When I headed out to review English Dockside Fresh Seafood & Grill, I knew nothing about the place except its name and catchy motto, "U-Buy, We-Fry." I admit that I expected to find some sort of British fish-and-chips house, where an expatriate sporting a kooky accent and bad teeth served up fried nuggets of cod and potato in old newspapers with malt vinegar. Shows you what I know.
The name, it turns out, refers not to a small island nation, but to the surname of its proprietors, Thomas and Stephanie English. That's where the English ends and the down-home begins. Thomas was born in Alabama, and he and Stephanie spent more than a decade in Florida. While Stephanie punched a clock, Thomas opened a restaurant similar to this one, where he honed his skills with fresh fish and Cajun flavors, which are considerable. Lucky for us they decided to ship out to Colorado Springs, where they opened the new Dockside less than a year ago. In doing so, they may have opened the best casual fish house in town.
Although it's not much to look at, the English Dockside does carry off a consistent nautical theme, with rope-trimmed windows, blue walls, painted fish, and tropical fish in a small tank. Once your order arrives, however, you'll only be able to pay attention to the mountain of food before you, how good it tastes, and how happy it makes you feel to eat it.
The process is simple. Choose an item from the menu or a daily fish special. If doing the latter, you must also decide how you want it prepared: fried, grilled, sauted or blackened. On my first visit, they had fresh red snapper, which Thomas enthusiastically recommended. Trusting the chef, I took the plunge, and on his advice, took it fried.
This was like no fried fish I have ever had. The glistening filet must have weighed close to a full pound. But, from the first bite, it was clear that quality had not been sacrificed for quantity. The fried coating was so thin as to be inseparable from the fish itself, but still managed to pack a satisfying crunch. Better still, Thomas kept the fish a shade short of medium, showing off the snapper's own rich, buttery flavor.
Having taken Thomas' advice on my first visit, I turned to Stephanie the second time. Her favorite is the shrimp Po-boy, and now I know why. A sizeable hoagie roll struggled to corral 10 curly fried shrimp that simply burst with sweetness. Some crisp lettuce, tomato and a fine rmoulade brought the whole thing together.
The basic fried fish lunch special is also tasty. Four filets of whiting, with the same impossibly thin coating, come with one side dish to make a tidy and inexpensive meal at about $6. Whiting is a small fish in the cod family and happens to be in season right now. The small pieces muster a full flavor that is well matched to the cafe's excellent, Cajun-influenced tartar sauce.
If you like crab cakes, you must go to the English Dockside immediately. If you don't like crab cakes, you must go the English Dockside immediately and you will learn to like them. Thomas cobbles together a healthy heap of fresh lump crab, accented by bell peppers and mixed with just enough breadcrumbs to hold the patties together. After a trip to the fryer, they're served over garlic rice and topped with a truly Cajun sauce featuring fresh crawfish. The cakes have a crunchy exterior that gives way to a soft and sweet center that'll make your center feel soft and sweet. It's so good that my wife ordered it both times we went, and both times she had to fight me off as I trolled her plate for bites of cake and crawdad.
Side dishes here are no throwaways either. Thomas' gift with the fryer is equally evident in his seasoned french fries, red potatoes and corn on the cob. That's right, I said corn on the cob. Half ears get coated with English's own seasoning blend, then take a quick plunge into the oil. This method actually seals in the corn's moisture and nutrients more effectively than the traditional pot of boiling water, giving each kernel a crunchy exterior that gives way to a burst of juiciness in each bite.
In case it isn't obvious, I'm head over heels for the English Dockside. The fish is fresh and seasonal -- they'll have live crawfish, a Cajun treat, throughout February. More than that, the food is great and the English's are as friendly as can be. Hit the dock and see for yourself. Did I mention that the crab cakes are pretty good?
English Dockside Fresh Seafood & Grill
2220 Academy Place (set back in the strip mall off of Academy just south of Maizeland), 3807SEA (3807732)
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.