The quest for fantastic fish sandwiches
A few years back, as a reader service to devout yet hungry Lenten observers in need of a quick, convenient bite, a number of Daily Mail staffers set out to troll the high seas of fast food fish sandwiches to taste for ourselves which one offered the best catch.
We learned a few things in the process.
The first was, despite making its name with flame-broiled meat patties, Burger King made one of the best fish sandwiches among franchise fast-food joints.
The second was that an afternoon of taste-testing fried fish is best followed by a long nap.
Third, a number of readers are very loyal to local eateries and their maritime meal offerings.
So after giving our bellies sufficient time to recover from our deep-fried bacchanalia, we decided the time had come to follow our readers' lead and have a Charleston fish sandwich throwdown.
(Plus, the time had come for lunch and we were getting hungry.)
So in unscientific fashion - using our personal experiences, the phone book and random restaurant signage - we settled on a handful of establishments from different points in the city.
We chose the venerable Grill on the West Side, known for its tasty hometown diner fare.
Right in the heart of downtown, the Fresh Fish Market at the Capitol Market serves what it sells - fresh fish and a lunch menu of seafood specials.
The Tricky Fish, an eclectic family eatery also specializing in seafood, represented the East End, while Tony's Gold Dome bar and grill represented Kanawha City.
Finally, a little farther east, the Riverside Anchor is revered for its diverse menu, including its famed tomato pie and "squeak" sandwiches.
Managing Editor Brad McElhinny fanned out staffers to retrieve sandwiches from their representative parts of town and return to the newsroom to share their finds.
Beverages were purchased, sandwiches were quartered and tasted, and our reactions recorded.
Fresh Fish Market
We're going to skip the suspense-filled nautical narrative and get to the point: Daily Mail testers were unanimously hooked on the Fresh Fish Market sandwich.
As the restaurant itself describes its signature sandwich, this was a "savory seasoned cod fish, deep-fried and piled high on a croissant with our very own signature tartar sauce."
The cod and croissant made for a buttery, slightly spicy combo. The fish on the $5.99 sandwich (price does not include fries) flipped up around the split croissant in fetching fashion.
"That croissant is perfect," said statehouse writer Zack Harold. "It just works so well with the fish. That might be the best fish sandwich I've had anywhere, ever."
That signature tartar sauce was a hit, too. "There's some pronounced pickleness," Harold said.
News editor Philip Maramba agreed, adding, "It has a nice bit of heat to it." That provided balance to the sauce's creaminess and the richness of the croissant.
"It all married well," wrote incoming business editor Jared Hunt, summing things up.
This tasty bite also ranked high in a recent Daily Mail Facebook poll and was the sandwich most readers mentioned a few years back that would trump the winner of the fast food test.
Among the accolades from the poll:
"Cooked as you order so hot and tasty!"
"White fish breaded to perfection, fried to perfection ...."
There seems to be no going overboard in the praised heaped on the Fish Market's offering.
That said, though, in reviewing the victuals sampled, Maramba opined, "They were all winners here." Honestly, there wasn't a bad sandwich in the bunch.
West Side Grill
This entry arrived neatly wrapped and halved to fit in a nondescript brown takeout bag. But ordered with the works, including tartar sauce, lettuce and tomato, on a corn-dusted hoagie roll, the lightly battered cod had a nice, mild flavor that worked well with its supporting cast.
At a little over 9 bucks for the large (including tax and a side order of fries), it was deemed a good meal and a good deal.
The sandwich from the Riverside Anchor had a long, gold, toasted bun - possibly a little too toasty. Would it be dry?
The fish, also golden and flaky, was a generous amount. Multiple layers of kingfish were piled onto this monster of a fish sandwich. For $7.50 (including fries) we agreed this was a bargain that would keep a person satisfied (and possibly inclined toward napping) for quite a while.
Tony's Gold Dome
The $4 fish sandwich from Tony's Gold Dome surprised us all. The square fish sandwich on a sesame seed bun seemed initially unpromising - a possible afterthought for a place known for its barbecue. But it turned out to be solid. The sesame seeds gave a little pop and the fish blended nicely with the bun.
"It is a good, solid sandwich for a bar," city beat reporter Paul Fallon said. Along with a draft beer in a neighborhood pub, this could be pleasant fare, indeed.
This is a great place to go for a little variety. We sampled a fried mahi mahi sandwich. Available for $11.50 (including yummy homemade chips), this might not be your most budget-savvy selection.
But it's described as hearty fish on the menu, and that was true. McElhinny thought of it as "steak-y."
"This is not your traditional fried fish sandwich," Harold said. "They also have a blackened mahi mahi, which I like."
Harold noted that Tricky Fish also offers a Carolina Catfish if you're looking for something more like a traditional fried fish sandwich.
Traditional or not, with all the focus on the fish component of these sandwiches, it should be noted the importance of the bread could not be overlooked. Be they sesame seeded, corn-dusted or rich in butter, buns that were soft and fresh were deemed a crucial part in the tasting experience.
To sum up, although our favorite sandwich was perhaps predictably the offering from the shop that specializes in seafood, it was reassuring that you can get good fish sandwiches at a variety of Kanawha Valley bars, pubs and restaurants.
So rest at ease, land lubber Lenten law abiders. Thanks to the sacrifices of our newsroom staffers, you now know of a tasty handful of go-to sandwiches at the ready to get you through at least five Fridays of the season. You can do this thing.