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Category Archives: Seafood

FIVE

FIVE opened in the spring (I believe) of 2011 and remains one of Tuscaloosa’s newest restaurants. Its premise is simple enough: the menu gives you 5 appetizers, 5 entrees, 5 signature drinks, 5 white wines, and 5 red wines to choose from. This system is slightly complicated by their 5 brunch entrees on Sundays and a daily special each night.

I heard about FIVE a while back, but it’s pricier than my usual dinner spots, so it took me a while to finally make it there. To give you an idea of the menu’s options, the drinks include old fashioneds, strawberry lemonades (with rum), and a pineapple-jalapeño margarita that I really wish I’d tried. My strawberry lemonade was good but nothing too impressive. They also have a small selection of beer but only in bottles.

The appetizers—or “snacks,” as they’re listed on the menu—included baked avocado, Asian chicken, and gyoza. Our table ordered the avocado and Asian chicken, and despite being a dollar cheaper, the chicken was the larger and more filling, I think, of the two dishes. The chicken was fried popcorn-style and drizzled with a ginger sauce that struck a nice balance between tangy and sweet. I don’t like avocado (I know, I’m missing out), so I didn’t try the other appetizer on the table, but it was stuffed with bacon and topped with a spicy sauce that by all reports was appropriately named.

FIVE’s 5 entrees are a cheeseburger, panéed chicken, a bone-in pork chop, a ribeye, and fried shrimp. Each entrée comes with a small salad (mixed greens with a little feta, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette dressing) and is paired with a particular side. Our waitress intimated, however, that switching out the sides wasn’t a big deal, so don’t make your decision based on which side you want.

My pork chop was, honestly, pretty average. It wasn’t close to being bad, but it was perhaps a bit dry and just too plain. When your menu is limited to 5 specially-crafted entrees (and you’re charging an average of $18 for each one), I expect each one of them to be something special—something I can’t get anywhere else. I’ve had better pork chops for a few bucks cheaper down the road at Carmelo. On the plus side, the pork chop came with Bahamian mac & cheese, which was probably the best thing about dinner. I don’t know that I’ve ever had Bahamian mac & cheese before so I don’t know what it’s usually like, but this was baked and served as a carefully-cut square from a casserole dish. The baked consistency was perfect, and the layers of flavors—I’m guessing a combination of sweet and hot peppers—came through and mixed with the cheese and noodles beautifully. (I forgot to take pictures of the entrees, so you’re just getting ones of the appetizers. Sorry!)

My fellow diners ordered the fried shrimp and ribeye entrees, both of which came with fries (the cheeseburger does as well). They had been to the restaurant before and both seemed to enjoy their food thoroughly, but I’m a little thrown still by the lack of side options (and french fries, although I’m sure they’re good, strike me again as being too basic for the premise of the restaurant and its prices). Since you can apparently exchange them for the mac & cheese or the garlic mash that comes with the panéed chicken, I guess it’s not that big of a deal, but a few more side options (maybe two more—you know, to make 5?) would be a nice addition. The nightly specials I mentioned earlier include red beans and rice on Monday nights, and at $12, it’s the cheapest entrée they have (the nightly cheeseburger is $13). Lobster ravioli is available for $20 on Wednesday, while Saturday offers a surf and turf (filet and crab) combination for $30.

Our service was good. We showed up at 6:30 on a Saturday night and were seated immediately and were well taken care of for the rest of the evening. Our waitress was friendly, especially when one member of our party randomly asked her what her favorite movie was (I’m not sure I trust her taste in films though).  When she brought our checks, she also brought a plate of (delicious) sugar cookies—one for each of us. I didn’t realize until then that the menu includes no desserts, which seemed strange. Given that the night was already a bit of a splurge, I would have probably shelled out a little more money for a nice cheesecake or some bread pudding.

Overall, my first experience at FIVE was enjoyable but not one that I’m dying to repeat (and if I do, I’m trying that panéed chicken). I’m glad Tuscaloosa has another nice restaurant option downtown, and a lot of people seem to really love it. For my taste and pocketbook, however, I can get a nice atmosphere and food that I like better for the same price or cheaper at a few other places in town (Carmelo and DePalma’s immediately spring to mind, and I’ll also be trying Epiphany soon).

