Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
UPTOWN: Is Chuck’s Fish (220 W. Broad St. 706-395-6611) yet another Alabama encroachment upon the Classic City? It is, indeed, and it’s even out of Tuscaloosa, which might make a difference for you. Owned by the same restaurant group that operates Five Bar, the American Lunch food truck and a whole bunch of places that haven’t made it here yet, it’s surprisingly ritzy for being located in the former Greyhound station. The interior has been redone pretty well, with some attention paid to the good bones of the building and a whole lot of fancy light fixtures. It is quickly evident that Chuck’s is not a quick-service fish shack. The tables are largely populated by the golf-shirt set, partially because they can afford to eat there. It’s not hard to spend $100, or close to it, per person, depending on your appetite and how many swanky cocktails you consume.
How’s the food? It’s pretty good, but not super adventurous or trendy. Call it the flip side of Seabear, which is still underpriced for how consistently good it is. Fish of the day is market priced, and you could end up with a couple of options. You can then pick from a few different preparations, including one with somewhat soupy artichokes and a rice side that’s billed as risotto but definitely isn’t. (It does have a nice, subtle, tea-like floral taste to it, though.) Other options are “bronzed”—defined as “lightly blackened,” but more like browned in a pan—with a light sprinkling of roasted corn relish and a well-fried grits cake, grilled with lemon-caper cream and rice pilaf, sautéed with tarragon cream and dirty rice, or “parmadine” with crab, parmesan and roasted almonds. Expect to pay between $30–$40 for a nice piece of fish—e.g., tilefish or grouper, nothing super exotic, everything from Destin, FL—well cooked, that could use a slightly heavier hand with the seasoning, and a vegetable of the day.
Nothing that comes out of the kitchen is world-rocking, but everything is competent. Scallops are sweet and meaty. There are non-fish options, too, but they seem beside the point. Among the appetizers, the kimchi brussels sprouts are good stuff: halved, seared—not crispy, despite their description as “flash fried”—and lightly dressed with a cilantro aioli, lardons hiding here and there. They’re an example of appropriate restraint, not overpowering a vegetable that has plenty of flavor on its own with a newly and temporarily hip ingredient. The crispy oysters may not be worth $17, but they’re similarly well crafted, with the promised “soy glaze drizzle” thankfully barely perceptible and the housemade hot sauce better than expected.
There is also a sushi bar, as at Five Bar, but this one has significantly more choices. If you’re looking to continue in the vein of the restaurant’s strengths, you could get the “Hey Baby” roll, which incorporates fried fish of the day into the middle of a roll so wide in diameter it can be hard to get your jaws around it. It may be too large, but it’s also not too complicated, and it doesn’t rely on mayo and sugar. The “Black Dragon,” with soft-shell crab, green onions, cucumber, spicy sauce, eel, avocado and a sweet soy reduction, is undermined by the soy reduction, which prevents you from tasting the naturally sweet crab.
The bar does some nice cocktails, including the Greyhound (Belle Isle ruby red moonshine, lime, grapefruit oleo, grapefruit juice) and the Palomino (Camarena silver tequila, lime, Stiegl grapefruit radler, Tajin rim), both of which play on the Paloma. There are things to explore there, and the recipes are people-pleasing, not aggressively bitter. Are your parents in town? Maybe you should let them take you. Chuck’s is open 4–10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Park on the street or in one of the downtown decks.
DOWNTOWN(ISH): Lickin’ Chicken (377 Oak St., 706-850-6722), in the former Church’s, is a world removed from Chuck’s. It doesn’t even have a dining room. You can order and sit in one of the few chairs to wait in a space that has been cutened up, or you can drive through. But it, too, is a small chain filling a niche.
Want a fast lunch with a few pieces of fried tilapia, some french fries, a hyper-sweet strawberry lemonade and maybe one of the giant brownies the restaurant makes? You can get it in a hurry and not spend too much. The restaurant’s rice, full of vegetables and what looks like but almost certainly isn’t quinoa, is tasty and feels healthy. The fried okra is tasty and definitely does not feel healthy. There are wings in various flavors (smallish, fine), chicken tenders (smallish, not that good), sandwiches, salads, combo meals for families, strawberry shortcake that doesn’t feel corporate and salads, should you need some roughage.
Lickin’ Chicken ain’t fancy, but not everything needs to be. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. and Sunday from 12–8 p.m., and it doesn’t serve booze.