It is easy to find fish and chips in Dallas — bad fish and chips, that is. Look for surrogate fish (including sewer fish like tilapia), soggy batter, frozen store-bought fries and not a drop of malt vinegar in the house. Fortunately, if you don’t want that, there is TJ’s Seafood Market. With two locations, one on the southern perimeter of Highland Park in the happening Oak Lawn neighborhood (easiest for out-of-town visitors if you are coming from downtown or flying from Love Field) and the other in the Preston Forest area at Preston and Royal (easiest for north Dallas, Plano, and Frisco visitors), TJ’s is accessible from most of town.
Tuesday night, just Tuesday night, is Fish & Chip night so if your reason for coming to town is open heart surgery, a funeral, or as an NTSB air crash inspector, do the prudent thing and make it happen to include a Tuesday night. We went to the Oak Lawn location but both offer this menu special.
The restaurant makes little attempt to hide its location in a (rapidly gentrifying) strip mall. The decor might be described as comfortable without being lavish. About a dozen tables occupy the eat-in space (plus three outside on the narrow patio). At the innermost end is a refrigerated display case of fish for sale (T.J’s started as a market) which is worth your inspection. T.J.s’ sends out a weekly newsletter on their catch of the week, with recipes and the like. In fact, the fastidious attention to seafood matches the fastidious attention to cheese at Scardello, almost across the street. If it gets any more obsessive someone will label this as the ‘anorak district’. Personally, in a world where ‘couldn’t care less’ is commonplace, I admire this love of product.
We started with a glass of Ladoucette Sauvignon Blanc ($13) from the Pouilly Fumé area of the Loire and Lenz Moser Grüner Veltliner ($9) from Austria. That offering kind of tells you where the wine list is coming from. You can just envisage the principals, sitting down with some wine representatives, and discussing “what wine goes best with our food?” They didn’t worry if the wine was a household name, they invited their customers to move to a better household. And those prices, by the way, are very reasonable for Dallas (where wines are expensive in restaurants).
We both ordered fish and chips ($16), despite the range of choice on the menu, the only difference was that I paid $3 for truffle fries. The reason for sticking to the line is that this is a review for fish and chip fundamentalists and I don’t care if the tuna has 50 percent mercury content or the oysters are mainly red tide. If the fish and chips are good, I will return and I will spread the word.
Our fish and chips arrived. It was a basket filled with small dice fries (that’s ¼ inch across. On the metric system I think it’s a hectare). Two battered fillets of cod pointed submissively towards us. On the side were two small pots, one with tomato ketchup (for people who failed their GED) and one with tartare sauce (for people who think that the cry ‘Aprés moi les légumes!’ is funny). Also offered, and accepted, is malt vinegar.
The fries (aka chips) are superb. Bite one in half and starch positively blossoms out of the other half. The main thing is the contrast between the puffy soft textures of the center with the ‘skin’ of crisp exterior, but these fries also have a sweet and earthy flavor. The best part of the dish is, as it should be, the fish. Battered superbly to crispness without a hint of sogginess and made from genuine cod, God’s fish in fish and chip ecclesiastical circles. It is divine. Executive chef Nick Harrison shall be promoted to Mother Superior posthaste. Cod made the dish because of a combination of its huge flakes, which should remain gelatinous throughout the cooking process, and its distinct, earthy, sweet flavor.
TJ’s preparation reveres the fish, which is something I have not found with fish and chips elsewhere in town.
We were offered dessert by Hannah, our informed and friendly waitress, but we declined on account of being already full. The fish and chips at TJ’s is superior, recommended, and a good meal in its own right.