Illuminating the Washington Street sidewalk with its glaring fluorescents, Morse Fish may seem a little out of place among the South Endís dimly lit cafés and bistros. But this fresh-fish shop and restaurant was here first. Founded in 1903, itís been a neighborhood staple for South End families for nearly a century. Even the friendly man behind the counter, who grew up just a few blocks away, seems wistful as he recalls coming here as a child.
Inside, the cement floor, outdoor patio chairs, and nautical wall décor seem to say that this place hasnít been updated since the 1960s, and that the fish ó and nothing but the fish ó is the most important thing here. You can buy it fresh from the case to cook at home, or order from the extensive menu of more than 20 seafood varieties and eat at one of 10 well-spaced tables.
The shrimp cocktail ($5.95) may be one of the best deals around, offering 10 large ones with a tasty, though likely off-the-shelf, cocktail sauce. Crisply fried calamari ($4.95/small) are tender and not too chewy. Crab cakes ($1.75 each), also deep-fried, have a soft and flavorful core. Itís not hard to tell why the oversize haddock sandwich ($5.95) is a best-seller: itís lightly breaded, flaky white, and not greasy, served on a puffy white-bread bun. On the broiled side, the rainbow-trout dinner ($7.95) is cooked fresh, with little seasoning. Like all " dinners " on the menu, itís served with rice pilaf or French fries, tartar sauce, and not-too-runny cole slaw.
With everything from lobster salad and sea scallops to Cajun catfish and filet of sole, this no-frills eatery offers freshness, quality, and choice. If you donít mind eating your fish with a plastic fork out of a Styrofoam container, Morse Fish wonít disappoint. If you squint your eyes, a meal under its bright fluorescent lights just may transport you from this spare city shop to a salty clam shack near the beach on a perfect summer day. If it does, donít skip the fried clams.
Morse Fish Company, located at 1401 Washington Street, in the South End, Boston, is open Monday through Thursday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; on Friday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and on Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m. Call (617) 262-9375.