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Feb 14, 2007 05:13 AM

"downscale" seafood...

[edit: should have included IN DC/NOVA" in the title, this isn't really an issue back home in Baltimore]

I've been back in this area for almost 3 years now, and still don't know of any great "downscale" seafood joints in the immediate DC vicinity. Living in San Diego and Eastern NC, there were multiple seafood markets (either standalone or multiple-vendor variety, some better than others) which, in addition to selling outstanding fresh raw seafood for home and restaurant use, also offered various things on a carry-out or eat-outside-at-a-picnic-table basis in excellent sandwiches, steamed or fried to perfection, raw, etc as appropriate. In DC and the immediate vicinity, I only know of Maine Ave, which has been a mixed experience for me (maybe I'm ordering badly or from the wrong people), and America Seafood in Arlington. Are there other places of this ilk I need to be trying, NoVA preferred now that I'm out in Fairfax?

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  1. That's one of my complaints, too. In Pittsburgh--a lot farther inland--you can get great fish sandwiches, fried clams, etc. at Wholey's or Benkowitz's in The Strip. (My favorite place for fish sandwiches, though, is a VFW Hall in Cannonsburg, Pa. where they serve freshly fried fish sandwiches every Friday.)

    But in the DC area? Haven't found anything comparable. Is there some little neighborhood place, or maybe something at Eastern or Capitol Markets?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gonzocook

      Wholey's is indistinguishable from a slice of heaven; but, then, The Strip is the center of the Universe, in my opinion. What a stunningly great place. The "Capitol City Market" in DC -- on Florida Ave in NE -- is really great, too, but it ain't The Strip.

      Eastern Market has a very nice seafood lunch counter, which I recommend. Birch Beer and a crabcake sammy? Yum.

      But, really, what you want is Crisfield Seafood Restaurant right on the line between Silver Spring and DC. It's more Old School than "downscale", but it is cheap and unpretentious and good.

      1. re: KendallClark

        Crisfield's is good and unpretentious, but definitely not cheap.

        1. re: Mister Big

          Well, I guess we all have different meanings of "cheap"... But yr right, it's not cheap in any absolute sense. I guess I just meant "cheaper than most places I usually eat out"...

    2. Not too close to you, but there used to be a market that got some attention on this board in Arlington, on Glebe just south of 395, right before Glebe splits two ways. It's on the west side of the road. Not sure if they served anything to eat right there, though.

      In addition to the north as you mentioned, heading south yields more of these as well, including my fave, Thompson's Seafood Corner on Rt5.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dennis S

        Sounds like M Slavin & Sons. I don't think they have any prepared, carryout dishes.

        Tell me more about Thompson's.

        1. re: Gonzocook

          Thompsons is on Rt 5, a few miles past Hugesville (on your right) in Charlotte Hall is Thompson's Seafood and corner market. No seats, only a bench across the parking lot. Super dive bar/liquor store attached with a drive through!

          I got a soft shell sandwich in season with two crabs on it for $8.95 a couple of years ago. They sell great crab cakes to cook at home - forget if they serve them there. On a Saturday from Reston it takes only a bit more than an hour to get there, barring accidents on the road.

          The post that tipped me off:

          fwiw, here's my recap after that particular trip:

      2. Seriously, I've had better seafood at decent prices back when I lived in Dayton, Ohio. Here's a plug for the Shuckin' Shack in Dayton if you're ever out there.

        1. Market Lunch in Eastern Market comes to mind, for a fried-fish or crabcake or fried-oyster or soft-shell-crab sandwich -- and you can buy fresh seafood 20 feet away at the Glasgow brothers' counter.

          1. Lowbar, maybe you're looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe what you call "downscale" is the normal, local seafood tradition, like what you had in your native Baltimore, where it's still easy to find. It's easier in the eastern Washington suburbs, out Central Avenue, down Rt.5, out 50 toward Annapolis, up toward Baltimore and east of I-95 in southern Virginia. Those areas still have "natives," while much of the rest of the Metro area has seen enormous growth over the past 50 years from immigrants from the rest of the US and foreign countries. How many native Washingtonians do you know out in Fairfax?
            When the new population wants fish, they want salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, non-fishy-fish and could you broil that please because I'm on a diet? Local fish rarely appear on menus at area restaurants any more, except for an occasional rockfish or shad roe. The traditional waterman's crabcake has turned into a pile of backfin, very different from its roots. Even the lovely things like Crabmeat Norfolk and oyster stew aren't offered. Why not? Because this isn't a local crowd like in Charm City or Colonial Beach.
            There really aren't that many "upscale" places statistically but they get more notice in food columns and on CH. There's a lot more seafood joints, carryouts and crabhouses serving fried catfish and oysters, they just can't afford the downtown real estate and fancy decor. Hard to figure out why when some of the entrées are $20 to $25. The locals who eat their food just aren't in downtown DC. and maybe they don't want the fancy settings.
            A lot of great seafood dishes started off as poor fisherman's food - cioppino, gumbo, bouillabaisse, chowder, bourride, lobster - before things got expensive and went fancy. Shrimp and grits was made with tiny shrimp not those monsters they use at Vidalia. They have to serve Frito Misto in DC because a Fried Seafood Platter is declassé. It's two different seafood worlds.

