Restaurant review: Fat Fish Blue ***


What better time to check in on Fat Fish Blue - the area's most recent attempt at a modestly upscale Cajun restaurant - than the week of Mardi Gras?

On Fat Tuesday, the place was serving purple beer. Beads and funky trinkets adorned the tables in the days before the big event, and while it certainly didn't feel like the real New Orleans, a festive vibe prevailed.

The area's last attempt at a modestly upscale Cajun restaurant - Gumbo's Bayou Grille at the Docks - went belly up a few years ago, evidence of the challenge posed by bringing this spicy food and party atmosphere north. Given the nicely spiced and presented food, excellent wait staff, and cool ambience, here's hoping Fat Fish Blue at Levis Commons in Perrysburg sticks around for a long time.

With a fat menu that boasts "Louisiana Creole" food, the spacious, colorful 1-year-old restaurant gives off a general air of good times that is amplified by drinks with names like Scarlett's Ruby Slipper and Sex on the Bayou. A stage is set up in the middle of the eating area where national and local blues, funk, and rock bands play, and TVs are posted at strategic locations so there's a general sports bar ambiance as well.

We sampled the big daddy's chicken gumbo ($5.59 and $9.99), which was jazzed up with just enough heat to kick-start the taste buds without being overwhelming. The catfish lollipops appetizer ($5.99), a battered and fried chunk of fish on a skewer, was nothing special all by itself, but the spicy jalapeno dipping sauce gave it a satisfying zing.

The restaurant doesn't put too much emphasis on sandwiches - entrees dominate the menu - but we had a shrimp po' boy ($8.99) that was loaded with five fat fried shrimp, a tasty sauce, and lettuce and tomato stuffed into a grilled hoagie bun. It was excellent, which was a good thing because the pulled pork sandwich ($7.69) was disappointing. The barbecue sauce was used sparingly and the pork was a creamy mess without offering much taste.

Where Fat Fish Blue elevated its game was in its dinners, which were uniformly delicious. The pecan chicken With Jack Daniels bourbon maple glaze ($14.49) was sweet and crunchy but never cloying. The accompanying andouille cheddar grits and crisp vegetables were wonderfully complementary.

Sweet Willie's crab cakes ($15.59) were light and subtle with a tasty sauce drizzled across the top. The same dipping sauce that came with the catfish lollipops was compatible with the crab cakes, which were served with rice, a dollop of delicious relish, and more vegetables.

The bayou blackened beef ($19.99) was a major winner. Every bite exploded with flavor, and the generous cut of meat was juicy and perfectly cooked with a sauce that included caramelized onions. Along with the candied yam side dish, it was an ideal meal for anyone who likes food bold and full of flavor.

We sampled one dessert, the cinnamon roll bread pudding ($5.29), which was piping hot and tasted great with the chickory coffee Fat Fish Blue serves. And don't forget to order the corn bread ($3.59) with your meal.

We had just one complaint and it held for the coffee and the side dishes: they weren't quite hot enough. We asked the waiter to reheat the coffee, but the sides weren't so cool that they needed to be taken back to the kitchen, but they were close.

Our visit to Fat Fish Blue was a few days before the Mardi Gras party, and we were impressed at how the place - which also houses the Funny Bone Comedy Club - manages to straddle the line between comfortable dining and a party atmosphere. The acoustics muffle voices beyond your own table and keep the music - mostly rock and blues - in the background but still noticeable. The wait staff was great, contributing to the overall positive feelings the restaurant engenders.

Fat Fish Blue also has a restaurant in Cleveland.

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