RESTAURANT REVIEW: Fishnet Seafood 

The Church of Crab

click to enlarge The Jesus crabs at Fishnet Seafood will have you shouting 'hallelujah!'
  • The Jesus crabs at Fishnet Seafood will have you shouting 'hallelujah!'
Fishnet Seafood
Seafood
Entrées: $5-$10
3832 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley
571-2423
Lunch and Dinner
Serving Mon.-Sat: 10:30 a.m.-6:25 p.m. (til 6 p.m. on Sat.)

You have probably passed the battered shanty a multitude of times. Situated at the bend of Highway 17 in the community of Red Top, it speaks the language of the classic roadside dive, all scruffy and worn, an adaptive reuse of a long-closed filling station. The old covered pump structure, like a beacon, announces the name, fighting the Dodge's Chicken next door for eyeballs and hungry stomachs.

You have to be careful around that curve. With so much fry grease wafting across the road, sudden veers into the crowded lots can't be uncommon. Those who stop find a delicious assortment of fresh seafood and a group of people dedicated to doing things the right way — and the place gets very busy at times, serving both fresh catch and prepared take-out to a loyal following of devotees.

A sign behind the long counter at Fishnet reads: "Eat less chicken and eat more seafood — Trust Jesus." They make that an easy admonition to fulfill. Upon ordering, a team of employees springs into action, pulling loads of seafood from the refrigerator units and commencing an elaborate hand-breading operation. Shrimp, oysters, whiting, flounder, crab cakes, even whole hard-shell crabs pirouette into the waiting oil, sending that heavenly smell that all Southerners know well skyward and across the counter to your waiting nose. It is heavenly indeed and the people at Fishnet take the spiritual implications of running such a business very seriously.

Christian scripture adorns the nooks and crannies of the establishment. The menu points you towards John 3:16 and they refuse to sell anything called a "deviled crab." They prefer "Jesus Crab," which for $4.99 represents a pretty good deal. It comes traditionally garnished, stuffed into the upper shell of the crab from whence it came and singing with the flavors of shellfish. The fried platters are equally good, freshly breaded before your eyes and assembled to order (no sitting under the heat lamps here). You can score the colossal "Seafood Platter" for $11.99, which loads enough shellfish and fish to feed three. Actually, it comes with 10 shrimp, six oysters, three whiting fillets, three scallops, one crab cake, a Jesus crab, and a big fat piece of flounder — all deep fried, all extremely delicious (they also pack on two sides and a hush puppy or roll).

That's well and good, but the real attractions, the thing that everyone goes for, are the fried crabs. They do the soft shell thing in season, but they also fry hard shelled crabs (sans the top shell). Then they soak them in butter and pile a dozen of them into a bag for 12 bucks. They are hot, juicy, and succulent, dripping with the sweet scent of perfectly cooked meat. You still have to pick them like a steamed crab, but one taste will make the effort worthwhile.

Sadly, places like Fishnet are dying out. They can't stand the economic pressures of a rapidly expanding metro area. As the land west of the Ashley becomes more valuable, small, independent businesses will suffer — unless they become so integral to the culture of the area that a loyal following keeps them afloat despite the economies of scale that benefit larger and more stylish operations. So a call must be made.

I implore you, get some grub from Fishnet. Get it because the drive out of town and across the marshes will offer a nice, scenic view. Go because your kids have never seen fresh frog legs for sale and you have never tried a deep-fried blue crab, or because you're severely hung over and a huge box of fried seafood will pull you out of the doldrums. Get some because after one taste you will eat the whole platter on the way home and be hooked for life.

The reason doesn't really matter. The writing is literally on the wall, Fishnet is a little slice of heaven (if you don't count the gluttony that occurs there). We can't afford to ever let it slip away.

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