After years of knowing me, my dad is not easily impressed by tales of food. But his ears perked up when I started describing the cuisine at Off the Hook Seafood & More.
Corey and Loniesha Harris’ restaurant, 125 W. Britton Road, began as a food truck. Though still a young man in his mid-30s, Corey already had decades of experience cooking when he started the seafood-focused business. His expertise quickly became evident, and the truck’s following grew just as fast.
The truck was a gold mine, but it had limits. So they leased a former Starbucks location and found an even bigger audience.
There are winners on every section of the menu, but if you can only try one thing, it has to be grilled fish, shrimp and grits ($15).
Don’t give me any of that “I don’t like grits” business, either. You won’t like these grits — you will love them. Harris’ recipe is simple and uses chicken stock, grits and cheese to create a texture that’s creamy and a flavor so rich it makes my knees turn to jelly.
On top of a heaping helping of grits comes a grilled catfish filet doused in Cajun seasoning. The mild fish is a perfect showcase for the mix of paprika, garlic and cayenne pepper. It comes with just a tickle of heat that balances the fatty richness of the grits and the decadent spinach lobster cream sauce drizzled over the dish.
Five jumbo fried shrimp add crunch to the mix, and I recommend dragging them along the plate and loading up a big bite of grits with each one.
Another option is super smothered seafood rice (or fries) for $15. If you ask for it spicy, it will come with a generous supply of Sriracha on top.
The base of perfectly cooked rice has lobster cream sauce ladled over the top with a mix of shrimp, crawfish, crab and baby clams. Then the cooks put bacon and fried onions on that, melt some cheese on top and add a sprinkle of freshly chopped chives.
But that’s just regular smothered seafood rice. The “super” adds a big fried fish filet and five large fried shrimp.
At some point, you’ll need to lay off the lobster cream sauce. That’s when I recommend gumbo ($6). The deep brown roux — the Louisiana staple for which flour is cooked in fat before slowly adding hot liquid to the mix — at Off the Hook gets added flavor from seafood stock that makes for a densely layered sauce that requires contemplation to fully appreciate. Bites of shrimp, chicken sausage, crawfish and crab float throughout, and a scoop of white rice adds body to the stew.
The gumbo has an initial burst of spice heat that fades quickly, so if you want something that’ll make you sweat, add some hot sauce. It’s delightful either way.
Off the Hook deals in decadence. Similar to a crab Rangoon, each of an order of six crispy seafood wontons ($8) is filled with a mix of crab, crawfish and shrimp blended with cream cheese, minced red onion, chopped scallion and garlic Sriracha sauce before being deep-fried to a vibrant golden brown.
Anyone bound and determined to get something green in their diet at Off the Hook should absolutely order a side of collard greens with smoked turkey ($3). Collards are frequently bitter, but these are so expertly cooked that all I tasted was a tangy, bright vinegar with the greens’ natural earthiness. The addition of smoked turkey adds a little fat and a nice, meaty texture.
As if that weren’t enough, Off the Hook also has a section called Cheesy Grillers, which is full of over-the-top grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Flying Pig ($9) includes pulled pork from The Flying Pig food truck. Crazy Crawdaddy ($11) is full of crawfish salad. But if you’re going wild, go all the way wild with The Melted Lobster ($12).
Cajun-spiced and boiled lobster meat is melted into creamy Monterey Jack cheese with roasted poblano peppers and grilled red onions between a couple slices of thick, buttery garlic Texas toast. If there’s an issue here, it’s that lobster meat has a fairly mild flavor and it can get lost amid the heat of the poblanos and the sweetness of the grilled onions.
If you’re looking for another way to eat Off the Hook’s cuisine, Corey and Loniesha have good news. The restaurant plans to open a location on the south side, close to Will Rogers World Airport in the near future.
“We have a lot of people who are amazed this is a black-owned restaurant,” said Corey Harris, who co-owns Off the Hook Seafood & More with his wife Loniesha. “Unfortunately, for a lot of people, a black-owned restaurant means it’s not in great shape.”
When they opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2015, it was important to them to make everything look sharp and create an atmosphere that was inviting and professional.
“When we opened, we didn’t want to feed into those stereotypes,” Corey said. “Stereotypes are meant to be broken. So we put in the time and money and effort to make it legit.”
Finding support in the black community isn’t always easy, they said. One source of help came early on from Ricki and Cerese Bly, owners of Taste of Soul Egg Roll food truck.
“Starting out, Ricki and Cerese would help us out as much as possible,” Corey said. “I remember them as one of the few who would.”
That spirit became a strong friendship, and the entrepreneurs try to support and promote one another often.
“It’s not a competition thing,” Corey said. “You can’t feed everybody.”
However, Off the Hook gives it a good try. The dining room of the restaurant, 125 W. Britton Road, stays full from 11 a.m. through early afternoon. As customers come in and out, Corey greets almost everyone and inquires about their meals. The praise of the diners borders on effusive.
Loniesha wishes the praise was as consistent in the black community, though.
“We ask ourselves a lot, ‘Do we do enough to support others?’” she said. “It’s hard to please people. Reading a bad review is a hard pill to swallow.”
Seeing the business from the inside, she finds herself more sympathetic to other small business owners who are struggling to get by.
Corey said some of their harshest critics come from their own community. When a hailstorm knocked out the power and ruined thousands of dollars of seafood, a customer demanded recompense because the restaurant was out of some items.
But no one is harder on Off the Hook than head chef Corey, who is always pushing to improve the restaurant’s food and service.
Off the Hook Seafood & More
125 W. Britton Road
What works: Anything is better with lobster cream sauce.
What needs work: The small restaurant’s popularity means it gets crowded quickly.
Tip: Call-in orders have to be $50 or more, and payment is taken over the phone.
Print headline: Fresh catch, Off the Hook reels in fervent fans and is about to catch a second location.