You know that Chinese takeout place around the corner from your house that’s clearly in violation of some sort of health code, but you’ve never found a cockroach in the food so you continue to order from them anyway?
Well, right around the corner from that there’s probably an equally sketchy seafood joint that you’ve never dared venture into. How bad could it really be?
From hole-in-the-wall takeout joints in North Philly to slightly larger, seemingly more sanitary establishments in West Philly, PW scoured the city in search of some good, cheap seafood. And despite the unsolicited health warnings we heard from numerous individuals, we didn’t get sick once.
Bottom of the Sea
327 S. 52nd St.
Other locations: 4142 Lancaster Ave.; 10 N. Ninth St., Darby
Order: Dungeness crab cluster and potato salad, $8.50
Open till 1 a.m during the week and till 3 a.m on Friday and Saturday,* this is a great place to grab some late-night takeout or simply check the score of the Sixers game. Its exterior may be less than inviting, but you’ll feel slightly better once you see Bottom of the Sea is endorsed by the likes of Bill Cosby and Beanie Sigel, whose pictures with the owner dot the walls. Their menu boasts more than 30 different platters and combos, most under $20. The crab cluster side proved to be a decent meal by itself, despite being a tad over Old Bay seasoned. Their “special patented Down the Bottom Garlic Butter Sauce” is actually real garlic and butter, as simple as it is tasty. Bottom of the Sea boasts being “the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the tri-state area.” We don’t know about that, but they do have three locations in town.
906 N. Broad St.
Order: Soft-shell crab platter with veggies, fries and a biscuit, $8.80
You’d think the fishy odor permeating the air within a 20-foot radius of this place would scare people off. Nope—there’s a line reaching the door every night of the week. They also happen to have 12 locations across the Delaware Valley. Their food is OK, and definitely tastes better than it smells. But still, there’s no explaining the crowds. We ordered New England clam chowder, but were served Manhattan instead. Or, come to think of it, it may have been minestrone. It wasn’t very clammy. Skip it, but make sure you get a slushie (we strongly recommend the strawberry and piña colada mix).
Mr. Hook Fish & Chicken
206 S. 52nd St.
Order: Dungeness crab platter with New Zealand mussels, pasta, broccoli and corn, $13.99
For less than $15, Mr. Hook will serve you up one hell of a meal. In addition to a rather generous helping of pasta and mussels, we spent at least a half hour digging into the delicious, massive crab. The corn on the cob may come straight out of a microwave, but that’s nothing a little butter can’t fix. The fried catfish platter exceeds expectations, too. Mr. Hook is one of the few take-out/delivery jawns with tables. We recommend you dine in, and admire the minimalist interior design. Mr. Hook doesn’t take credit cards. They do however, as noted several times on the menu, take Access cards.
901 W. Susquehanna Ave.
Order: Oyster platter, fries and macaroni salad, $7
This North Philly takeout only spot has been in business for 70 years. Yet, with a couple of bullet/rock-size holes in its weatherworn sign and a large portrait of John F. Kennedy propped up against the off-colored walls, it doesn’t look a day over 65. They make their own hand-cut fries daily, which, if cut a little larger and fried a few extra minutes, might be worth writing home about. Everything on the small menu is fried. We decided to try the oysters. A bit slimy, but perfectly breaded. The staff was friendly and it’s a big hit with the locals, both young and old.
4820 Spruce St.
Order: Black mussels, $6.99
Baltimore Crab & Seafood is half a block away, but J&P is more inviting. (The absence of bulletproof glass, perhaps?) Decked out with nautical decor along with a huge underwater mural and a canoe hanging from the ceiling, the spacious J&P makes many of the other seafood spots on this crawl look like crack dens in comparison. Not wanting to commit to a big platter, we ordered two appetizers and wound up paying almost as much. The single soft-shell crab definitely wasn’t worth $5.25. The mussels, on the other hand, were fantastic. Their garlic butter sauce is infused with a few other seasonings, giving it a spicy kick. Biggest con: With no bathroom and only three tables barely big enough to fit a platter on, you’re forced to eat elsewhere. Biggest pro: At no extra cost, a creepy delivery guy will undress you with his eyes the entire time you’re there.
Dinner with Luke Palladino