Some diners prefer fried fish with a crunchy coating.
Others prefer the puffy texture of a beer batter.
At the newly reopened Johnny’s Seafood and Bistro, diners get both: a quick dunk in a beer batter followed by a coating of bread crumbs. The result is a crispy jacket with a delicate interior. I’m a fan.
That Foss waterway restaurant has become a new favorite. It’s not fancy. It’s not cutting edge. But it’s reliably good, and easy prices top out at $14.95. It also comes with a remarkable waterside view of Tacoma’s working Foss waterfront.
For nearly four decades, Johnny’s Seafood has been a retail seafood shop on Dock Street where shoppers could pick up fresh salmon or scallops, or eat a takeout crab cocktail at the picnic tables. A remodel shuttered Johnny’s earlier this year, but it reopened in May with a bistro sporting a patio dining room and seating inside.
The casual eatery echoes the fairly-priced eateries nearby – Choripan by Asado at the Museum of Glass, and Social Bar and Grill, which also makes a knock-out rock fish and chips.
So about those Johnny’s fish and chips. They’re worth a trip, especially at $10.95 for cod and $14.95 for halibut – almost half of what some Ruston Way restaurants are charging. Johnny’s can keep prices low because it doubles as a seafood market with a well-stocked inventory, said executive chef and bistro manager Michael Fenton, an Art Institute of Seattle culinary graduate who most recently cooked at the now-closed Lobster Shop at Dash Point (the Ruston location remains open).
Fenton noted the perfect intersection of batter and crunch on the fried fish was developed in a single day where the entire kitchen staff blew through dozens of methods – for eight full hours.
“We did a fresh beer batter. We did a panko breading, a cornmeal breading. We ground up our own bread for breading. We tried different beers, different seasoning in the batter, different seasoning in the dry mixture in the bread crumbs,” said Fenton. “To be honest with you, it was more fish than I could eat in a week.”
The method they settled on was a beer batter made with a Northwest brew (Fenton’s keeping the brewery a secret for now), followed by a dunk in finely ground bread crumbs.
The result is a crunchy (but not too crunchy) jacket that breaks to a lacy-textured beer batter and flaky fish that remains sturdy even after repeated dipping in the remoulade, heavy on the dill. When the bistro opened, it was using two methods, preparing its cod with breading and halibut with beer batter. Fenton has since switched to the batter-bread crumb method for both kinds of fish, so ignore those old menu descriptions.
Fish and chips at Johnny’s are served with shoestring fries – the kind you must jam a handful of into your mouth to get that satisfying potato fix. A tip – eat the fries first; the lack of surface area means they cool quickly.
Service: The restaurant opened with a seat-yourself protocol, which was chaos on my earliest of three visits because disorganized servers made the meal painfully slow. Shortly after opening, the restaurant switched to hosted seating, and it’s a huge improvement. Service was professional and friendly otherwise.
Must order: The oyster po’ boy ($8.95) came with just-plucked-from-the-sea oysters lightly breaded and fried. The cioppino ($11.95) proved a delicious seafood stew, loaded with crab, shrimp, salmon, clams and mussels. The crab and bay shrimp Louie salad ($13.95) was topped with a heavy tangle of crab, but you might ask for more dressing, as we did.
Skip: The grilled salmon sandwich ($13.95) favored bread over salmon and the kitchen forgot the pesto. The shrimp tacos ($10.95) tasted flat and dry, in need of more pineapple salsa – and more crunch.
And, yes, they still have crab cocktail – and a nicer dining room to enjoy it in.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.
Johnny’s Seafood and Bistro
Where: 1199 Dock St., Tacoma; 253-627-2158
Mistaken identity: Don’t let your GPS send you to Johnny’s Dock, that’s a different restaurant at 1900 E. D St. Johnny’s Seafood and Bistro is at 1199 Dock St. The businesses have operated in their locations since 1977 and 1975. Both companies predate their current locations, though, and operated at various locations throughout Tacoma.
Serving: Lunch and dinner daily. Cafe bistro fare, heavy on seafood; entree prices, $8.95-$14.95.
Wine and beer: Two Northwest beers on tap. Nine wines by the glass, $8 each.
Tip: Not only is Johnny’s a bistro, it’s a seafood counter and meat market.
Forecast: Positive. Ideal lunch or fish-and-chips destination. One of the busiest views on Tacoma’s working waterfront.
More fish and chips
I’ve been on an 18-month quest to find the best fish and chips for News Tribune reader Don Peterson.
Here are installments in my fish and chips series:
Laura’s Bayview, a St. Helens neighborhood eatery, topped my list of reader recommendations. I agreed with readers. Among the best in the area.
Here’s a summary of fast-food style fish and chips destinations, including Steamers at Titlow; Fishtales Bistro inside Northern Fish and Fish House Café in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
Have you ever been to Paya Thai for fish and chips? You need to get there. Ignore the name. It’s not a Thai restaurant, it’s a fish and chips stand inside Freighthouse Square.
Here’s a review of Oliver’s Fish and Chips, in Graham, a walk-in restaurant focused solely on fish and chips.