Eating at Fresh Fresh Seafood is an unusual experience. The restaurant, on York Road in Towson, is small, and the food is slow to arrive, but everything is made from scratch by owners Darlene and Ricky Parker.
As Darlene explains, "We just can't let food go out any old way." It has to be just right.
Darlene greets you at the door and escorts you to one of several small tables already decked out with plastic utensils and foam cups. You can bring your own wine or beer, and she'll provide extra foam cups for them.
Then she disappears. As you wait, you look around. There's a takeout counter by the back door, and a downstairs room that can hold as many as 25 for parties. Sea-themed drawings and photos line the walls. The floors are worn linoleum. A fluorescent light flickers above your table. There's no fishy smell. The place is immaculate.
Eventually, Darlene returns with sliced sourdough bread, tangy, soft and warm from the oven. It's homemade, she'll later explain, and the leavened dough takes about eight minutes to bake.
Then you order, or try to. The Parkers purchase their seafood daily, and their laminated menu doesn't tell the whole story. You want oysters, but Darlene says the Maryland season is over. Crab soup isn't available, but seafood gumbo is.
Tonight, the $17.95 seafood platter has fried shrimp, steamed shrimp, scallops, whitefish, steakfish, a crab cake and a choice of two sides. You choose collard greens and mac and cheese from a list that includes hush puppies, potato salad, cole slaw and fries.
Your health-conscious dining companion orders a rotisserie chicken plate, which costs all of five bucks, including two sides. He keeps the virtue going with a baked potato and salad, then blows it by ordering a side of fried clams.
You wait. When Darlene comes by, you praise the music, and she tells you it's Eric Bibb. She brings a few CDs to your table. You sit some more. A half hour after the bread, the soup and clams arrive.
The soup is delicious, though you can't imagine why it took so long. It's got a spicy tomato base, made thick with chunks of okra, and it's loaded with crab and shrimp.
The clams, on the other hand, are little more than rubbery necks overshadowed by their hot, crisp and slightly salty coating.
More waiting. After you've been seated almost an hour, the salad arrives -- crisp iceberg, slices of decent tomato, rounds of cucumber, rings of sweet onion and slivers of carrot, along with little tubs of the requested ranch dressing. Darlene brings extra plates so you can share.
More waiting. The kitchen is busy with a takeout order. Nearly an hour and a half after you arrive, the main courses appear. The chicken breast is steaming hot, with a flavorful deep burgundy coating. It's slightly dry, though, cooked perhaps two minutes too long.
Fried and steamed delicacies overflow the foam plate of your seafood platter. You dig into the whiting and find snow-white flaky flesh inside that great crispy, salty batter. Steakfish, which has thicker meat and a bone in the middle, is just as expertly cooked.
The crab cake is filler-free, with a very rich mayo and mustard binding. Fried scallops are sweet and meaty, butterflied tail-on fried shrimp are tender, and steamed shrimp are coated in Old Bay. And then there are the sides: a large container of real macaroni and cheese, the kind with gooey gobs of cheese clinging to the elbow noodles; and another of mildly flavored collard greens.
Every now and then, Darlene walks by to see how you're doing. Each time, she commands, "Continue to eat and enjoy."
You're stuffed, but you ask about dessert anyway. The chocolate and coconut cakes, both made by Darlene, are gone. Sometimes there's banana pudding or apple cobbler, but tonight, there's chocolate ice cream, if you want. You don't.
The bill comes to $33.55. Darlene actually thanks you for leaving a tip. As I said, eating at Fresh Fresh Seafood is an unusual experience.
Fresh Fresh Sea food
Where: 507 York Road, Towson
Call: 410-821-FISH (3474)
Open: Lunch and dinner daily, sometimes closes early on Sunday, so reservations suggested
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers $2.75-$7, entrees $4.25-$17.95