ago, a doctor diagnosed her with a laundry list of food allergies ranging from carrots to cucumbers. So imagine my delight when she finds a local restaurant that addresses her dietary restrictions, offers enough menu options to please her picky palate, and provides food that actually tastes good.

The Fish House met Mommy’s high standards and has been added to the list of restaurants she frequents. This is a good sign for the rest of us.

The Fish House is a seafood restaurant that transforms into Cafe Beignet, a New Orleans-style brunch eatery, on weekend mornings. This winning combination offers down-home food so authentic that it transports diners to the gulf shore within two bites of fresh scrod or sweet beignets. And with plenty of dishes less than $10, a visit to this restaurant is probably the cheapest way to travel.

The Fish House is in a modest white and blue building that sits near the corner of Winter and Barrett Avenues. The restaurant feels as if it has been plucked from a riverfront. The main dining area is more of a well-insulated enclosed porch. The walls and windows are full of fluorescent beer signs, family photos and newspaper clippings praising the venue.

Weekend mornings are dedicated to Café Beignet, which offers a different menu from its weekday Fish House identity. The brunch menu features traditional breakfast dishes like a ham and cheese omelet with fried potatoes ($7.95) and link sausage ($2.95). But the star of the show is the beignet ($1.25 each or $2.95 for three), a hollow French pastry fried and coated in powdered sugar that is popular in New Orleans.

The restaurant was a beacon on a damp weekday night when my husband and I rushed in about an hour before closing. A University of Kentucky game played across the flat-screen TVs, while country music piped in through the restaurant’s speakers. The clutter, cacophony of sounds and bright lights welcomed us to a warm, unpretentious environment that offers meals with the same comforting qualities.

The Fish House side of this establishment’s identity serves several kinds of fish to seafood lovers like me — scrod, catfish, tilapia and haddock. These are available as sandwiches (starting at $4.95) or dinners that come with fries and coleslaw ($9.95-$13.95). Not too big on fish fillets? Shrimp, pan-fried oysters and clams are also available.

The side dishes are even more diverse than the main dishes. Most seafood joints end their offerings after hush puppies, French fries and coleslaw. The Fish House goes above and beyond with choices like green beans with bacon ($1.75), potato pancakes ($2.50), and macaroni and cheese ($1.75).

All these choices kept me at the counter for a few long minutes. Fortunately, the cashier was patient until I settled on a fried scrod sandwich combo that included fries and slaw ($7.95). While we waited for our meal, my husband and I helped ourselves to a stack of little paper cups and filled them with house-made jalapeno tartar sauce. The condiment was an intriguing mint-green concoction that mellows out the usual kick of jalapenos while retaining the pepper’s flavor.

The food arrived in less than 10 minutes. My meal was a piping hot tangle of brown – crisp French fries, two filets of scrod and a wheat bun. But upon closer inspection, I could see plenty of flecks of black pepper mixed into the dark yellow cornmeal breading of the fish. The lack of color was solved when I spread some jalapeno tartar sauce onto the fish.

The fish was so fresh it could have been fished out of the water that morning. The crust hugged each filet and crunched with every bite. The jalapeno tartar sauce complimented the peppery fish perfectly. The French fries were some of the best I’ve had in ages. Not too skinny, not too fat, and very, very crispy. A splash of malt vinegar on the fish and the fries added a finishing touch to tasty meal.

My husband was just as pleased with his choice of the fried clam strip dinner ($9.95). The bite-sized strips were salty on the inside with a generous breading on the outside. It was hard to resist popping them into our mouths like breath mints. The coleslaw tempered all of the fried food we consumed. This cabbage-based side dish was creamy and a little sweet, a necessity after a plate full of salty items.

As I scurried to my car clutching a to-go box with a leftover piece of scrod and some slaw, I realized why my mother had become so fond of The Fish House. The menu has a little something for everyone, and the restaurant serves its wide selection in a cozy spot that can take you to another world. It indeed pays off to listen to your mother.

The Bottom Line:
Scrod Sandwich Combo: $7.95
Fried Clam Strip Dinner: $9.95
Total (with tax and before tip): $18.97
Total for each person: $9.48
Mission: Accomplished — twice.

[box] The Fish House 1310 Winter Ave. (502) 632.2583[/box]