In truth, most of the customers are there to eat, especially by supper time. Expect to wait for a seat and, if you end up sitting inside the 800-square-foot space, to get cozy with strangers. You’ll need to bring your own alcohol and bus your own table when you’re done. If someone else doesn’t know the rules, you might have to bus a table in order to be seated.
It’s all worth it, because Fishmonger’s food ranges from really good to downright spectacular.
Start off with the Caesar, unquestionably the best $10 salad in Atlanta. Each crisp romaine lettuce leaf seems to have been individually coated with a dressing of Calabrian chile and anchovy. House-made bottarga lends a punch of umami and a bright dash of color to the plate, while bacon-flavored bread crumbs provide the texture of croutons without dominating the salad. Add Fishmonger’s excellent blackened grouper to the plate, and it’ll be Atlanta’s best $20 salad, too.
That grouper also is the centerpiece of Fishmonger’s most popular dish. The blackened grouper sandwich certainly is worthy of its popularity, with a great ratio of tender, spice-laden fish and juicy toppings on the soft, seeded Martin’s bun.
The Fishmonger, the restaurant’s namesake sandwich, might be even better, with gin- and beet-cured smoked salmon on a sourdough bagel with classic fixings.
But, the daily changing specials, not the sandwiches, are what make Fishmonger a dining destination for seafood lovers. Crudos and oyster sets change frequently and showcase the talent of chef Bradford Forsblom, a partner in the restaurant.
Fishmonger’s steelhead trout crudo was a revelation. Slices of steelhead, as brightly colored as the salmon of your dreams, were dressed with vibrant, pickled cherry tomatoes, rich black garlic oil, horseradish and dill pollen. The texture of the velveteen fish was sublime, and the flavors checked every box: The tomatoes were tart and sweet, the touch of black garlic added depth, the dill lent an earthy freshness and the fresh horseradish provided a hint of spice.
On another visit, scallop crudo highlighted the buttery texture and flavor of the shellfish, along with sweet, crisp slices of melon and a citrusy vinaigrette.
The chef’s set of six oysters was served with brightly colored watermelon radish, and bravely featured an agua fresca foam, which did a beautiful job of adding sweet citrus flavor to complement the clean taste of the raw oyster without overpowering it or altering its texture.
Like that foam, Fishmonger feels like a throwback to the early 2000s, a time when restaurants like it were all the rage, and stripped-down dining experiences communicated to customers that the restaurateurs were putting all their effort and money into the food.
Eating such gorgeous, thoughtful, inspired food from a metal tray feels exciting. It’s a simple idea that’s difficult in practice, because it requires an extremely talented and driven kitchen staff.
When it all comes together, though — as it does at Fishmonger — it’s a wonderful way to dine.
Service: limited, but friendly and knowledgeable
Best dishes: daily crudo, chef’s set of oysters, the Fishmonger sandwich, Caesar salad
Vegetarian dishes: limited choices for those who don’t eat seafood, but rotating sides mostly are vegetarian
Alcohol: no, it’s bring your own bottle
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major cards accepted
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free parking in lot behind building
MARTA station: none
Outdoor dining: sidewalk
Address, phone: 674 N. Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 678-705-9538
Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.