For the uninitiated, the accent at English Dockside West might be surprising. It's not British, but a smooth, undulating drawl that ebbs and flows like waves on a calm sea.
That's because English has nothing to do with Britannia; it's the surname of the owners, Thomas and Stephanie, who hail from Alabama.
Jason, who was our server, is Thomas English's nephew, and his pride in his family roots and his uncle's restaurant are evident at every turn. He was quick to detail menu items and offer suggestions, all in his Southern intonation.
We'd heard about issues with long waits, but unwittingly selected a quiet night to dine. Jason said the place hops Wednesdays through Saturdays and not so much Mondays and Tuesdays. I had no issues having undivided attention and food arriving in a timely manner. In fact, our entrees arrived before we had finished the appetizers, which may have been a little too fast.
Jason suggested the clam chowder ($6) and the Blue Crab Gumbo ($6) to start. Spice levels are offered for the latter: mild, medium and hot. My husband ordered mild and one of our sons ordered medium. I didn't taste much difference between the two, but my husband and son were both pleased with the combination of crab, okra, corn and rice.
I was happier still with the chowder. It's creamy like the New England version, but seasoned with Thomas English's secret blend of spices, which provide a nice kick. The chowder is served in a bread bowl and the bread is difficult to cut or tear off; in truth, the soup itself is all that matters.
I was undecided between the Chicken and Waffles ($12), a combination I can't help but enjoy for its contrasting textures and complementary flavors, or the Smothered Shrimp and Rice ($16). The menu identifies this as "Jasmine's Favorite," which left me with two questions: What's smothering the shrimp and who's Jasmine?
She's a daughter of the owners (two additional entrees are identified as favorites of their other two children), and it's a seasoned blue crab gravy that smothers the rice. I wouldn't have minded a bit more of the sauce. It provided a creamy suggestion of spice: nothing that lashes the tongue. Skewered succulent shrimp - again with the dark red secret blend of spices - are served on the bed of rice. A slice of toasted bread sprinkled with the seasoning completes the plate. This is a satisfying fusion of flavors. There's definitely paprika, which accounts for the color, and pepper, which provides some pungency, but I'd be guessing if I tried to discern all the components of the well-kept secret.
It's difficult to dine at a seafood place and not sample the fish and chips ($16), and I am glad we did. Cod is dipped in beer batter before frying for a crispy crust that is almost good enough to eat without the fish. Almost. Homemade french fries and sweet coleslaw complete the plate. Ketchup and malt vinegar, bearing the English Dockside name, are served as condiments.
English Dockside has eight po'boy options on the menu ranging from crawfish to blue crab, from New York steak to Krab. A close relative is the Lobster Roll ($16), which we tried. A substantial amount of lobster meat is sandwiched between two slices of a hoagie bun that's been toasted and slathered with house-made remoulade. It, too, is served with french fries.
Thomas English has been putting his spin on Southern seafood favorites locally since 2003. Until recently English Dockside was located in a strip mall on the city's east side. Jason said customers asked his uncle to consider a west side location. He opened on West Colorado Avenue last summer and ran two restaurants for several months before closing the original to focus on the new, larger locale.
An all-you-can-eat fish fry ($14) is offered Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. Although the emphasis is on fried seafood, Jason emphasized, "We'll cook the food however you like it." This includes grilled and blackened. Thomas English sells bottles of his secret seasonings, along with tartar sauce, hot sauce and barbecue sauce. Burgers, steak and ribs are available for nonseafood diners.
Even if we had experienced a wait, I would have enjoyed the meal. The smooth sounds of the South and fresh fish from the sea are hard not to appreciate.