Mourning the humble fish sandwich
There was a time when a decent fried fish sandwich, drive-through or carry-out, wasn't that hard to come by. Even some of the fast-food notables (Whataburger's What-A-Catch, Sonic, Burger King's BK Big Fish, Wendy's, MacDonald's, Jack-in-the-Box) had fairly decent renditions. Those days, alas, seem to be gone, and, I fear, inescapably behind us. I was moved the write this after discovering recently that Jack-in-the-Box had discontinued it's Moby Jack (sad if only for the loss of the name) and finding out that Sonic had reintroduced (looks as if it's one of those "limited time"menu items) its fish sandwich.
By "decent," I mean: fairly substantial, a nice (and real) filet (not "constituted from minced," lightly breaded and fried correctly so the fish is crispy, moist, flaky and relatively grease-less. These days, it seems as if the poor fish sandwich is a second or third thought, forsaken for chicken, wraps and salads. They're no longer substantial, no longer real filets, and rarely properly fried.
Before moving back home to Houston from Chicago a couple of years ago, what I have argued was the city's best fish sandwich was not far from my house, at Hagen's, a Swedish family-owned market/take-out operation that dated back to the 1950s. Their fish sandwich consisted of a nice-sized filet (that also LOOKED like a real filet, not a square of finely textured marine by-product) of cold-water fish (I believe it was Alaskan pollock), perfectly fried, and with a gargantuan bun overhang. (Hagen's also had incredibly toothsome smoked fish [chubs, salmon, whitefish, pike, sable, sturgeon and catfish; for a modest fee, they'd smoke your own Lake Michigan catch).
I actually had a dream last night about Hagen's fish sandwich.
I'd be greatly indebted for any suggestions about worthy fried fish sandwiches in the Houston area (I'm casting my net wide enough to encompass catfish, flounder, etc,, but I'd be particularly grateful for sightings/tastings of the classic-style cold-water fish version (pollack, cod, haddock, etc). And especially indebted for recommendations to the city's southeast (Hobby Airport to Galveston, Galveston Bay south of the Ship Channel to, say, Pearland), although no drive is out of the question.
(On a side note, I've pretty much abandoned by search for smoked fish in the Houston area; my dedicated fish smoker should arrive this Friday. But more about that later . . . . )
I have had the fish sandwich at Louis Bait Camp Bar and Grill in Bayou Vista several times and it has been great. The camp is right on Highland Bayou on Highway 6. It actually tastes like fresh fish and everything on it is very fresh.
Just a warning if you are not a smoker, only go when the weather would permit you to sit at one of their outside tables as the inside gets very smoky.
I saw this thread linked to on EaterHouston. Around here fish sandwich suggests catfish po’boy probably to most people. Within the range of what you’re looking for? If so, lots of cajun places will offer one. I haven’t ever had one as I much prefer oyster po’boys. The best would be at Calliope’s, downtown on Jefferson, just east of 59. Probably limited to catfish, though, but they do use the most appropriate bread, softer than a French baguette but still crusty, not just a typical sandwich roll which some places use.
You can find this type of sandwich in Galveston at Shrimp 'n Stuff and Benno's on the Beach. I prefer the latter.
Another possibility would be the ubiquitous u-buy, we-fry places. Despite the similar names, they’re all individually owned and will vary in quality and choice, with the two most common probably catfish and tilapia. Also, they may do only meals, not sandwiches. I used to go to a good one on Fountainview just north of Richmond when I worked in the Galleria area but that was a couple of decades ago. The one I go to sometimes now is J&J Seafood, on Woodhollow, just off Stella Link, just inside Loop 610. You can see the sign from 610 as you approach Stella Link from the east. Two basic choices, redfish and catfish, but sometimes more. I’ve been in when you also had the ready availability of flounder and tilapia and you can select any fish in the fish market but you’ll pay more and wait longer for it to be cleaned and fileted, etc. Also, not sure if they do sandwiches and there’s no dining facilites on premises. Get the bread of your choice, etc., first, probably. The sides are forgettable but you could use the tartar sauce and cole slaw to dress a sandwich.
Right up Stella Link is Wild Kitchen which specializes in burgers and fish, with a choice of cajun style or London fish ‘n chips style. The menu does list sandwiches but I don’t know what bread they use. The fish choices listed on the menu are cat, tilapia, flounder and cod! I just tried their London style plate once and wasn’t impressed so I only get the burgers here but to each his own. Also I thought I remembered having pollock but that was several years ago.
There’s a Seller’s Brothers just a block away if you need to get bread for a sandwich from J & J and around the corner on S. Braeswood is 3 Brothers Bakery with awesome challah rolls and kaiser rolls. I bet a fish sandwich on a 3 Bros kaiser roll would be awesome. I think I’m going to plan on that next time I go to J & J.
J&J and Wild Kitchen are on Yelp so you can get directions and other comments. Calliope's on there too of course but they also have a website.
Culver's (frozen custard place) claims to have cod fillet on their fish sandwich. I haven't tried it, but my Mom had it (Atascocita location), and it looked pretty decent compared to other fastfood places. At least is wasn't square. You'd have to check locations to see if there's something you're willing to drive to.