My first experience at the Flying Fish was an accident. I had taken my family to Fort Worth for the day and we wound up desperately seeking out a casual (read: affordable) lunch spot open on a Sunday afternoon somewhere near the museum district. The Flying Fish beckoned like a memory of that one place we’ve all eaten at during a family beach vacation on the lower East Coast.
An oversize banner hung from the rafter advertising their all-you-can-eat fried catfish Wednesday special and another touting itself as “Lent Central.” We knew then we’d happened upon hushpuppy heaven, a true delight for the seafood lover on a budget.
Dallas-area restaurateur Shannon Wynne (Meddlesome Moth, LARK on the Park) opened a second Dallas location of the popular fast-casual fish joint, inspired by East Texas fish joints on Caddo Lake, last week, his sixth in the DFW metroplex. The newest location is conveniently situated in the still-developing Design District, in a building previously occupied by the Purple Onion Diner.
The space is decorated almost identically to the other locations, utilizing an interior design mantra to the tune of “embrace the fish kitsch without reserve.” A growing collection of framed fishing photos adorn what is jokingly referred to as the “liar's wall.” There’s also the Billy Bass "adoption wall" — anyone who donates their mounted animatronic singing fish receives a free basket of catfish in return. They store their toilet paper backstock in a large fishing net mounted above the commode in the women’s restroom. Their website, like their decor, is intentionally tacky yet quaint, a flashing homage to homegrown 1990’s webpage design.
We visited the new location on Sunday to try the Sunday Preacher’s Special: 75-cent raw oysters while supplies last. If salvation comes on the half shell, we’ll take it. Judging from the crowd’s attire, it’s a popular Sunday spot for a post-church family meal. And despite clever cautionary signs to the contrary, it’s also good place to bring your kids.
Flying Fish doesn’t have a motto, but if they did I’d like to imagine it would be something like “All Gills, No Frills.” Their menu is as expansive as it is down to business; a large selection of standard southern seafood options prepared in various ways for almost any diet, as long as your diet includes fish. Fried baskets, boiled platters, grilled plates and po’ boys come with your choice of seafood: catfish, shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish, trout. If you can catch it in the Gulf of Mexico or farm it in an Arkansas lake, it’s probably on the menu. Like all self-respecting southern seafood joints, they also do a mean crawfish boil during season.
The grits and gumbo platter, listed as both a starter and a southern favorite, is a healthy serving of rich, smoky gumbo served atop a brick of creamy fried grits. Hearty chunks of okra and green pepper cut through the thick brown gravy to give a pop of texture in between an abundance of small shrimp. The hush puppies, a customer favorite, are moist and cakey on the inside with a thick, crunchy exterior of shaggy fried batter.
Dessert offerings include a standard but tasty key lime pie with a sugary graham cracker crust base and an evenly-shellacked topping layer of whipped cream. The hand pies come filled with canned pudding and served with an optional scoop of vanilla ice cream. The coconut cream pie was the only slight disappointment. As a southerner, I want my fried pies to crunch like an egg roll, not crumble like pie dough. The filling was your run-of-the-mill, pre-made vanilla pudding with long peels of coconut. It didn’t hit the mark on texture, but was still a tasty finish to a rich meal.
There are plenty of upscale seafood restaurants in Dallas, and Flying Fish isn’t one of them. You won’t find any exotic, wild-caught, hard-to-pronounce species on their menu, and they (thankfully) don't display their wares on ice for diners to inspect before ordering. In opening his newest location, Wynne is banking on the marketability of affordable “lake food” served in a somewhat stripped down atmosphere to appeal to those craving a seafood experience a few steps above drive-through. For central Dallas diners in that category, the Flying Fish is a good catch.
Flying Fish, 1838 Irving Blvd.