Seafood Fresh, Not Fast

Suggesting as it does that the place is a one-and-only sort of joint run by a guy named Joe, the name "Joey's Only Seafood Restaurant" is a little questionable for a chain eatery. And Joey's Only is indeed a chain. Unlike McD's, however, Joey's is a Canadian chain, and so is not found on every other American street corner. And most crucially, it's not a fast-food place.

Conceived by a guy named Joe Klassen to fill the niche between fast-food fish places like Long John Silver's and relatively high-priced chain restaurants like Red Lobster, Joey's positions itself in the rapidly growing "fast-casual" category. Food doesn't come immediately but within ten minutes of ordering, according to the company profile. While this translated to fifteen minutes in Miami, that was barely enough time to stop gawking at Joey's totally over-the-top décor, a mind-boggling assortment of nets, lobster traps, mounted fish, aquarium fish, virtual aquarium fish, and every other nautical item imaginable. Anyway, the extra time is worth it when it means the food is freshly made.

Especially good was fish and chips, Joey's signature dish since the chain was founded in 1985. These come in three varieties: original ($6.49 for two pieces), Norwegian haddock ($8.49), and halibut ($9.99). All were irregular-shaped real fish fillets, not those fast-food fish triangles that look as if they came from a cookie cutter. All were hand-dipped in batter after we ordered, not prebattered and frozen in some factory ten states away. The result was a beautifully crunchy, crinkly deep-fried crust.

As to which fish was best, "original" is Alaskan pollock, the main fish used to make fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches. It's also the main seafood ingredient in surimi, faux crab meat, because like tofu, Alaskan pollock picks up other flavors rather than having any of its own. With no flavor, this is the perfect fish for people who don't really care for fish. Still mild but more flavorful, with a delicate, less flaky texture, haddock was well worth the extra two bucks. Halibut, though even more finely textured -- tight-grained and the most appealingly meaty of the three -- was a bit dry, unfortunately.

The chips that arrived with the fish were made from real, not reconstituted, potatoes, but were bland. So was the free side of cole slaw, which could have used more tang and more crunch; the shredded cabbage was drowning in sauce.

Among the restaurant's other dishes, two small "homedone" crabcakes ($6.99) had an odd sweetness and nearly as many green herb flecks as pieces of crabmeat. But the black tiger shrimp were terrific, precision sautéed till tender in very potent garlic butter. Plain butter, lemon butter, or Cajun spicing are alternative preparation options for the shrimp, which come in one-third or one-half pound portions ($9.99 or $11.99) with a choice of two sides. Both the crabcakes and the shrimp came with an unmentioned salad garnish -- mesclun, not iceberg lettuce.

For low-fat eaters the haddock and halibut (plus salmon, mahi mahi, and changing catches of the day) are available chargrilled, topped with housemade mango or tomato salsa. Surprisingly sophisticated was a dietetic daily lunch special of blackened tuna, two sizable and nearly rare mesclun-garnished slices for just $6.50 -- far from cutting edge but also far from the middle-of-the-road fare one expects to find in a chain. However, the fish with batter (and butter) was better.

 
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