[natalie]

FIVE is located at 2324 6th Street in downtown Tuscaloosa, a block east of the Bama Theatre (next to the Shirt Shop).

Monday-Wednesday: 5pm-11pm
Thursday-Saturday: 5pm-til
Sunday: 11am-3pm (brunch) & 5pm-9pm (dinner)

Catfish Heaven

Heaven isn’t too far away. If you travel on Greensboro Avenue, you get closer to it every day. It’s something of a dive and it isn’t in the glossiest part of town, but no matter what your friends might say we’ll find our way.

The late Jani Lane of Warrant penned much of the preceding paragraph for their song “Heaven.” It isn’t all that much of a stretch to think he was writing about Catfish Heaven, Tuscaloosa’s premier catfish shack. I want to say that it is located in an inconspicuous beige building in Tuscaloosa’s West End neighborhood, nearly underneath I-359. But it isn’t inconspicuous; it stands out for having the only fresh coat of paint in a block full of dilapidated housing, rusting train tracks, and abandoned service stations. There’s always a sort of charm to a business that succeeds despite adverse conditions, despite its own community politically privileging the other side of 15th Street. And Catfish Heaven does nothing but succeed.

You open the heavy metal door to find yourself already out of room to stand. People are in line ahead of you or waiting for their order at one of 5 or so tables. And it isn’t like there’d be any room if those people weren’t there. You walk into Catfish Heaven with the front counter immediately in your face. It’s a large glass-and-wire separating wall with two windows, the one on the right for ordering and the one on the left for picking up your order. You can see the kitchen staff through the glass, affixing breading to bird, applying fish to fryer. Industrial-sized buckets of house-made teas and lemonades balance precariously behind the cashier. Beside the register hang little packages of pork rinds and little plastic to-go boxes of homemade cakes.

The menu at Catfish Heaven is pretty straightforward: catfish filets and pan trout (aka whiting) filets, either in a combo plate, a 10-piece order, or a 20-piece order. You can order whole catfish as well. Sometimes they have tilapia. Sometimes they cook up some pork chops. And they sell a whole lot of hot wings, which you can order in increments of 10. But this ain’t Hot Wing Heaven. It’s Catfish Heaven, and the primary reason to come here is for the fish.

Each batch is fried up to-order. Catfish Heaven’s fry cooks don’t believe in making up a bunch of fish at once, letting them get cool and soggy, their flavors diminishing every minute. They don’t take the cost-effective approach. That’s for mere Earthlings. In Heaven, you will have to wait 15 or 20 minutes, but the personal care that each batch is fried with makes the time worth it.

Some filets come out straight and flat. Some are wound up on themselves in a curly loop. Others are like hunks of meat, like a baby’s fist. No matter the size or density, each piece of catfish is prepared the same way: fried in a cornmeal “batter” seasoned with salt, black pepper, and some other secret spices (I detect white pepper and a trace of singed brown sugar). These things are given individual attention so that no piece is overcooked. These are the least greasy catfish filets in town. No grease + tons of flavor = why eat anywhere else? Though these filets are smallish in size, they catch up to you in a hurry. No matter how hungry you are, a 10 piece order of catfish is going to fully satiate you.

If you’ve ever been to a proper Southern or Midwestern fish shack before then you know how critical hot sauce is to the whole enterprise. Catfish Heaven’s hot sauce, presumably made in-house, is one of Tuscaloosa’s absolute best condiments. The vinegar is not subtle in this sauce, but there’s a fairly robust tomato sweetness there too, which balances out the immensely piquant vinegar tartness. To say that this hot sauce compliments the fish would be underselling it.

Catfish Heaven likes tartness in their drinks, too. Their house-made pink lemonade, served from a tap attached to a giant white bucket, is seriously one of the top 10 beverages in Tuscaloosa. It’s fabulous. It fully embraces a cutting tartness, with a slightly-sweet finish. It has a thick mouthfeel relative to the Lipton or Minute Maid pink lemonades that come from soda fountains. I have to restrain myself from ordering multiple large cups full of the stuff.

