English Dockside still leads with its overused 'secret seasoning' in new location 


Resettled on the west side after a decade on the east, English Dockside rests on its strengths, while undergoing growing pains as it's expanded into a cavernous dining room, acquiring both a patio and bar to manage. Owner Thomas English is commendably transparent in recognizing that "where we've fallen short has been on timing, but we can correct that ... we're working on speed, but with the same quality."

Servers too told us immediately that dishes, including soups cooked to-order by the cup or bowl, take longer to arrive since everything's made fresh. All of which is fine by me, à la Adam's Mountain Café and other slow-food-minded spots, especially when I'm lounging in a regal, high-back, riveted leather chair, catching a World Cup match over the rakish bar that once belonged to Houlihan's. Between that, the buffet salad bar adjacent, restrained seafood-theme wall adornments (one lobster trap and some ceramic fish does not a crab shack make), and an underlying dance floor mid-dining room, ED sports a disjointed décor, one foot in a '70s Vegas lounge, the other on a bayou beach.

On the menu, almost everything's influenced by English's "secret seasoning," which he'll only say contains upwards of 15 ingredients. It's easiest to describe as a non-spicy Cajun blend (which can be made spicier by request) with subtle elements like citrus and smoke with paprika somewhere. English says "its premise is to marry up with whatever you're making," creating a unique flavor each time. But when you're getting it all across the board — as a soup seasoning, blackening agent and dry dusting garnish atop everything from fries to fish — it walks the one-trick line, risking everything tasting uniform when eating family-style.

Any benevolent brine was buried by the seasoning's flavor on a half-dozen raw oysters ($9), and our grilled walleye and blackened snapper entrées (each $16; with fried being a third cooking option) might have made for a good experiment in the seasoning's enhancement-nuance were it not for the snapper tasting past-prime, as in on the way if not already all the way out, despite the eatery's assurance of fish orders on a daily basis. The pike-like, light and white walleye, however, was almost as "amazing" as a server described it, in terms of fresh appeal, served with crisp, salted and peppered green beans plus garlic rice that's not garlicky at all, unless that too is masked by the grain-drying seasoning.

A remoulade dip (yup — made with the seasoning) also appears widely with plates, receiving everything from those fish to a fried lobster tail ($10; just give me drawn butter instead) and a surprisingly guilty-good, taquito-like fried krab roll ($4; actually compressed flounder). The dip finishes too sweet with pickle relish flavor for my taste, but it's hard to quibble with the okra-dotted, dark and earthy blue crab gumbo and a clam chowder (both $6/cup) that appears as a killer carb-y cauldron of goodness (i.e. overflowing its small bread bowl).

Our fried swai Po-boy ($8 and catfish-like) also pleased, crunchy inside a chewy baguette with sweet slaw bedding, as did English's premier, mega-meaty crab cakes in a creamy crawfish-crab sauce ($14/two). And a wonderfully flavored pineapple-pecan cake ($6) comes as close as any cake to making me a fan of the dessert form. So there's pretty shells to be found in the sand, but so long as ED's reinventing itself, I'd like to see it push beyond the predictable tide line where the secret seasoning's already washed it.



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