Every once in a great while, a chain restaurant comes along that requires a deeper look at the menu, especially when it’s a merge of food that doesn’t seem to naturally fit.
JJ Fish and Chicken is a curious intersection of Southern-style chicken and fish and Chicago Italian beef sandwiches.
It’s also not well known outside Chicago where it was founded.
The Lakewood location opened May 14 in a former Jack-in-the-Box on Gravelly Lake Drive SW.
The menu is unusual, but there’s some crossover with Tacoma’s Fish House Cafe, my longtime go-to destination in the region for outstanding fried catfish, po’ boy sandwiches, chicken wings and hush puppies.
There also are similarities with another chain known for its fried fish and chicken, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
JJ Fish and Chicken operates locations in Illinois, California, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Georgia. General manager of the Lakewood store, Chastity Canady, said this is a first location in Washington, but the restaurant’s owners are looking for possible locations in SeaTac.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining room: Small dining room crammed with seating for around 20. There’s one low-top table with four seats, but the rest of the table and bar seating is a collection of high-top stools that will be tricky to navigate for some diners.
The menu: Fried fish, fried chicken, Italian beef sandwiches.
Fish dinners: A dozen choices in various sizes. There’s perch, ($10.99 to $12.99), tilapia ($10.99 to $15.99), cod ($13.99 to $18.99) snapper ($12.99 to $18.99), calamari ($10.99 to $18.99) and shrimp ($12.99 to $26.99).
Three styles of catfish: Filet ($12.99 two piece/$16.99 three piece), nuggets ($9.99 half pound/$17.99 full pound) and steak ($10.99 three piece/$13.99 four piece).
Chicken dinners: Thigh, leg and wing mix ($5.99 three piece/$10.99 six piece/$15.99 nine piece). Also, buffalo, honey barbecue or regular wing dinner ($3.99 to $59.99, with sizes ranging from three to 50 pieces). Tenders and nuggets ($6.99 to $10.99).
Also: Seafood gumbo ($7.49 to $17.99), salads ($7.99 to $13.99), fried okra ($3.99), hush puppies ($3.99), coleslaw ($2.99), onion rings ($3.99), fried jalapenos ($3.99) and more.
Dinner served with: Fries, no substitutions allowed, plus two slices white bread and small container of coleslaw.
Italian beefs: Restaurants here serving Chicago’s most famous sandwich export have come and gone over the years. Canady described the sandwiches at JJ as made with roast beef and the classic pepper condiment, giardiniera ($9.99). The restaurant was out on my visit.
Fish and chicken lowdown: A catfish dinner came with three catfish filets evenly coated in a well-seasoned cornmeal breading ($16.99). The texture was tender, not overcooked. The filets sat atop a pile of battered fries, a few slices of white bread and a small container of coleslaw.
A well-seasoned flour breading was thinly applied on the six-piece fried chicken meal ($10.99). It came with two pieces each of leg, wing and thigh with another big pile of fries, bread and coleslaw.
Hush puppies were creamy on the inside, crunchy outside, with an assertive onion flavor ($3.99). Fried okra also was a generous amount, with inch-long pieces fried up in a cornmeal batter ($3.99).
Pricing: Pretty good deal for fried chicken, but above market for catfish dinners. A six-piece catfish filet dinner with any two sides is $11.99 at Fish House Cafe in Tacoma (1814 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-383-7144) in contrast with the JJ price of $16.99 for a three-piece catfish filet with fries, slaw and bread.
Hot sauce: Three styles in squeeze bottles at the front counter, plus plastic cups to go of a tangy, vinegar-based hot sauce.
Tartar and cocktail sauces: The ubiquitous squeeze packet stuff. Pass.
Coming next: They’re hoping to open the drive-thru, but need to first figure out a few parking lot logistics, said Canady.
JJ Fish and Chicken
Where: 9815 Gravelly Lake Drive SW, Lakewood
Info: 253-584-1455 or jjfishandchicken.biz
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily