Sea’s the limit at Penn Avenue Fish Co.
Tim Reynolds yanks a North Atlantic salmon from a Styrofoam package, hoists all 12 pounds of the fish onto the counter in front of me, and takes a fine blade to its midsection. Until today, I’ve only seen knife work this fancy on “Top Chef.” But this fishmonger knows his shit.
Reynolds has been a staple at Penn Avenue Fish Company’s Strip District location for seven years, though his passion for seafood surfaced decades ago. “I always smell like fish,” he says. “It’s a little overpowering. I don’t even smell it anymore. I was a bartender for years and years, and one day I was just looking for something to change it up a little bit, you could say. I’d been fishing since I was like, 9, and I’ve always liked using my hands. I like seafood, too. It was one of those things.”
Between Reynolds and equally experienced fishmongers Kyle Houghtelin, a longtime employee, and Mark Clowney, a newer addition to the staff, the restaurant offers a wealth of knowledge on all things sea-related. While several small packages of fish are delivered daily, two significantly larger shipments—“one from the north and one from the south,” according to Reynolds—make their way to Penn Avenue Fish Company twice a week.
Salmon included, the eatery offers 32 varieties of seafood and a tempting selection of sandwiches, sushi, and elaborate entrées. Because the quality of the fish is so high; however, many customers prefer to order à la carte.
“[The fish] are all fresh; never frozen,” says Reynolds. “The owners here are focused on what the best…we have so much variety. They’re focused on the highest, best possible quality product. And we give it to you the way you want it.”
Penn Avenue Fish Company doesn’t market itself as a made-to-order restaurant. But for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what it is. When co-owners Henry Dewey and Angela Earley opened the place in 2007, they immediately set out to offer a more specialized approach than the average fish market. Nine years, a second location, and one massive dining room expansion later, that strategy has proven its worth.
Unveiled in 2014, the market’s revamped dining area is bedecked with shades of blue, a brand new sushi bar, and enough seating to accommodate the Strip District’s eager Saturday crowds. It’s vast, calming, and smells faintly of fish—not unlike the ocean. And, if you’re really craving that authentic beach experience, pack your margarita to go. This whole space is BYOB—which makes the already reasonable wait for high-caliber grub much more enjoyable.
Something else worth noting: at Penn Avenue Fish Company, the quality of the food is directly proportional to that of the customer service. Translation: they’re both unparalleled—and it doesn’t take long to notice.
“We really go the extra mile for a lot of people,” says Houghtelin. “It kinda shows. We all like fish, and we’re all old service industry people. I know how to cook fish—I’ve been cooking since I was 15 years old. Did the whole culinary thing. It’s nice because you have a better idea. Kinda see what people are trying to get out of it and help them in that aspect…we really focus in and specialize.”
Adds Reynolds, “We [fishmongers] are a dying breed. It’s a dying art.”
That may be true, but in an industry where specialization and source are key, this market is surely swimming upstream.
Penn Avenue Fish Company / 2208 Penn Avenue, Strip District / 308 Forbes Avenue, Downtown