Joe Fish: Fresh seafood in a casual, family atmosphere
by Staff Writer
by Molly Reitter
MOORESVILLE – The casual seafood restaurant: As elusive as the one that got away on your last fishing trip.
The food is usually large portions of deep-fried fish or minuscule portions of grilled seafood. Joe Fish restaurant in Mooresville has found the balance.
The mid-priced meals – most entrees range from $13 to $18 – are fresh, homemade, creative and enough food to leave you sated.
Chefs David Kopp and Emily Bell walk out of the kitchen in matching black chef jackets and a plate of crab cakes. The cakes fall apart, not because of incompetent cooking, but the fact that there is so much crab, and so little filler, that there is nothing to keep that crab stuck together.
The richness of the crab is not overwhelmed by any other ingredients. They both smile at the compliments.
“That is making me hungry,” said Kopp eyeing the crab cakes.
Kopp worked for 12 years at Red Lobster. It started just as a job, but he had excellent mentors there who taught him the corporate side of cooking and managing a restaurant. He found that he loved both food and the restaurant business.
Then he moved on to The Velvet Hammer in Mooresville, which eventually changed owners and became Brazas Bar & Grill. At that point, Kopp heard of a new restaurant opening close by. Joe Fish owner Ron Lebreton hired him and he has been here since opening day in 2007.
Bell began at the restaurant in March of this year, but already has become such an integral part of the team that she has a namesake menu item.
“Oh yes, Chicken Emily,” she laughs. “I just made up the dish. I didn’t name it!”
The philosophy of the restaurant is to serve up fresh, homemade items with creativity, but not so much flair that it overwhelms the natural taste of the food. Seafood is delivered daily and farmers markets are scoured to find seasonal vegetables and fruits. The specials are then decided upon from the fresh items. For example, Kopp brought in fresh peaches the other day and Bell decided to make cobbler as a dessert special.
“Actually lots of our menu items started out as specials,” said Kopp.
The staff is truly family. Many have worked together for years and even vacation together. Bethany Barber is the front-of-the-house manager, bartender and any other job you can throw at her at Joe Fish. She has worked here since it opened. Her 8-year-old son is a permanent fixture at the restaurant.
“When I started, he was in pull-ups,” she said. “Now he can help wait on tables.”
Kopp credits Barber with the fun, happy bar crowd that gathers every night.
“It’s all Bethany,” Kopp said. “She is a real draw and makes everyone laugh and feel at home.”
Mooresville residents Roger and Tess Jones celebrated their anniversary with a lunch at Joe Fish. They enjoy the seafood at the restaurant. Tess Jones had the Parmesan crusted haddock chunks.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was so good. I would come back for that again.”
Kopp said that the seafood is a big seller, but that the hamburger is also worth a try. “It is grass fed, antibiotic free beef,” he said. “The best burger I’ve ever had and we serve it with homemade, beer-battered onion rings.”
The homemade sauces, salad dressings, entrees and fresh ingredients make this restaurant one to watch; unfortunately the restaurant itself can be hard to find.
“I do call it the hidden jewel,” Kopp said. “We are hard to see from the road.”
But once you find it, you will be back. The fresh, creative food and the family atmosphere will hook you and your appetite.