EDITOR'S NOTE: "Stop Where the Parking Lot's Full" is a column that appears in each issue of Sandlapper Magazine, featuring wonderful dining venues across the Palmetto State. Here's an example. If you find it interesting, you may want to peruse our back issue listings for information about previous columns.
Contrary to common impressions, there is a downtown in Myrtle Beach. In the middle of it is a place where locals go to read the paper, talk among themselves and get a fresh fish sandwich cheap. It's Mr. Fish Seafood Grill, Raw Bar and Market, a tucked-away place in Myrtle Beach's confusing downtown district. Don't look for any pink flamingos here.
"There's no pretension," said owner Ted Hammerman, or "Mr. Fish." He looked at my plate - a blackened triggerfish sandwich with slaw and roasted potatoes for $5.99. "Restaurants in Myrtle Beach would charge $18 for that."
Ted, son of a chicken farmer, opened Mr. Fish in January 1996 as an extension of his wholesale fish market. Triple A has named it one of the 15 best new Strand restaurants. Besides sushi, fish stew and grouper "jaw-daddys," it has interesting soups: black bean and crab, crab and cauliflower. "This is not an ordinary squat-and-gobble or chat-and-chew," Ted said.
Not hardly. Though casual in decor - everybody sits at a counter and eats on Styrofoam plates - Mr. Fish offers a wonderment of seafood in a number of ways. Depending on the season, you can get grouper, tuna, flounder, mahi mahi, triggerfish and salmon, and you can get it fried, grilled, saut‚ed, jerked, blackened, barbecued or broiled. As cook Jay Madden put it, "For $5, anything you want, any way you want it."
So it's no surprise locals have found it and made it theirs. "Yep, 12:15. Here they come," said Charles Moody, watching the first of the lunch crowd come in. "We get strictly locals: print shop owners, doctors, lawyers - lots of lawyers. The mayor pops in sometimes. We probably don't do 10 percent tourist business, at the most."
But if tourists some-how find it, they usually come back, Ted said. "Golfers come here every night. Our beer's only a buck and a half, regardless. There's no such thing as happy hour."
Mr. Fish's menu changes every day, which keeps the cooks from getting bored, Charles said. He trained at Johnson & Wales before working at Kiawah Island and country clubs, and he said Mr. Fish is much harder. He and Ted create the recipes, among them a fiery "Turbo Tartar" and "Tuna Lisa." Named after his wife, Lisa Sauce is Dijon, soy, garlic, black pepper, lime, cilantro and "a little bit of Chardonnay," Ted said. Also on the menu: "Mahi Mahi Yo Mama" when available, and varieties of shellfish all the time.
With its black-and-white checkerboard floor and bright green-and-orange walls, Mr. Fish seems like an old-time grocery and frat bar put together. At one counter, you can watch the cooks - all guys - prepare fish. Behind swinging doors in the back is the fish market, where Ted sells to 60 percent of area restaurants wholesale. If the cooks aren't too busy, they'll fix your own catch.
"They're really providing a service," said Rosanne Howard, who covers food and restaurants for The Sun News. "You can get fresh fish here that you'd pay $22 for somewhere else."
Classy food in casual surroundings is always a winner - particularly when it's affordable. "People come in here and get a glass of wine and grouper and not worry about dressing up," Charles said. Ted added, "Two people under $20? That's pretty strong."
Mr. Fish, 919 Broadway, Myrtle Beach; (803) 946-6869. 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Reservations accepted. Smoking okay. You can visit Mr. Fish on the internet, too. Check them out!! www.mrfish.com