Brunching in the Bishop Arts District always sounds like a good idea, but it really isn’t.
I live only two blocks away, but the spectacle can be discouraging. Sometimes it takes 45 minutes to secure a seat. Even then, you’re still sharing a bench with a couple cooing over their dogs. A family of bicyclists gets in on the dog-cooing action, and you’re then you’re royally screwed and completely barricaded.
I tried brunching in Bishop Arts twice this month, but my appetite and impatience drove me to something simpler but much less satisfying. With those fails fresh on my mind this Sunday, I went the extra mile west on Jefferson Boulevard to check out The Fish, where the food is Bishop Arts-quality without the annoyance. It was only the third time owner Christopher Stanford presented a brunch menu since his restaurant opened August 1.
I’m not a big seafood guy—just a big guy in general. I credit Zeke’s Fish and Chips in Fort Worth with helping me graduate from frozen fish sticks. Aside from trying and enjoying crab cakes when I lived in New York City, I occasionally pick at a shrimp cocktail—a confession that fortunately doesn’t faze Stanford.
“A lot of people think seafood is boring,” he assured me. “It doesn’t have to be.”
And he’s shown me that it’s not. By coincidence, I ordered two dishes that Stanford later told me are his most popular: the tilapia fish tacos and crab hush puppies.
I’ve tried a lot of fish tacos in Oak Cliff lately. Most of the time, the tortilla was so overstuffed and soggy that it falls apart before I can take a bite. The Fish gets ’em right. They’re wrapped in a light, crispy whole wheat tortilla that doesn’t buckle to the garnish. The tilapia is lightly fried—not too breaded or overcooked—and topped with avocado slices and a drizzle of chipotle-lime crema. The fillets have a nice smoky flavor, which Stanford tells me comes from his ancho batter.
The tacos come with side of firm red beans and white rice—a nice change from other places’ pairings of black or refried beans spilling into greasy, orange rice.
Stanford, who lives nearby in El Tivoli, said his single-page menu is inspired by the South and So Cal with a little “European influence.” It features a red snapper nicoise called the General Jackson, a halibut Cobb, and smoked salmon beignets.
Two of the brunch exclusives include a fritatta – made with salmon or prosciutto – and champagne-poached oysters served with artichokes. Guests who don’t like seafood are still treated kindly with a choice of a grilled skirt steak burger or a mac and cheese made with cheddar, Gruyere, and jalapenos.
The fried stuff (catfish, coconut shrimp, and those crab hush puppies) are served with a crisp, creamy slaw and sweet potato fries. I had the hush puppies as an appetizer, sans the fries. They didn’t taste fishy or buttery, but like seasoned crab shaped into light, flaky, lumps. They’re served with two tartars: one with classic herbs, the other made with ancho chile and cilantro. I took my leftovers home with the intent of preserving them in a glass display case I saw on a nearby porch for $30, but I decided to finish them just three hours later. To my surprise, the hush puppies and slaw both held up wonderfully in the fridge.
The food is also priced reasonably. My meal and an iced tea was much less than that glass case: $23 to be exact. I was in and out in less than an hour and didn’t have to wait for a table, though I noticed a stream of small groups arrive minutes apart after the dining room opened at 11 a.m. Maybe it was too early for hot young couples and families on bikes, because I was probably the youngest guest by at least 15 years. I could get used to that.
It’s BYOB, and Stanford said he’s in no rush to change that. In his experience—which includes several years managing Dream Cafe—it takes a huge and expensive inventory to be prepared for the spectrum of discriminating tastes.
“The markup for that is ridiculous,” he said.
The decor is rustic. There aren’t any chandeliers, murals, or TVs to distract anyone, though Stanford is considering the latter. Upon entering, my first thought is this place had to be riding on nothing else but the reputation of good food. It turns out I was right.
The Fish | 1001 W. Jefferson Blvd., Dallas. 214-942-6000