GRAZING: The crawfish king snake
Sittin' on the dock of the bay
I have two related problems. The first is eating fish. Like most who grew up inland long ago, I rarely ate fish. What was available was frozen, tasteless, and mealy — usually flounder, sometimes trout. Summers, when we went to Cherry Grove Beach in South Carolina, we did buy fresh fish off the docks, including shellfish, that my father grilled. But that was a few weeks every year and not enough to erase the smelly memory of fish defrosting in the sink or the foul taste of the fish sticks I (rarely) ate during the 12 years that school cafeterias imposed Catholic dietary restrictions upon everyone every Friday, amen. So fish is rarely my first choice, no matter the chef.
The related problem is my weekly lunch companion, Ms. Rose, who lived a significant amount of her adulthood as the full time cap’n of a sailboat. She did this on purpose and she loves fish. Whenever I ask her what she’s craving before we go to lunch, she says “fish.” I usually ask her what else she might be craving. However, since pleasing her and satisfying my morbid curiosity can sometimes coincide, I suggested recently that we visit Shaking Crawfish, the latest tenant of the odd, round building on Buford Highway. We also visited the new Fishmonger in Poncey Highland. Please note that what follows is a report on two lunches, not a definitive critique.
Shaking Crawfish is located in a building that was originally a bank, a friend tells me. Its retro roundness also brings to mind Oxford Books’ second location in a former Mercedes dealership on Pharr Road. You will not find much resemblance to those inside. Imagine that you are seated in a creaky ship’s dinner theater, surrounded by stage props collected after a tidal wave. There is nowhere to look without feeling the saline spray of the briny depths in your eye — the one without the black patch. Aye, Ms. Rose. Let’s fill our plates with generous portions of crispy fried seafood and plunder the tchotchkes on our way out the door.
Aye and oy vey. Weirdly, the lunch menu specials include no crawfish and when you walk through the door you are greeted by a huge theatrical sign that says “& Crab.” This is, in short, another Cajun-style seafood shack like the nearby, rectangular and incomparable (when it’s clean) Crawfish Shack. Since crawfish are fresh-water crustaceans, not fish, I doubt it mattered to Ms. Rose that they are not on the lunch menu. Our server did say that we could order any of the available plates on the lengthy menu which, with the exception of tilapia and catfish, are all shellfish, including classic boils with corn and potatoes. If you like “& Crab” legs, carry an extra-large bag of dubloons, matey. Covid has apparently pirated the crab supply-chain, so king crab legs cost $59.99 per lb. Blimey!
We ordered simple and fried. I got a plate of oysters and calamari with hushpuppies. Rose got fried catfish with oysters and fries. I don’t know what to say except “nice fryin’ mateys!” Unfortunately, the oysters were basically inedible to me. They tasted spoiled, as seems to be routine on Buford Highway. Ms. Rose, bless her black heart, was unperturbed by the touch of rancidity. My calamari did offset the oysters with perfect tastelessness. I started to drag Ms. Rose into a game of calamari ring toss but I lost too many games of that on the pavilion in Myrtle Beach. I declined a taste of her fish. Her fries were speckled with something. The best thing on our table was the hushpuppies. Yes, you might want to keelhaul the chef before you bid him a’hoy, but those fluffy hushpuppies will melt your tiny heart. Still, please don’t ask for ketchup.I’m guessing the experience is better with the more complicated plates at dinner, so don’t let the sign you see as you walk through the door scare you. It’s an arrow directing diners “TO THE LIFE BOATS.”
