The bulbous street lamps were the first things I noticed. Then the striped awning shading a faux window that peers in at a painting of a fresh fish market. After a few puzzled seconds, the decorative theme clicked. Fresh Off the Hook's interior aims for a quaint-sea-sprayed-Connecticut-patio look. And though it succeeds--in a charmingly dated, Mystic Pizza way--it doesn't take long to remember that you're sandwiched between Target and Ross in a Boise strip mall.
In 2003, owner David Bassiri purchased the Milwaukee street restaurant--previously Reel Foods Seafood Eatery--and changed the name to Fresh Off the Hook. He added more high-end entree options like halibut on bruschetta toast points ($17.99) and Yukon-style broiled salmon ($14.99). The spot has since garnered a reputation for its fish and chips.
"We do fish and chips differently. Unlike most of our competitors, we don't use pollock," said Bassiri. "Pollock is most commonly used in fish and chips because it's fairly inexpensive. We use cod, halibut, salmon, mahi mahi, and we also use jumbo shrimp."
To net the widest array of the deep-fried bounty, I went with Alex's Seafood Platter ($15.49), which includes fried cod, jumbo shrimp and clams. For $1, I tacked on a side of shrimp tomato bisque in place of a side salad. The bisque had a robust heartiness, but the tiny bay shrimp seemed like more of an afterthought than an integral part of the soup's flavor. The fried shrimp, on the other hand, were giant and fried to a golden, hefeweizen-hued crisp.
"We use zero trans fat canola oil ... we keep it at a certain temperature that has proven to be the perfect temperature for cooking the fish and the batter at the same time," said Bassiri.
The dark brown, Cheeto-shaped clam strips were the only item not fried in the house batter--they're purchased pre-coated, our server informed us. And while the crunch held up well dunked in the thick, dill-laced tartar sauce, they seemed more appetizer-appropriate than entree-worthy. With all the starchy, fried action clogging my plate, the sauteed side veggies--asparagus, snow peas, mushrooms, green and yellow squash--were a welcome addition.
Spooning bites of complimentary raspberry sorbet, I chuckled as a jazz cover of Shania Twain oozed through the speakers. Though Fresh Off the Hook doesn't rack up many cool points--in its menu or atmosphere--that's precisely what makes it charming.