In an era when consumers are focused on local and seasonal ingredients, seafood is no exception to the craze. Better access to quality seafood is becoming a trend, one we hope is here to stay. Restaurateur Charles Morgan, however, has been toeing that line for more than 35 years. He opened his first restaurant, Harbor Docks, on the water’s edge in Destin in 1979 and has been expanding his little restaurant group one kitchen at a time. Charles and his team are now feeding Mobilians Gulf-to-plate cuisine at their most recent opening, Chuck’s Fish on Dauphin Street downtown.
The experience of a meal at Chuck’s is an interesting juxtaposition of old and new. Fresh ingredients, bold flavor combinations and global menu inspirations are up-to-the-minute. What’s vintage is its location in a historic building full of crumbling exposed brick and old fireplaces. The structure, built in 1865, was home to a drugstore, a saloon, a fruit and oyster company and more during its more vibrant years. A fire in 2005 left the interior in ruins, so when local contractor and developer Taylor Atchison and his father, Tony, acquired it, they had a blank canvas with good antique bones to work with.
Thanks to the age of the building, Chuck’s boasts high ceilings and lots of tall windows, lending fantastic ambience. The two-story restaurant features period brass chandeliers and gilded sconces over a large wooden bar with glass-front cabinets and reclaimed doors. But in the middle of all this history, a bold, modern red staircase winds through the heart of the space, and a sleek sushi bar holds court upstairs. The colors are clean and neutral, and the upstairs deck is refreshing.
The menu is a good mix of simply prepared Gulf catch, creative Pacific-inspired dishes and interesting sushi. Yoshi Eddings, who has been with Charles’ team for more than 25 years, created the sushi menu with both authentic Japanese items from her country of birth as well as creative modern rolls that every Southerner will love.
The mantra at Chuck’s is “make people happy first.” Each staff member goes through a lengthy training so that they are knowledgeable about the seafood, wines and sakes, and this goes a long way toward helping the customer have the best experience. When diners ask questions about the source of their seafood, there is always a good answer: It was caught on one of Charles’ two commercial boats in Destin and driven directly over to Mobile. From boat to kitchen to plate in no time flat. That’s how I like my fish, too.
On the Menu
The “Back Down” Roll
Just like a fishing boat backs down the engines when a fish is on the line, you will want to pull up and get to work on this sushi roll. It’s easy to please with shrimp tempura, cream cheese and spicy sauce. The whole thing is topped with slices of raw tuna, avocado and a big pile of crabstick salad (maybe not local, but tasty nonetheless).
Chuck’s version of firecracker shrimp, above right, is completely addictive. It’s a nice, large portion of panko-fried shrimp tossed in a special sauce, served atop Asian slaw in an edible spring roll wrapper bowl. It’s sweet, spicy, salty and fried, with a creamy crunchy bite of slaw.
This Hawaiian dish is popping up on hip menus across the country, and Chuck’s has its own delicious version, above left. Fresh raw tuna and avocado are tossed in a soy sauce reduction accented with lemon zest and sesame oil. It’s piled atop a base of rice and capped with seaweed salad, tobiko (flying fish roe), radish sprouts and sesame seeds.
Miso-Glazed Fresh Catch
In-season triggerfish is pan-seared in a delicate miso glaze that doesn’t overwhelm the fillet, letting the fish be the star. Head Chef Jarod Little’s preparation changes daily based on local produce availability, but this dish featured roasted local beets and a basmati pilaf.
Chuck’s Fish • 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. M – Th, 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. F – S
551 Dauphin St. • Average entree price $27, average sushi price $11
text by Maggie Lacey • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau