Few things feel more Southern to me than a fish fry. You can locate some of the best by following a sign advertising one at a local church—but if that doesn’t pan out, you’ll find a similarly iconic Atlanta experience at the somewhat decrepit-looking, old-fashioned Merkerson’s Fish Market, a longtime fixture on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard near West End. Merkerson’s offers fresh porgys, sheepheads, snappers, mullets, and catfish whole at the counter, which you can cook yourself. Better yet, have them fried on the spot while you sit on one of the benches, waiting for your order to be called.
A scant $7 will buy you three pieces of deftly fried flounder, two thin slices of wheat bread, some fries, and a few jalapeño hushpuppies. The hot sauce waits for you at the counter. The whiting fish sandwich, priced as low as $3.49, trumps anything you could ever purchase at a fast-food restaurant. Eat your fish burning-hot at a long folding table overlooking a broken Pac-Man machine or in your car with the windows open.
The selection of fish is more limited at Trederick’s on Whitehall Street just south of downtown, but the place is a real restaurant. Opened in March by the owners of the now-closed Blue Ivory club next door, it even has a small patio and keeps later hours on the weekend. The catfish and whiting fillets in a light coating of cornmeal batter are especially splendid, and don’t forget the baskets of huge, sweet shrimp, the crinkly fries, the thick homestyle chips, and the sweet coleslaw.
Crab legs and lobster
In addition to its inexpensive fried offerings, Trederick’s offers more decadent options such as crab clusters and lobster tails. That also earns it a spot in the growing ranks of Atlanta restaurants serving higher-end Southern seafood.
Last year, the influential chef Darius Williams—who in 2017 helped energize Westview’s dining scene with Greens and Gravy—opened Soul Crab in College Park, specializing in seafood by the pound. Located in an attractive historic storefront, the restaurant serves fruit-forward cocktails and draws well-dressed crowds that rip into crab clusters (both snow crabs and king crabs), lobster tails, and shrimp paired with a choice of melted butters, including ones flavored with Hennessey or jerk seasoning. Expect the bar scene to be hectic and your manicure to be ruined.
New Orleans–inspired Bon Ton is rightly lauded for its applewood-smoked snow crabs and a $33 mixed-seafood boil, and Krab Queenz Seafood, the wildly popular minichain out of Louisiana, is replacing the downtown location of Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles. Both are further proof that spicy, buttery Southern seafood works as well in roadside dives as it does in elevated dining rooms.
This article appears in our October 2019 issue.