            So, Lowbar, go East and North and South. Go toward the Bay and the Northern Neck.
            I can't find a decent seafood platter in DC and I think that's a real crying shame. When I have out-of-town guests and they want a sit-down place for good local seafood, I'm stuck. I cook it at home.

            4 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              Yeah, I certainly know plenty of places of the type I seek East, North, and to a limited extent South of DC as you suggest (when I lived in DC in the late 90s, I was working for the Smithsonian doing research primarily in Annapolis/Cape St.Claire, south Anne Arundel, and Charles Counties and had some good finds). Unfortunately I can't get to any of those at lunchtime, which is why I was hoping to find someone who has dragged that type of local seafood tradition out of its "natural habitat," like many of the other non-native ethnic and US-regional establishments have at least made a respectable attempt to do. I can understand where a Lake Trout shop would find it difficult to succeed in the 66/267 corridors, but I'd think there would be strong demand for a place that served fresh, simple seafood (sandwiches, fried/broiled/steamed plates, etc) to all the folks in too much of a hurry, perhaps also allowing them to pick up a nice whole or fillet/steak of fish to bring home to cook for dinner later. In many of the other places where I have spent significant time...places like San Diego, Morehead City, Annapolis area, etc., those types of establishments are a given. But as other posters have alluded to here, they can also often be found in locales which are quite landlocked. I was hoping that I might have just not managed to find it yet.

              I don't use the term "downscale" as any kind of insult or disrespect to any local seafood traditions. I just didn't know how else to shrink "non- 'sit down' seafood market type of place that serves simply prepared, properly priced fish and shellfish in a very casual/carry-out setting" into one word for a post title. Probably poor word choice, I am often guilty of that when I don't really think about what I'm writing, and these posts are generally sort of a stream-of-consciousness thing for me. There are "downscale" sit-down options in NoVA in Quarterdeck and Capt Pell's, for example, but I haven't found these to be too appealing for seafood options other than steamed crabs (thankful to be able to get those at least).

              An answer your question of many Washingtonians I know in Fairfax...very few, of course...of all the people I know that live in or near the District, only a very small handful actually grew up in DC or even inside the Beltway. That was one of the harder things for me to get used to around here.

              1. re: Lowbar

                Lowbar, it's only really a crab house like Pell's, but there is a place out on 50 west of 28 by a few miles. South side of the road. Little shack. They did have shrimp and a few other things last time I was there, but that was a while ago.

                1. re: Dennis S

                  Dennis: That's BJ's Crabshack. It's still there. We haven't been in a while so I can't give a recent report.

                  Interestingly, even though the place has that "about to fall over" crab shack look, according to their signage they also offer ceviche! I've gotta give that a try one of these days.

                2. re: Lowbar

                  Lowbar, are there "downscale seafood" places in the Annapolis/Cape St.Claire area? Or along the Rt. 50 corridor east of, say, Bowie? I pass through the area occasionally but haven't had any tasty fried fish in a long time. Would love to find something cheap, or relatively cheap, and really good. I'd be surprised if anything really cheap is available in the Annapolis area since it was conquered by yuppies about 20 years ago. It would be funny to find a good fish shack around there.

                  Usually if I'm in that area, I'm visiting my parents, and we usually prefer authentic ethnic food, pref. something Asian, very authentic, and cheap, but Annapolis is very very limited on those fronts. Often we end up at Squisito, but I'm not a big fan of that since I'm not much for Italian. (Although the gelato is pretty good, I admit.) Usually we try to stick around in the D.C. area long enough for dinner, but that's not always possible, what with the long drive back down to Salisbury. (And you'd think there'd be some good cheap seafood in Salisbury, given that it's the Eastern Shore, but not that I know of.) And having a good along-the-way option is nice.