Dining With The Fish Company
Today, I take a trip to a childhood treasure. Other children took periodic trips to Disney or a local water park on weekends. I trekked to Atlantic Beach seafood joint The Fish Company. I remember the smaller, but equally hungry version of myself that rolled in with my family every weekend, sometimes with relatives from out of town hoping to get acquainted with the city. That I’ve found my way back to a youth memory is no surprise. I’ve been waiting on the tastes of childhood all college year long.
I open a familiar door accompanied by a fellow food critic, my 14-year-old sister. As the cold air of the building washes over me, so does a visceral nostalgia; we both feel it. We’ve walked in at an odd time to eat, 3:30 p.m., so there aren’t many guests like I remember from my childhood. Regardless, I’m remembering bits of the familial dining experience as I observe: framed photos of a classic Floridian scene — friends holding up a fresh catch — the ironic fish tank in the corner, the mosaic tiles lining some walls, abstract paintings with aquatic inspiration, the seafood/oyster bar in the back along with a regular bar. While I’m aware I’m standing in a restaurant, there’s a distinct hominess to the air, especially as the regulars trickle in, conversing with the staff.
I’ve already decided on an order, my order, before I’m given a menu. It’s my usual: fried calamari as an appetizer and a fried cod sandwich with sides of coleslaw and hushpuppies for my entree. I’ve missed this.
I’m already eating with my eyes when the calamari arrives. I barely stifle my salivating taste buds to take a picture and then, I dive in. The fried calamari’s flavor broadens with each bite. The first wave of bliss comes in the form of a crisp outer fried shell and a second wave hits when I take on the inner chewiness of the calamari. A Japanese-style ginger sauce cuts through the fried outer layer with a nice tanginess. Fried calamari, fried anything for that matter, is difficult to get wrong, but right now, this dish feels more than just right.
Soon after my sister and I have half-filled ourselves with our appetizer, our entrees arrive — the soul of the meal is here and the first bite is just that, soulful. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, the fried cod sandwich, which I layer with their thick tartar sauce, melts on the tongue. I also greedily try a bit of my sister’s fried cod platter and fries, both characterized by the same greasiness of the sandwich I eat now. Although I am full in five bites, I focus my attention on the sides; they’re not headliners on the menu, but their flavor makes them one of the stars on this plate.
By this point, conversation has come to a stop. I eat in silence, beguiled by the food in front of me: The coleslaw is superbly Southern, and I mean that in the best way. It’s a bit tart as it should be, crunchy due to a finely sliced cabbage, and most importantly, creamy and coated with a healthy amount of coleslaw dressing. In all my coleslaw connoisseurship, I haven’t found one equal to the one I eat now.
Now, the hushpuppies … I would come back a dozen times to taste just The Fish Company’s hushpuppies even if no other dish were served. I conquer a thick circumference of fried dough to reach the rich cornmeal cake inside. Although I am more than full now, I eat all the hushpuppies on the plate — with more tartar sauce — as if in fear that I wouldn’t experience the taste again. I’ve finished a full plate of greasy goodness. Now this is food for the soul.
The Fish Company doesn’t only specialize in fried cuisine, though. Other options include their seared sea scallop, grilled fresh catch, baja taco plate served with shrimp or grilled fish, Atlantic Beach Seafood Salad with scallops, shrimp and Mahi, and another favorite of mine, the buttery grilled salmon.
At the end of our meal, I’ve made a memory to miss while away. I will remember the details. The familial atmosphere, the high-quality entrees and the soulful sides. The Fish Company is a taste of home and will remain that way.