It’s an unfortunate truth concerning Catfish Heaven that many UA students will likely never once eat there. It’s on the wrong side of 15th Street for them. It’s a place whose clientele is nearly exclusively black. Sadly, these things keep many undergrads from even hearing about Catfish Heaven’s existence, let alone actually eating there. I’m telling you to eat at Catfish Heaven. I’m telling you that you need to tell your friends to eat at Catfish Heaven. We’ve got a treasure of a fish shack here and it should be our civic duty to let people know about it.

[barry]

Catfish Heaven is located at 2502 21st Street, right off of Greensboro Avenue.

Monday-Saturday  11am-7pm

Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Every time my family visits the Alabama Gulf Coast, we set aside a night to travel back inland a ways toward the city of Foley. We make this trip so we can eat seafood at the Tin Top Restaurant in the small town of Bon Secour. The prices are higher than I prefer, but the quantity and quality of the food has always been worth the money and drive. Much to my pleasure (and my family’s jealousy), the Tin Top has opened a second location in our very own Tuscaloosa.

The Tin Top is located in the same space that Milagros used to occupy (RIP my beloved Conquistador wrap and sweet potato fries), and for those who remember Milagros, the interior atmosphere is largely the same. The slightly modern furniture, black table cloths, and free-standing fireplace make the place feel sophisticated without being stuffy. In keeping with the tradition of the original restaurant, a giant blackboard featuring the entire menu hangs on one wall, but hard copies of the menu are provided as well.

The dinner menu is extensive—with a number of specialty drinks, appetizers, seafood dinners, and desserts. Some of the entrees run as high as $ 25.99, but the etouffee, shrimp and grits, chicken alfredo, and Carribean jerk chicken provide cheaper alternatives ranging from $10.99-16.99. Also, several of the appetizers and entrees are available in smaller (and cheaper) portions, which I recommend taking advantage of. I ordered a bowl of lobster bisque and the regular-sized seafood stuff mushrooms appetizer as my meal and was overwhelmed by the amount and the richness of the food put in front me. I could have easily been satisfied with a cup of soup and the small appetizer (4 mushrooms instead of 6). Another solution to the price issue to come at lunch or for their “Early Bird” menu, which offers cheaper (and I’m guessing smaller) alternatives to the main menu (offered Tuesday-Friday from 4-6pm and Saturday from 11am-6pm).

The bisque was a nice, coarse consistency and had a great balance of flavors. It wasn’t as hot as I’d have preferred, but bisques don’t tend to hold up well so super hot temperatures, so perhaps it was for the best. It was far from cold and still very enjoyable. The mushrooms I ordered were stuffed with some combination of crab, shrimp, and lobster and absolutely smothered in a thick and rich lobster sauce. There was actually more sauce than mushroom, but it was easy enough to push the excess to the side, and I was otherwise pleased with the dish.

My dining companion ordered the full-sized Tin Top seafood platter and was equally daunted by amount of food he wound up with: what had to be an entire fried fish, plenty of jumbo shrimp, a crab cake, two hushpuppies, and two sides (cheese grits and lima beans with andouille sausage in his case), all of which he compliment but very few of which he was able to finish off. I should note that the menu said the platter came with oysters, not hushpuppies, but we didn’t bother to inquire since we were already buried in food. It’d be worth asking the server when you order if you want to make sure you get your oysters with that platter.

I walked into the restaurant with the intent of saving room for dessert—they offer crème brulee and several varieties of bread pudding as well as a few pies, but by the time I’d finished my bisque and mushrooms, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for any more food. We already had enough leftover fish and mushrooms for one of us to take home and eat for lunch the next day. I’ll have to go in with a plan to order only drinks and dessert in order to save enough room for that crème brulee.

Legitimate seafood restaurants are hard to find in Tuscaloosa, but the Tin Top offers an authentic experience—the same experience that makes their Bon Secour location worth driving 20 miles for. Overall, Tin Top isn’t somewhere I can afford to eat all the time, but when I go, I know I’m going to get what I paid for.

[natalie]

The Tin Top Restaurant and Oyster Bar is located at 4851 Rice Mine Road NE Suite #460 in the Publix shopping center at North River.

From what I understand, the hours/menu operate according to this schedule:
Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Thursday: 4-9pm (early bird until 6 and dinner)
Friday: 4-10pm (early bird until 6 and dinner)
Saturday: 11am-10pm (early bird all day, lunch, and dinner)
Sun: 11am-2pm (lunch and brunch)