Louisville has no shortage of out-of-the-way eateries, little “mom and pop” operations that serve neighborhoods and go about their business of simply making good food.
Hill Street Fish Fry is one that had eluded me — I’d heard of it in passing but had never experienced it, until recently.
It surely fits the bill of that neighborhood joint, a tiny building with a tiny kitchen and an even tinier dining room serving fried fish to hungry regulars for nearly three decades in Old Louisville.
Interestingly, the one-sentence description of the place on Google calls it “utilitarian,” which I guess is fair, although with Hill Street’s quirky, fishing-themed décor and mix-and-match furniture, the word “quaint” seems more appropriate. The owners’ family photos blend with tin signs advertising fishing lures for a unique feel.
You order at the counter from an old diner-style menu board, as well as surrounding hand-written whiteboard selections.
The offerings range from clam chowder to fried fish to fried shrimp, fried scallops and then more fried fish.
The online menu extends the quirkiness of Hill Street Fish Fry by offering off-hand recommendations on some menu items. Instead of just “hush puppies,” the menu says, “hush puppies are fabulous,” followed by the price.
With “fresh mushroom buttons,” you learn they are the “highest quality we can get,” and the battered cauliflower is “excellent tasting.”
I walked in and was greeted by a friendly order-taker/cashier/server named Sharon. I knew right off the bat I wanted a rolled oyster (hey, it’s Louisville), and I also went for a fish sandwich with fries and a cup of clam chowder, which the menu assured “it is great.”
I initially ordered a small sandwich, and Sharon quickly told me that since a drink is included in a large fish sandwich meal, that was the cheaper option in the long run. Fair enough.
I took a seat in the corner with an old TV playing professional wrestling just above my head. I hadn’t been sitting long when Sharon came over with my Styrofoam cup of chowder, piping hot.
I took a taste, and it was indeed quite good, with plenty of small bits of clam adding to the comforting texture and flavor. I added some black pepper to the creamy, steaming soup and took small bites to avoid scalding my mouth. (Yes, it was that hot.)
Shortly thereafter, my fish sandwich and fries came, two medium-sized pieces of whitefish and one small one in the middle on two pieces of white bread (wheat and rye also are options). The fries were basic fries, hot and lightly crispy.
The fish was battered in a crispy, peppery batter and came with house-made tartar. Solid if unspectacular, it was reminiscent of dinners I had with my parents as a kid when my dad would stop at a random takeout place for a “fish box” (as my dad loved calling them).
Next came the oyster, which Sharon had warned would take an extra few minutes to cook.
It was a fist-sized beast in a paper boat, served with a side of (again, house-made) cocktail sauce and covered in a crispy, cornmeal coating.
She noted that I should take care, as the insides would be plenty hot. She wasn’t kidding — I cut into the center with a knife and watched the steam roll out.
Inside, the breading was cooked perfectly, tender and fluffy, with three small oysters (or partial oysters). The flavor was solid — not the best I’ve had, but tasty enough that it was well worth the $4 price tag.
I added some hot sauce and went to work, but given all the food I’d ordered, I couldn’t finish my meal. Long story short, I spent $17 and got two meals out of it, which isn’t a bad deal at all.
All in all, Hill Street Fish Fry checks all the boxes for a good, neighborhood eatery and a fine stop for fried fish takeout. It’s been there nearly 30 years for a reason.
Hill Street Fish Fry, located at 111 E. Hill St., is open Tuesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.