Location: 8500 Frankstown Road, East Hills. 412-731-4689
Hours: Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat. 1-11 p.m.; Sun. 1-8 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $6-9; salads and sandwiches $7-10; entrees $12-20
Fare: Soul food and seafood
Atmosphere: Family-friendly diner
To put it simply, we love fish. As two people who were not exactly raised on seafood -- canned "chicken of the sea" was about as far as that went -- we have spent our adulthoods making up for lost time.
Meanwhile, some 25 years ago, a fish market opened on Frankstown Road, offering fresh fish and other groceries to residents of nearby East Hills, Homewood and Penn Hills. As is typical around here, fried-fish sandwiches were offered for takeout, and a few years later the hot-food offerings grew into the lion's share of the business. You can still get fresh croakers and perch at the market, but you're more likely to notice Simmie's, the full-service restaurant and lounge next door.
On a recent rainy evening, we shook our umbrellas and stepped into a pleasant, brightly lit dining room decorated in the teal and dusty-rose palette unique to the decade of padded shoulders. Fortunately, Southern hospitality and soul food never go out of style. We received a warm welcome and the good news that we'd managed to arrive on fried chicken and waffles night.
Though we were there for the seafood, the opportunity to partake of this classic Southern/soul food pairing was one we could not refuse. The waffles -- traditional small-grid style, not Belgian -- could have used a few more minutes on the iron; they were pale and not as crispy on the outside as we would have hoped. The Southern-style fried chicken, however, was superb, juicy and infused with the flavor of seasonings from the thin-and-crispy crust.
We suspect Simmie's is the only place in Pittsburgh that serves soul food alongside a daily fresh-fish list to rival the most upscale restaurants in town. The night we were there, we received a neatly hand-written list of no fewer than eight "fresh catch" of the day, some bone-in, some filets. All were available to be fried, grilled, broiled or blackened with Cajun spices on a cast-iron skillet. This was in addition to Simmie's regular menu of seafood specialties, such as jumbo sea scallops, snow-crab leg clusters and Maine lobster tails. With so many tantalizing choices, how were we ever to choose? For starters, while every preparation is available with every fish, some pairings are inevitably more salutary than others. In this, we appreciated our server's guidance.
Even after tightly reining in our appetites, we ended up with seven different items crowding our tabletop. A promising start were the catfish fingers, featuring ethereally light breading on tender, moist flakes of fish. Our other appetizer was a plate of fried clam strips and oysters. The clam strips were thick, unlike the paltry, over-breaded offerings from lesser restaurants. But, alas, the thick clam is also prone to toughness. Not so Simmie's oysters, which were big, tender and crusted with a crinkly, light and distinctively seasoned breading. (Did we detect a hint of nutmeg?)
Angelique ultimately went with grilled rainbow trout from the fresh-catch menu. It was excellent, the fish moist and flaky, mild but meaty, and perfectly matched to a mix of seasonings which heightened the trout's native sweetness with just a little spice. Sides of creamy macaroni-and-cheese and greens cooked with smoked turkey rounded out this supremely satisfying meal.
It was mostly the crab cake that led Jason to order the seafood platter for his entrée. Although it suffered from an extra minute under the broiler, the cake was simply -- in the best sense -- shredded crab mixed with seasonings and a bit of breading for binder, resulting in a moist, flavorful mouthful of seafood. Harkening to one of the few seafood dishes that did feature in his childhood, Jason chose fried over broiled shrimp, and once again the breading was delightfully light, allowing the sweet succulence of the shrimp to come through. Whitefish was the third part of the platter. Even deep-fried, it paled in comparison to the catfish we'd enjoyed earlier.
Beyond the seafood and the soul food, the menu is rounded out with steaks, pork chops and, for more casual dining, sandwiches and burgers. A few things could stand to be updated, such as the old-school iceberg-and-shredded-cheese salad -- but Simmie's soul food and seafood are gold-standard classics.