Don't let the rustic exterior of The Fish House fool you, because the seafood at this little Ruskin shack is some of the best you'll find anywhere.
Yes, it's no frills — you order at a tiny window, they call your number and you carry your food on a tray to a nearby picnic table. But we thought that made it more cool, especially after laughing with the enthusiastic staff taking our orders.
One thing Fish House newbies need to know right off the bat is that it's only open Thursday through Saturday, and it's often packed.
We learned the hard way how popular this eatery is with locals. Our first meal was on a Saturday night, and they had run out of oysters, grouper and every single homemade dessert. Bummer.
We altered our selection at the window and were not disappointed.
We started with the fried green tomatoes ($3.89), thinly sliced with just the right amount of batter and seasoning. Some in our party declared them the best they've eaten. Even the kids gobbled them up.
The croquie — their take on the deviled crab — is another good starter ($2.59). It was full of meat, not fillers. We took half of it home and heated it up in the oven, added a little hot sauce and it was just as good the second time.
All the seafood at The Fish House is lightly breaded and deep-fried, but even the healthy eaters among our group agreed how light everything tasted.
The fried shrimp dinner ($10.19 or $13.49) was extremely tender and a good size. The scallops ($10.19) were likewise very light and tender. The white fish dinner ($9.19) was flaky and not at all fishy tasting.
Can't decide? Try the Captain's Dinner ($13.49) for a sample of everything: fish, shrimp, oysters and clam strips or Lee's Tugboat ($13.49) for a full order of fish, half an order of shrimp and a croquie.
Dinners come with two sides, with choices including baked beans, cole slaw, french fries and our favorite, cheese grits.
A dinner companion who is generally not a fan of coleslaw found it to be nicely spiced, fresh and a good complement to the seafood. The cheese grits were creamy, salty and warm.
The Fish House is BYOB. We ate our seafood dinner under a full moon with a bottle of chilled white wine and beer we brought. You might want to bring glasses; the only cups at The Fish House are plastic foam.
Our next meal was lunch on a Saturday, figuring if we got there before dinner we'd get to try some of the things we missed out on the previous visit.
We bundled up on a cold afternoon and stood in line with about 15 others when a Fish House employee came up to the blackboard by the menu and wrote: "Sorry sold out of fried green tomatoes, desserts." Everyone in line playfully booed.
This time we started with the smoked fish spread, a creamy dip — again not too fishy — with finely cut veggies.
We tried the grouper, which was fresh and lightly breaded; there was no skimping on the fish. The dinner had numerous large nuggets, and the grouper was hanging over the bun on the sandwich (both are market price). Although the grouper was delicious, the bun was standard, so opt for the dinner.
The grandma in our group, a self-proclaimed catfish connoisseur, gave the catfish dinner ($9.19) a thumbs up.
We lucked out and got the last homemade dessert, a piece of coconut pie. The center was a creamy and smooth pudding with little bits of coconut and a meringue-like topping. It was rich — and perfect for sharing. We'd love to try the peanut butter or Key lime pie.
The kids menu is pretty much small portions of the adult menu. The dinners include one side and a beverage. My kids got adventurous the second time and instead of chicken tenders opted for the white fish dinner, which they preferred.
The Fish House
Bottom line: Fresh, lightly fried seafood eaten outdoors at picnic tables
Where: 1902 W. Shell Point Road, Ruskin
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 a.m. Thursday-Saturday
Credit cards: All major
Children's menu: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: $9.19-$16.85 dinner; $4.65-$5.69 sandwiches
Contact: (813) 641-9451