Landlocked Dallas' fish scene is weak, TJ's Seafood Market wants to change that.
DALLAS â" Jon Alexis knows the type. Heâs well aware of the geography, and heâs proven them wrong time and time again, but he still runs into them all the time â" the seafood unbelievers. Those who need to hear the ocean to think their seafood is as fresh as it can be. They are those who believe that no fishmonger in Dallas â" whoâs nearest major bodies of water are the result of dammed rivers â" could really have fresh seafood. Yes, Jon Alexis has met them.
âYeah, and then they order the Colorado lamb at dinner and donât think twice about it. Their strawberries are coming from Brazil or Chile,â he observes. âI would argue that the quality of seafood in Dallas is most determined not by the logistical difficulties in getting it here, but by peopleâs attitude that you canât get fresh fish in Dallas.â
Itâs an attitude that Alexis is changing one customer at a time at TJâs Seafood Market at Preston and Forest. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the strip mall, TJâs is housed in a small shop with a couple of refrigerators and one long, refrigerated counter display case where Alexis illustrates his point about getting fresh fish in Dallas. Whole grouper, salmon â" even a couple of scorpionfish graced the display recently â" all seem to have been freshly pulled out of the water. Itâs the result of small-batch purchasing designed to get his fish according to quality, not quantity.
âWe tend to be about getting 10-15 pounds of fish for the next day. We specialize in bringing the freshest seafood from around the world with the intent of running out of fish every day,â he says. âWhereas the grocery store model tends to be more about getting 1000 pounds of fish at a time â" thatâs what really sets us apart.â
While buying for quality of selection and an intent to sell it at its very freshest may be the hallmark for TJs, however, it is an intimate knowledge of the product they sell â" and a smiling willingness to share that knowledge â" that give the shop a welcoming, neighborhood feel. Alexis, whose parents bought TJâs from its original owners in 1989 and then sold it to him in 2009, tells stories of customers who come in with no idea what theyâd like to cook for dinner leaving armed with a pound of fresh seafood and a fantastic recipe for it â" a recipe often provided by one of the front-of-house staff, all of whom are culinary school graduates. Itâs an aspect of the seafood market that not only shows customers how to prepare the fish, but also gives them a sense of ease with a product with which they donât always feel familiar.
âWe work really hard to invest time, training, and money into our front of house staff â" you can walk in with no idea of what you want to eat, or knowing what you want but not knowing the right fish, or just walking in and saying âIâm looking for a Greek preparation of somethingâ and our staff has the know-how to not only give you the idea, but give you written instructions on how to do it,â he says.
âWe always laugh that fish is an open-book test. If anybody ever calls TJâs and says, âHey, I got this home, now how should I cook it?â My front-of-house staff gets their rear ends kicked. We make it a point to make sure every question gets answered before our customers walk through our door to leave. If they had questions on how to cook it, they should leave with written instructions. When you wrap fish in butcher paper, itâs easy to just write, âBrown in skillet, finish in oven.ââ
Alexis and his staff get plenty of opportunities to put those same recipes and techniques to the test, too, as TJâs offers catering, as well. In fact, a recent event with the San Jose Sharks (appropriately) once again helped reinforce the notion that TJâs provides some of the freshest seafood anywhere, regardless of where the nearest coast may be.
âWe catered a lunch for the San Jose Sharks hockey team, and they sent us a letter saying that they travel all around Canada and California, and the best salmon and halibut they have ever had was on their flight departing from Dallas, Texas â" from us,â he recalls with a smile.
And what itâs all about, really, is freshness. The recipes are great to go home with, but Alexis asserts that its his responsibility to ensure the recipe is being made with the freshest fish possible.
âEven Julia Child couldnât make an un-fresh fish taste good,â he says with a laugh. âYou know, the fish business is funny. Nobody walks into the butcher and says, âAre the steaks fresh?â But everybody walks into the fishmonger and says, âIs it fresh? When did it come in? Can I smell it?â And thatâs great, we love that.â
Itâs all part of the process of changing perception, one seafood lover at a time.
Pegasus News Content partner - Entree Dallas