Set your sails for two of Fort Worth’s finest seafood landmarks!
Summer is finally here. I don’t know about you, but I tend to crave seafood during the summer months. Luckily, Fort Worthians are blessed with several seafood establishments, including Flying Fish and Zeke’s Fish and Chips. This edition of the Plaid Palate will help you navigate the abundant waters two local eateries offer.
While I have known legendary hole-in-the-wall Zeke’s Fish and Chips since I moved to town 16 years ago, I had not actually experienced Zeke’s until recently. Walking into the 42-year old unpretentious restaurant you are immediately greeted with the “Order Here” window and the friendly, yet task oriented staff. For those new to Zeke’s, the menu can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the time it takes to place your order due to the line of patrons (always a good sign), provides the opportunity to review the paper menu available for pickup on the counter. Once you order and pay for your food you seat yourself in a moderately sized retro lime-painted dining room. Zeke’s also has a patio which would be an enjoyable escape on a pleasant day.
Zeke’s food is prepared to order, which means you must plan to wait a few minutes before your food is delivered. On this visit, my companions and I waited approximately 30 minutes to receive our meal. However, the complimentary hushpuppies kept us occupied while we waited. Even though these puppy sticks are definitely not made from scratch, they are served hot and are very crunchy and tasty given their “Dallas-shipped frozen origin.” Surprisingly, homemade southern style hushpuppies are not served, considering the made from scratch cornmeal batter used for the catfish and shrimp.
The catfish and shrimp special consisted of a large, meaty slice of perfectly seasoned fried catfish and four fried Gulf Shrimp. Disappointingly, the shrimp were noticeably flat and limp. The Icelandic Cod snack was deliciously battered, plump and perfectly fried. Each meal was made complete with a side of crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside lightly salted fries, a puppy stick and homemade uncommonly yellow but tasty tartar sauce.
The three-piece fried oyster sampler produced five pieces of non-greasy cornmeal battered oysters. Since oysters happen to be my go-to seafood item, I was disappointed that they were bland even though they were crispy and beautiful. The homemade ‘red sauce’ saved the day by adding the much needed zippy taste.
Zeke’s menu boasts numerous “specialties” such as stuffed mushrooms, fried okra, zucchini, eggplant and sweet corn nuggets. As is all of Zeke’s fried menu items, each is fried in low-cholesterol vegetable oil. The corn nuggets were a hit with my dining companions due to their slight sweetness and crunchy exterior. Unfortunately, the fried okra, zucchini and eggplant were mushy and lacked flavor – even when paired with the homemade ranch dill sauce.
For the health conscious who chose to avoid Zeke’s fried delicacies, the menu offers baked Icelandic cod and catfish, fresh boiled shrimp, salads, fresh sandwiches and somewhat out of the blue, spaghetti with meat sauce. Beware that the fresh boiled shrimp salad is just that – an unremarkable garden salad with eight ordinary, small, chilled, shelled tailless shrimp.
For desert, try the “I swear it’s my Grandma’s” banana pudding. The pudding was heavenly – crisp vanilla wafers surrounded by sweetened condensed milk prepared pudding and fresh sliced bananas.The Tugboat Annies and Magic bars were tasty, but paled in comparison to the only available during the summer banana pudding.
While the Flying Fish has not been in Fort Worth for 42 years, it has definitely made a name for itself as a “fast-casual” destination. Upon walking through the front doors you will be greeted by the “Billy Bass” Adoption Wall, orphaned talking fish embraced by the restaurant. Continue walking toward the front counter and you will see the famed Liars Wall which boasts photos of patrons and their “big catches.” As you wind your way toward the ordering counter you will be faced with the giant menu promoting shrimp, crab, oysters, catfish and more presented fresh chilled, boiled, fried, grilled and poor-boy loafs. The two dining rooms are large well lit and self-seated. The paper towel napkins are a foreshadow to the finger licking good delicacies you will soon enjoy.
For starters you may choose to sample the chilled boiled shrimp, crispy calamari, ceviche or fried jalapeno chips. The chilled boiled shrimp were large, plump and delicious. The calamari was fried but tasted light and crispy. As with all Flying Fish fried foods, the oil used was cholesterol free peanut oil and all items are made to order.
Flying Fish offers beautifully presented grilled plates, a healthy alternative. The grilled salmon fillet was cooked and seasoned spectacularly. The accompanying sliced grilled yellow squash and zucchini were powerfully tasty. The grilled plates can be ordered 3 ways: traditional, garlic butter, or the highly recommended “snappy.”
The shrimp/catfish combo basket was served with fries and handmade hushpuppies. Each item was made to order and fresh-fried. The cornmeal battered shrimp were chubby and perfectly battered and seasoned. The catfish was meaty and flakey underneath the cornmeal coating.
Pleasantly, the six-piece fried oyster basket was hands-down the winning dish of the outing fried oyster sampler produced five plump pieces of non-greasy, addictive oysters. These cornmeal breaded gems were served piping hot and the oysters maintained their mild and buttery taste inside the batter shell. Our order was missing a few of these jewels. We notified the staff and were shocked at how quickly they were able to produce freshly prepared additions.
Side dishes include pickled green tomatoes, fried okra, fresh corn on the cob, red beans and rice, fresh spinach, grilled veggies and potatoes. The green tomatoes were a pleasant surprise and reminiscent of bread and butter pickles which perfectly complemented the shrimp and catfish.
Top your Flying Fish meal off with their of banana pudding made with just the right amount of vanilla wafers and chunks of banana folded into the vanilla pudding. In my opinion, this delicious pudding gives Zeke’s a run for the money.
While Flying Fish and Zeke’s may be better known for their fried dishes you will be pleasantly surprised by the vast options available. If you have never been to Zeke’s Fish and Chips or Flying Fish or they have fallen off your radar screen, I highly recommend you chart your course for either port and indulge yourself.
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