Dining on fresh seafood is rather difficult in a landlocked city like Dallas. The good seafood isn't cheap and the cheap seafood isn't good. Oh, how I wish sometimes I lived in that marvelous metropolis known as Seattle, where every restaurant, dive, bar, brewpub, and hole-in-the-wall joint sports excellent fish, and you can dine like King Neptune for under $10. To fill this void, some partners joined together about a dozen years ago to create Half Shells Oyster Bar. One group split off and morphed into the chain called Rockfish. The other is known in seven states as Fish City Grill, although two locations still retain the Half Shells moniker. My lovely wife the Rock Star and my best friend The Rock journeyed to our local Half Shells location on a recent Sunday lunch visit. (For purposes of clarity, I will henceforth in this review call the chain Fish City.)
The atmosphere of Fish City Grill practically screams "neighborhood bar." Very narrow, strip-shopping-center locations, only seating perhaps half-a-hundred patrons. Wood and exposed brick, with a couple of TV's, and numerous blackboards offering the daily specials. In other words, a very inviting joint, but quite small, so be prepared for a wait at peak times. Luckily, the three of us were seated immediately and started perusing the simple menus, which are conveniently left in a box on every table.
Most entrees are under $10 and taste very fresh, and if you're a longtime resident of the Metroplex like me, you wonder how can this be, since most Dallas seafood establisments won't even let you open the menu for less than $10. Just after being seated, I noticed one of the ubiquitious blackboards offering a daily special: Blackened Tilapia for $6.99. 6.99! In Dallas! Are you kidding me? And it's fresh? I opted for it there and then, while my two companions decided on fried seafood baskets. (Fried seafood is a longtime Texas tradition, probably started to mask the lack of freshness.) The baskets came with waffle fries and hushpuppies (another Texas seafood tradition, the balls of fried cornmeal are quite delightful), but the Rock wisely substituted excellent, spiced rice in place of potatoes. Both left few remnants of their repast. My tilapia was served with the same wonderful rice and a medley of fresh steamed veggies (zucchini, carrots, and broccoli) and I happily devoured it, plate and all. (OK, I left the plate, but not much else.) On other visits, I have quite enjoyed the generous fish tacos (which are really wraps, but fish wraps sounds more like something you would throw into the trash), and the incredibly delicious Tabasco-infused shrimp pasta (keep plenty of water close at hand for this one, you'll need it!)
I wish I could say that speedy, friendly service was a highlight of our visit, but not on this occasion. Michael, our server, seemed indifferent or preoccupied, repeatedly getting our order wrong, and otherwise in a hurry to get rid of us. To be honest, I think there was a communication (language) problem afoot, or maybe we were just a victim of SDS. (Sunday Dining Syndrome: On Sundays, the owner or manager is frequently absent in restaurants, often resulting in uncaring service.) Let me stress that such service is not the norm for the Fish City chain, as I have visited three different locations on at least a dozen occasions. This was definitely an abberation from the norm.
The Fish City Grill website can be reached at www.fishcitygrill.com. You'll note that there are now locations in seven states, hopefully one near you.
Despite the service gaffes, the Rock Star and I (and perhaps The Rock) will dine again at Fish City / Half Shells again in future, and you should, too. Visit soon, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!