White River Fish Market
The only bad thing about eating at White River Fish Market is the difficulty of deciding what to order. Gumbo or red beans and rice? Buttermilk pie or sweet potato pie? Grilled salmon or shrimp?
White River is located in an old strip mall on North Sheridan, on the left side of the road as you head up toward the airport. It is, quite literally, a fish market, selling fresh fish, shrimp, mussels and other seafood, but if your cooking skills are less than stellar, you’re in good hands, because most of White River’s floor space is devoted to tables (which are almost always packed with customers) where good-natured waitresses deliver huge platters of some of the best seafood to be had anywhere.
The atmosphere is extremely casual (again: It’s a fish market), but the prices are reasonable, and the food and service are second to none. We eat there every time we think of it, and I’ve never been disappointed with a meal. The fish is great (I usually get grilled salmon, which I dearly love, and which comes the way I am pretty sure God intended: with melted butter and a lemon wedge), and the hush puppies are the second best I’ve ever had.*
The real reason to go to White River, however, is the Cajun fare: red beans and rice made with sausage and a healthy dose of pepper, and rich gumbo, both of which are offered by the cup or by the bowl.
Slices of pie and cheesecake rotate on metal shelves in a cylindrical glass display case next to the cash register. The cheesecake is OK, but I usually opt for either buttermilk or sweet potato pie, both of which are superlative.
A good test of a restaurant’s service is the waitstaff’s ability to handle a mistake, and we got to see a White River waitress in action one evening when, in the heat of trying to keep up with umpteen different tables at once, she overlooked the fact that the kitchen had evidently misplaced our order, and we were left waiting 20 minutes or so for food that never came. She finally came by to ask if we wanted a refill on our drinks, and we told her what we really wanted was our food. She apologized profusely and said she’d mistakenly thought that we’d already eaten and were just taking it easy after our meal. She seemed genuinely embarrassed by the mistake. We had our food in about two minutes, and to make it up to us, she brought us a couple of slices of pie on the house.
I’ll gladly swap 20 minutes of my evening for a free slab of buttermilk pie — especially when the waitress is as funny and good-natured as the one who served us that evening — and the obviously heartfelt apology and immediate effort to make things right only reinforced my positive opinion of White River and its service. (Restaurant owners, take note: You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be nice when you mess up.)
The hours — 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday — could be a bit longer, and the location is a little out-of-the-way for this West Sider, but it’s well worth making the effort to get there.
*The best are served at Hatfield and McCoy’s, on St. Charles Rock Road in North St. Louis County. But White River’s are pretty great and are made with minced green and red pepper in the batter.