Friday, August 21, 2015

Birmingham's Greek Heritage Shines at The Fish Market Downtown

Between 1901 and 1910, 160,000 Greeks immigrated into the United States. Thankfully, many of them ended up in Birmingham, giving rise to one of the most treasured contributions to the city's culinary history. As difficult as it is to imagine a population unfamiliar with bananas, that is exactly what Birmingham was at the turn of the 20th century. The Greeks were the first to import bananas into the Magic City and introduce the sweet tropical treat to the citizens of Birmingham. But they didn't stop there. Greek immigrants were the brains and chefs behind some of Birmingham's most beloved restaurants. From hot dog stands like Gus's Hot Dogs and Pete's Famous Hot Dogs to white tablecloth fine dining establishments like The Bright Star and John's, the Greeks have writ large when it comes to serving fine food in Alabama. 

One of the most beloved of Birmingham's Greek restaurants is The Fish Market in Downtown Birmingham. The Fish Market is way more than a restaurant. It is also a specialty market for some of chef/owner George Sarris' own products, such as his personal brand of extra virgin olive oil he imports from his native Greece. It is also a true fish market, selling fresh fish and shellfish for customers to take home.


The Fish Market moved to their current location after many years in an older, smaller building on the other side of the block. Now the restaurant has full-service seating, but many people still line up at the bar to place their orders. There are two main dining rooms as well as outdoor seating.


On a recent trip to Birmingham, we stopped by The Fish Market for an early dinner. We started with a salmon spread, smoked in house and served with torn lettuce, olives, tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers and pita chips. It was delicious! 


My brother-in-law, Tim, couldn't resist the dark, rich gumbo. He let me have a taste. It was delicious and hearty, without being overpowering. 


One of our favorite dishes at The Fish Market is Athenian Snapper, which is a red snapper filet, seasoned with Greek herbs and cooked with tomatoes, onions and olives. On this last visit, I was sorely tempted to order this dish, but my wish to try something different prevailed, sort of! I really wanted oysters. Then I noticed a combo plate where I could choose two different seafood options, so I chose the oysters with a piece of grilled red snapper. It wasn't Athenian snapper, but it was a good compromise. As always, the fish was expertly cooked and perfectly seasoned. The fried oysters were amazing, lightly battered in cornmeal and not greasy at all! I got coleslaw and black eyed peas for sides, both delicious. Hush puppies came along for the ride, but I had too many other things on my plate to bother with those. 

 My mom, who, sadly, is allergic to shellfish, chose fried trout amandine. Her sides were collard greens and coleslaw. She said it was all wonderful, but the serving was huge! She had plenty left for another meal.

Daddy chose his favorite, fried catfish. It looked delicious and he said it was. His sides were slaw and black eyed peas. 

Tim and my sister, Kerri, had The Fish Market's version of bang bang shrimp and grilled mahi mahi with baked beans and coleslaw. Unlike the bang bang shrimp at other restaurants, The Fish Market does not coat the shrimp in the sauce. Instead, the sauce is served on the side for dipping. I tried one. It was very good. While mahi mahi is not my favorite fish, I have to say it did look very good and Kerri and Tim said it is their favorite.

The Fish Market is a Birmingham institution for one very good reason. The food is delicious. The seafood is fresh, expertly seasoned and properly cooked. If you haven't been, you should definitely make plans to visit George Sarris and try some of his delicious seafood. Three Friends and a Fork give The Fish Market Downtown 3 Big Fat Greek Yums UP! Opa!


Three Friends and a Fork
Three Friends and a Fork

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