If you seek seafood around Dallas-Fort Worth, you're most likely to find it Gulf-style: fried catfish, po-boy sandwiches and peel-and-eat shrimp. One major exception to that rule is Daddy Jack's, a small local chain whose take on seafood is more New England than New Orleans.
The chain started 20 years ago, when chef-founder Jack Chaplin opened the original on Lower Greenville Avenue in February 1993. There's been some ebb and flow since then, with a branch that opened and closed in Deep Ellum, and another branch in Coppell with different owners. And while Chaplin still has an ownership stake, he currently resides in Connecticut. But the chain, which also includes a location in Sundance Square and this branch that opened in Southlake in December 2012, has followed his recipes and standards successfully. If you want a top-notch New England-style fish dinner, you can get it here.
The Southlake branch sits in a small shopping center on Carroll Avenue, near but not inside Southlake Town Square, and thereby is more easily accessible. The atmosphere is warm but unpretentious, with red-and-white-checked tablecloths and a whimsical nautical theme: ship steering wheels, plastic fish and a cartoon mural over the bar of a lobster and a cow in a cowboy hat both wielding guns.
The lack of pretension extends to the plate. Most entrees feature a bountiful piece of fish, sided with a baked potato and steamed vegetables. This nothing-fancy simplicity is old-school New England and will stir a note of familiarity for any Yankee.
The signature dish is New England all the way: fish topped with a "stuffing" made from Ritz cracker crumbs bound with butter. In Boston, the classic would be cod, but it works on any fish; on the night of our visit, the fish was tilapia ($19.95), and the buttery, slightly salty cracker stuffing gave this mild fish some welcome zing, especially since Daddy Jack's bolsters its cracker mix with shredded crab. Crumbled Ritz crackers might not sound like much, but there was something rich and comforting about the dish.
Pecan-breaded trout ($20.95) is another Daddy Jack's classic, in which a fillet gets coated in a crust made of ground pecans. It was simple yet smart, with the pecan mix serving as a flavorful, nutty, slightly crisp shell. Both fish dishes came with baked potato and a veggie medley of zucchini, yellow squash and carrots. That's a standard medley at many restaurants, but Daddy Jack's vegetables, flecked with herbs, were not overcooked, so they still had good body.
The lobster roll ($22.95) has become a trendy item in the past year, and the one at Daddy Jack's had a ring of authenticity that made it worth checking out. Bite-size chunks of lobster meat were bound in a simple mayonnaise dressing, with a bit of diced celery. Unfortunately, the bun was a disaster: overly toasted until dry and brittle. It came with mesclun-style mixed greens and potato chips, which did hew to the original unpretentious nature of the dish, but seemed too modest a side.
We liked that the selection of beer included interesting craft-style choices such as La Fin du Monde from Canadian brewer Unibroue. Our waiter knew his beer and was personable, too -- maybe too much so. Obviously he hasn't heard that New Englanders can be a little brusque.