Central Fish Market in Compton: More Fish in the Sea
Fried snapper (the hush puppies are hiding)
Central Fish Market in Compton is no fancy fishery, some Daily Candy-crowned ice-glazed jewel bedecked with pristine slabs of halibut and ahi. The finned wares behind the smudged glass case of this strip mall shop aren't necessarily sustainably caught or raised; the freshness of each variety is not to be taken for granted but instead to be affirmed via careful ogling. Look for clear eyes, you remember, recalling a dozen food section tutorials. The fish should smell clean, you recollect, like the ocean, not, strangely enough, fish. You try to gauge these things from the other side of the case, wondering how dry the fillets appear, whether or not the shrimps seem sprightly enough. Give me a sign, you plead, but none lurch forward. The truth is, you can't get all farmers market about the fish here. Central Fish market is not a destination; it's a seafood-lover's stop-gap, albeit one that will not disappoint.
Whiting, snapper, buffalo, and catfish. The slippery scaled creartures sold here--mostly pale-fleshed, bony specimens--come nearly as cheap as burger meat. You can buy the fish fresh or, for an extra 99 cents per pound, have the cook fry your order in cornmeal breading. If you order a lunch or dinner special, you can look forward to wavy wands of lightly seasoned and carefully cooked fish under which nut-brown globes of corn, sauteed scallion, and salt should be nestled. These would be hush puppies, perhaps ironically the fried fish-gobbling American South's greatest and most frequently ruined contribution to the fried fish universe. Central Fish Market's blessedly do not disappoint.
French fries come with combination plates too, and one might as well go with them, embracing the wholly beige-cast meal rather than substitute cole slaw, here little more than green shreds suspended in a creamy sweet plasma. Perhaps metaphorically, the restaurant is sandwiched between a Little Caesar's and a Subway, a locally owned minnow begging attention in a sea of corporate fish.