Walking into the Fresh Fish & Fry, the smell of fish wallops you.
Ice cases with assorted fresh fish line one side of the market/restaurant. Expressionless faces of ocean perch, catfish, white bass, walleye and cod peer out from the glass case. Some were apparently fresher than others — plenty of the fish had sunken, cloudy eyes, a clear sign that the freshest days have passed them by.
Sold by the pound, the fresh fish can be purchased then cooked to order. After a few moments inspection, we passed on the “you buy, we fry” option.
Instead, we looked over the hot pink menu near the order counter, above which is a banner that boasts a disturbing pride in what they apparently call “crack chicken.” Maybe I left my sense of humor at home, but I’ve known people addicted to crack cocaine, and I’ve worked with severely disabled children who were born addicted to crack. Cute marketing ideas for inexpensive chicken wings don’t jump to mind after such experiences.
There’s not much room to dine inside; the restaurant seems oriented toward takeout. The décor consists of model boats and plastic seafood crabs, marlins and seashells on the walls, interspersed with community services and notices.
Last summer, we shared the catfish nuggets with friends, and they weren’t bad. That takeout experience is what brought us back to dine in at Fresh Fish & Fry, although we thought we’d try something different this time.
I went with the aforementioned chicken wings ($.65 each), with a generous side of potato salad ($1.29) and deep fried mushrooms ($1.49).
The wings were small with little meat, and not pretty to look at once pulled apart (think veiny and lots of dark tendons). The batter was crunchy and cooked well — the best thing about the wings.
I suppose the whole “crack chicken” thing has to do with the overzealous application of a seasoned salt on the wings. It’s on everything, in fact: the wings, the mushrooms, my companion’s fish and her fries. I was a tad surprised when the potato salad wasn’t garnished with it as well.
I suppose that if the seasoning, like crack, causes you to want nothing else after having some of it, I get the correlation. Perhaps this bodes well for me not becoming addicted to crack, because after about two bites, I was sick of the seasoning. It’s like a punch in the face, as my companion aptly put it. Not pleasant.
I ate as much as I could (I’m paid to do it, after all), but I wouldn’t have suffered like I did without financial incentive. After the meal, it felt as if I had been chewing on salt blocks for the past half-hour. My lips felt as if they had been chapped in the harshest of winter winds and my tongue felt swollen and sore, like it had been scraped with a wire brush.
The mushrooms had a pleasant batter on the outside, crisp and golden brown. But things didn’t hold up so well all the way through — a mushy mess on the inside with hot, flavorless mushrooms in the center.
Like the wings, my companion’s french fries were heavily dusted with the seasoning and seemingly selected for serving indiscriminately; black spots from bruised potatoes freckled many of the fries. Although cooked thoroughly, the fries were more starchy than crispy.
Her fried perch was overwhelmed by the seasoning, too. In the thickest cuts, we could actually taste the flavor of fish, but those moments were short-lived.
The side salads weren’t bad. The potato salad, heavy on the mustard, was a mashed puree of mayo, pickles and a few unidentifiable vegetables with chunks of potato throughout. And the small side of cole slaw that came with my companion’s combo was refreshing and very sweet — not an unwelcome attribute alongside the heaps of sodium on the rest of the food.
Oh, and the bread that is served with dinner combos? A couple of slices of white bread pulled from a loaf of Wonder Bread or, more likely, its store-brand equivalent.
Fresh Fish & Fry is popular, as evidenced by the steady stream of walk-ins during our short visit. The business must be doing something right.
Then again, the McDonald’s across the street also never seems to have a down moment.
If that’s what you want, bon appétit. But do try to be prepared for the side effects.
Fresh Fish & Fry
3140 S. Martin Luther King Blvd., Lansing
10 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
TO, OM $