Every time I have passed Charlie’s Fresh Seafood and Carryout Market I have drooled a little over its claims – “Best Fish Sandwich in Town” and “Lexington’s Largest Fish Sandwich!” Charlie’s is situated on a wedge shaped lot off of Winchester Rd. in a less than delicious area of Lexington. The shop crouches between gray pavement and brown, squat buildings. The location and facade make one think “Filling Station,” not “Fill Your Belly With Delicious Fish Station.” This strange little building boasting such a big accomplishment seemed the perfect place for the first installment of le Tour de Fish.
Jay and I entered the building with my camera on and lens cap removed. Why beat around the bush, right? As Jay drooled over the menu, I started snapping photos. The interior was simple – a counter with two cash registers, a cooler with fresh fish for purchase and a pass-through window to the kitchen. The only decoration was a tiny sign above a door with a red crab saying “Be Crabby.” All orders at Charlie’s are to-go as there are no tables or chairs. The thick smell of heavenly fried fish hung in the air. An employee poked his head around the fish cooler and looked uncomfortably at the camera.
Skeptical of their claim of “Lexington’s Largest Fish Sandwich” we ordered one fish sandwich plate (with fries and hushpuppies) and one additional small fish sandwich for me.
An older man appeared from the back to take our order and began chatting with us, “Is this your first time here?” he asked. We said yes and I explained our newest project, le Tour de Fish. His eyes lit up and his face relaxed. “That is great! My name is Barry Sissle. I’m the owner and have I got some suggestions for you!” he said.
In 1981 Charles Wilson Johnson took over an existing fish market and renamed it Charlie’s. Seven years ago Barry, then an employee of Charlie’s, and his wife Pattie bought the market from Charlie’s widow. Once the only fish joint on the block, today Charlie’s has found itself in a trifecta of fish wars. Less than a block away stands Detroit’s Famous Coney Island that claims to have “The World’s Largest Fish Sandwich.” Uninhibited by this claim, the confident Barry was quick to recommend Detroit’s Famous Coney Island as our next fish adventure. In addition to Detroit’s Coney Island, McDonald’s has also moved in nearby – bringing with it the infamous Fillet-O Fish. Having spent two years of my life serving these and other McDonald’s delicacies I will pass on Barry’s invite to also sample this fish sandwich.
As we chatted, I noticed a line forming behind Jay and I. Charlie’s Fresh Seafood and Carryout Market is such a small place, I didn’t want to cause the line to back up into the hot Kentucky summer sun so we thanked Barry for his time, fish and eager recommendations and stepped aside to wait on our meal – which was currently sizzling away. When our number was called out, Jay and I took the nondescript white plastic bag and headed to the Arboretum for our first fish picnic as a married couple.
We opened the first box – the fish plate – and were greeted with what is truly the largest fish sandwich I have ever seen. Two LONG pieces of fish exploded from one round bun. The color was golden, the breading delicate. Jay had ordered a rye bun and it was supple and fresh. The gigantic fish was swimming in a sea of regular crinkled cut fries and three small hush-puppies.
My small fish sandwich was on whole wheat and consisted of one piece of the absurdly large fish. Both sandwiches were ridiculous in size. I ate ¾ of my fish and one bite of bun and was maxed out. True to hungry man form- Jay ate his entire meal, minus two hush-puppies that I gobbled. My analysis is below:
Comments: Charlie’s has some serious character going on and the lack of seating only ads to it. Inside it is sparsely furnished and decorated, but the heavenly smells make up for it.
Comments: Barry was fabulous – full of information, insight and personality. The employee who first poked his head around the corner was lacking some spunk.
Reaction to le Tour de Fish: 5
Comments: Could not have asked for more! Barry was a great sport.
Size of Fish: 4.8
Comments: That was some serious fish! The one large sandwich would have been more than enough
for Jay and I to split. This fish totally overfloweth! Had Barry not informed me of an even larger fish sandwich in Florence, KY I would have awarded a 5.
Taste of Fish: 4.3
Comments: This was good fish! Golden and flavorful, but not so greasy it left a fish print in the box. The breading was light and crisp. The fragrance was mellow and not the least bit “fishy.”
Extra Credit: .5
Comments: Charlie’s has to get half a points worth of extra credit for their hushpuppies. They were just divine – warm, crusty and spicy. I ate two and reluctantly left Jay one.
Total Score: 22.6 points out of a possible 25
Summary: In summary, our first fish adventure in le Tour de Fish was a success. We had a delicious fish sandwich, met a great Lexington character and found a place to get fresh seafood for our grill. In addition, I had my first fish picnic in Lexington with the best adventuring buddy a fish-eating girl could ask for.
P.S.: After eating the enormous fish sandwiches, Jay and I decided to protect our waistlines and take a hike at Shaker Village. It was unusually hot that day and I am confident we sweated the sandwiches out.