Archive for the 'Cheap Eats' Category

10
Apr
11

Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant – Sarasota, Florida

4144 S Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34231-3608
(941) 921-4605
Open Weekdays 9am-9pm
waltsfishmarketrestaurant.com

I went to check out the Siesta Key “Farmers Market” on Sunday, April 10th, but like most “farmers markets” in Florida, it seems, I could not find any farmers there. How is it that the #2 (behind California) specialty crops (fruits, veggies, stuff you can eat with being processed by Cargill or ADM) state sucks so bad at this whole farmers market thing. I mean, #1, 3 & 4 (CA, Washington & Oregon, respectively) kick bottom at farmers markets.

Okay, that said, I did meet a fishmonger there from a place called Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant, and his fish looked pretty good, so I grilled him a bit. The salmon was wild king from five or six boats the market’s owner knew from Kodiak, Alaska, and the rest of the stuff was local Floridian seafood, like yellow-eye snapper, swordfish, Key West pink shrimp and stone crab. He told me to go check out the storefront on US-41 (a.k.a., South Tamiami Trail), just south of Bee Ridge, on the west side.

This market made my northwestern heart proud. These fishmongers spoke, believe it or not, FISH! They knew not only about the species, but they knew where it came from. And not just the port — the boat! Beautiful, fresh stuff, and almost all local to Florida. (Try finding that in, well, just about any grocery store in Florida. Oy!) They had shrimp in like 10 different forms, only one of which was farmed crap from SE Asian, hidden in the back of the case out of disgust and apparently only carried because some folks just have to have their “normal” tasting, mangrove forest destroying, tsunami accelerating, pumped full of drugs and eating too much processed feed made from perfectly good seafood we could be eating directly farm-raised shrimp. (Why? Because when it comes right down to it, humans is still stupid animals.) The rest of their shrimp were from the Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.

Booyah!

They also have a restaurant there — mostly chowders, salads and fried stuff. I decided I needed a snack. They really pushed their fried shrimp. Being from Seattle, where we eat the local sea insects either raw or lightly steamed, and in a real pinch, sauteed, I balked at this, but their insistence, and the fact that they had already impressed me with their fish market case, won me over.

These were the best flippin’ fried shrimp I have ever had! Seriously. Delicate, crunchy crust had a light flavor that did not overpower the shrimp, which were sweet and tender and perfectly cooked — unheard of normally with fried shrimp. And they used just the right amount of breading, too, instead of serving me shrimp fritters — all bread, little shrimp. And the cocktail sauce, too, was perfect, complimenting and enhancing the shrimp, not covering up a lack of shrimp or shrimp flavor, or simply serving as a means of moistening the lump of breading.

I also got a little container of their freshly-made conch salad — basically, a conch ceviche with orange and yellow bell peppers, some onion, and a hint of Scotch bonnet chile. Lovely!

If you are ever in Sarasota, go here. Make your ancient relatives shop for fish here. Support a great local business with great local fish and great local food. Don’t waste your time at Publix, and cut out the three-plus middle men between you and the boat at Whole Paycheck (I mean ‘Foods’).

And skip the Siesta Key “Farmers Market”. Visit us in Seattle for the real thing until Florida gets its act together.

Advertisements
25
Mar
10

Crispy, Fishy Deliciousness

We take our seafood seriously here in Seattle, including our fish and chips. Fortunately for us, so does Pike Street Fish Fry (925 E Pike Street, Seattle, (206) 329-PIKE). Indeed, these guys are so serious about their fish and chips that I found myself asking, after first experiencing their fare, if I had really everĀ had fish and chips before?

Cod & Chips and Sturgeon & Chips at Seattle's Pike Street Fish Fry.

Cod & Chips and Sturgeon & Chips at Seattle's Pike Street Fish Fry.

Pike Street uses batter some might liken to tempura, while others might recognize it as a more classic English style. What it is not is crumby, which tends to be a signature batter style here in the Northwest, and it is not panko-y — that flaky Japanese breading that sorta shatters all around you. Pike Street’s batter leaves its fish with a crisp, slightly (though not unpleasantly) shell that keeps the fish beautifully moist while serving as a vehicle for the salt and seasonings applied after the frying process. The result is a heavenly fish fry that leaves any of the various fish varieties from which one can choose as the star of the show.

Fish offerings on Pike Streets menu vary with the seasons. If you stumble in during our local sturgeon season, I highly recommend it. Sturgeon is an ancient fish with flavor-rich oily flesh that can live in both cold fresh and ocean waters. But it is only available for short periods each year. While it might be overpowering for some folks who like their fish mild-flavored, for those of us who like a fish with flavor that bites back, like black cod, king salmon, mackerel, etc., sturgeon is to die for, and given that I have not seen another fish fry using it makes it an even greater treat.

True cod is the standard fish for fish & chips here, and just about everywhere. It is a milder fish with a lot of moisture to its significant flesh that takes well to breading and seasoning, but freshness is paramount. There are those in Seattle who use their fryer to maximize their income on their retail fresh fish sales by selling it as fish & chips just before it “goes off.” That is not the case at Pike Street. Their true cod is wonderfully fresh, delighting your taste buds with its light, moist flavor contrasted against the crispy, seasoned batter and salty, crunchy pommes frites (um, those are fries, or chips, folks… and frankly, unless you operate a French, Belgian or Creole restaurant, please just call them fries. Enough with the frites already).

OnPike Street’sĀ March 2010 menu, you will ling cod (not the same as true cod), coho salmon (which means it’s wild, as the bastards haven’t figured out how to farm-raise it yet), halibut (another Northwest fish fry mainstay), catfish (um, not local) and a few none fin fish options. They have also expanded their menu to include grilled items (for wusses who worry about the health effects of a good fish fry), sandwiches (made from anything on the fryer or grill menus), some veggie and vegan options, and a variety of sides that can be, well, slawed or battered and fried.

The highest-priced menu item weighs in at a mere $11, so consider this a “cheap eats” kinda place. Just beware of the fried slice of lemon that accompanies each fish & chips order. Even if you are a fan of lemon, it’ll curl your face inside out!

20
Mar
09

Restaurant Mailing Lists

You ever wonder about whether to fill out one of those cards on the front counter, or included with your bill, at a restaurant and give them your vital information? Well, in this economy, between our thin wallets and restaurants’ sparsely populated dining rooms, filling out one of these cards at your favorite restaurant (and even a few you’d like to try but couldn’t afford) is not a bad idea.

Usually, these cards ask for your name, mailing address, email address, birthday and anniversary. Give it to them. And if you are not married, like me, make up an anniversary. I use my mom’s birthday at one place and my friends’ anniversary at another. Why? Because these places often send you a gift certificate in honor of your special day. You don’t have to use it that day — they usually give you a month — so you can still enjoy where you want on your special day and then go to one of these other places later. And while they can check your ID to see if April is in fact your birth month, there is no ID that lists your date of marriage, or even that you are married. Heck, some married people don’t even wear rings, so that’s what you can say, too. Thus, when it comes to declaring an anniversary date, give a different one to each restaurant, and you’ll get gift certificates all year round!

You’re thinking, how good can these gift certificates be, aren’t you? Well, I received $125 worth of them for my birthday this year. And they are true gift certificates. They may restrict from which menu you must order, or a time of day, but you can often order off the bar menu, and none of the ones I received required any kind of 2-for-1 type deal. It was just worth $25, or $50, towards a good meal.

Let me give you an example.

Last Sunday, I took a buddy of mine out to El Gaucho, one of Seattle’s swankier eateries, with a $50 birthday certificate. It simply said it had to be used for dinner. While I hear future certificates may restrict diners to ordering off of the dinner menu, this one did not, so we were able to order off the bar menu. If that wasn’t good enough, the bar menu is half-off all night on Sundays. So we ordered $90 worth of food, and when our server factored in the tax, our bill still came out to $0! Free food!!! We ordered a Caprese salad (g00d), crab cakes (very good), diver scallops (good), ahi tuni tartare (excellent), wicked prawns linguini (very good) and baby back ribs (over-cooked).

Oddly enough, in this famous house of meat, it was the meat dish that fell short, and they make a big deal about it being their original recipe since 1953 on the menu. Then again, I suppose I can’t complain too much. It was free. And they didn’t even require us to buy a drink (something you should always ask when availing yourself of a happy hour menu, as you can eat cheap with just water at many places).

So, the next time you are in your favorite joint (or just walking past it, or one you find interesting), fill out one of those mailing list cards. Heck, most places now only want your email address anyway, to save the cost of paper. For the cost of a little extra email, you could get $25-$50 worth of free food.