There’s something nearly magical about the reliable neighborhood restaurant. You find yourself craving it, you have a favorite item — even though you tell yourself you should venture out and try a different dish — and you end the meal happy that you’ve returned here.
That’s the case with TJ’s Seafood Market and Grill. You can get a reservation at one of the spaced-out tables for service that’s so approachable and amicable, you nearly forget there’s a mask hiding the employee’s smile.
On the takeout side, you’ll miss that customer service, but taking TJ’s home with you has its benefits. Aside from avoiding a dining room and other people, there’s food that travels well.
It’s seafood in paper boxes, so I’m not going to tell you to get the fish and chips and expect the best dish of the goods you’ve ever received ($18). It’s still good: The crispy, thin fries so well seasoned with salt and herbs hold up fine, but the and the Pabst Blue Ribbon-battered fish are most thoroughly enjoyed in the restaurant’s dining room.
If you’re dining in, one thing you must get is the hush puppies ($7). You will in no way regret these little fried balls of charred corn and poblano; there are plenty to share if you have another person in your household with you, and the indulgence is a nice complement to the order of fresh grilled fish you might’ve ordered. (I recommend the wild Alaskan halibut, $36).
On the takeout side (of course, these are good in-house, too) start with TJ’s shrimp cocktail — it’s straightforward, it’s cold, the cocktail sauce is spicy and it’s one of those dishes you’ll find yourself craving. I’ve yet to find a shrimp cocktail boxed for takeout that looks pretty, but that doesn’t harm the taste.
A solid choice that can’t be recommended with enough enthusiasm is the hickory- and alder-smoked salmon board ($26). It's plenty to share with another as an appetizer or acceptable as a meal for one person.
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The arrangement comes in a paper box, what seems like about half a pound of smoked salmon sits on fresh greens and is surrounded by tiny sealed plastic cups with all the parts split among them. A hefty wedge of dill cream cheese begs to be spread on the crackers before piling the fish on top. The smokiness in the salmon is pronounced throughout and balanced with a hint of sweetness. Don’t fear the boiled egg, capers or diced red onion, and definitely don’t skip the pickled onion.
There were two mistakes on our recent takeout order — errors on our part, not the restaurant’s. That included not getting a bottle of Domaine Sancerre sauvignon blanc ($42), which pairs wonderfully with grilled fresh. Another mistake was not getting the Key lime cheesecake. Graham cracker crust (of course) is the base of this thick pie. It’s a lovely end to a meal — a friend of mine even cuts this into bits and consistently keeps some in her freezer. Not a bad idea.
TJ’s Seafood Market, 4212 Oak Lawn (Oak Lawn). 214-219-3474. Open for curbside takeout and dine-in 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.