I was really looking forward to visiting Fishmonger on North Highland in Poncey-Highland. The new restaurant has superb genealogy. It’s owned by Nhan Le and Skip Engelbrecht, . who also own 8Arm, which, by the way, will be closing in October to make way for another eyesore on Ponce. (Meanwhile several blocks west have been bought for extensive redevelopment. Popeyes will soon have a new neighbor: a Chick-Fil-a.) Le also owns Primo Pollo and Supremo Taco with other partners. While Fish Monger revs up, Le and Englebrecht plan another restaurant, Bellsmouth, at the Pratt Pullman Yard.Ms. Rose and I lunched at Fishmonger barely a week after its opening in late April, so we weren’t surprised that things were a bit chaotic. The concept here is a fish market with a raw bar and a café menu. The emphasis is on takeout but there are 10 tables inside and two or three \\outside. Ms. Rose and I sat outside in a heavy cloud of weed smoke exhaled by five or six uniformed bros. They liked their food. Yes, they sure did.Secondary smoke didn’t do its job for me and I was frankly a bit disappointed by my sandwich, The Fishmonger, a rather rococo version of your usual lox and bagel. While I didn’t like fish so much when I was a teenager, I did love cured and smoked salmon and drove regularly to the original Goldberg’s on Roswell Road to load up on it and the city’s best bagels. (I also loved their pickled herring.) My sandwich at Fishmonger was gorgeous. The cured salmon was perfect and other ingredients, some of them weird, worked well with it. When I say weird, I’m talking about tobiko and, according to the menu, some version of a beets and gin cocktail. You also get cream cheese, tomato, pickled onions, fried onions, and herbal sprouts. My problem was mainly the size and texture of the sourdough bagel. It was spongy, chewy to the degree it didn’t want to be swallowed, and absorbed every bit of moisture in my mouth. Eventually. I cast the top half aside. I’m not sure if the kitchen will prepare it open-faced.Ms. Rose chose one of her favorites – a chunk of blackened grouper on a butter-toasted, seeded bun, amped up with tomatoes, pickled peppers, herbal salad, and “Florida sauce.” I didn’t get to taste it since it was down her gullet in about 3 minutes. She seemed to like it and the media are already full of raves about it. Among other choices on the lunch menu were a Gulf shrimp roll, a tuna melt (with house-made tuna salad), a chowder full of bay scallops, shrimp, and Yukon gold potatoes. The restaurant is open to 7 p.m., so any dinner you have there has to be an early one. One cheery observation: Nothing is fried. They ain’t got no hushpuppies, matey! They also ain’t got no website at this writing. You can check them out on Insta, @fishmongerAs we were finishing up lunch, a man wandered by, locked his gaze on me and started the usual pleading for money. He said he was hungry. I told him I had only eaten half my sandwich and that he was welcome to the rest. I had the server box it and handed it to him. He thanked me profusely, headed around the corner of the building, then immediately emerged on the sidewalk empty-handed and walking away. Curious, I walked around the corner and spotted the box on the concrete with nothing eaten. Let them eat fish!!!Here and there
I can’t wait to try the new Capella cheese shop that Raymond Hook has opened in west Midtown. Twenty-plus years ago, he was manager of Star Provisions and dragged many Atlantans out of their yellow pools of Velveeta. Then he left to turn into a business person. I always called Raymond a “poetic cheesemonger..” He could spontaneously tell you the history of a cheese and its particular source, all the while rhapsodizing over the cheese he’s going to let you sample. Raymond also does work for community food banks, so his heart is larger than one of a . If you’d like to learn more about him before visiting his huge techy space, read Bill Addisom’s story about him from 20 years ago: “Cheese Wiz: Raymond Hook champions the art of artisan cheese.”.
A new Mexican restaurant has opened in Summerhill. D Boca N Boca is the permanent home of Helio Bern’s pop-up, Real Mexican Vittles. I’ve yet to dine there but I gotta say a $7 taco is stunning to me. I’m still adjusting to the $4 cost at Supremo Taco….I want to remind everyone that they need to subscribe to Christiane Lauterbach’s Twitter feed (@xianechronicles). Christiane is the longtime dining critic for Atlanta Magazine and occasionally her inner French child tweets a pile of sarcasm on top of a sacred person or concept. And you also get some great dining tips. —CL—
Shaking Crawfish, 5412 Buford Hwy., 770-559-5839, shakingcrawfishatl.com
Fishmonger, 674 North Highland Ave. @atlantafishmonger
Capella Cheese, 255 Ottley Drive, 404-882-3974, @capellacheese
D Boca N Boca: 39 Georgia Ave., 404-808-1527, bocaatl.com