Food & Drink Neptune's rusty spear 

A dated neighborhood seafood joint serves it up fresh, fried, and friendly

Before 1922 Goliad Road was Neptune's Seafood House, it was an attorney's office and, before that, an insurance agency. The building must surely date from the '40s or '50s: red brick, Federal-style detailing, and clipped boxwood hedges lining a concrete walk to the front door that nobody uses. (Everybody comes in the back door from the parking lot.). And, for better or worse, Neptune's interior looks as though it has been there all the while; only the battered marlin adorning the front dining-room wall provides a clue to the many times the restaurant, which has been in this location only four years, moved within the neighborhood since 1980.

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The Neptune's Platter: Fried Atlantic cod fillets, jumbo breaded shrimp, fried oysters, stuffed crab, and seafood gumbo served with fries and coleslaw, and shown here with a side of fried okra. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

If the menu has a tired look, too, it nonetheless appeals to the locals who dine there, many of whom have probably followed the restaurant from place to place. Neptune's is a palace of pescado frito, and so I began with fried seafood - under the gaze of nautical knick-knacks, one of which was a plaque bearing this deathless verse: "Early to Bed, Early to rise, Fish all day, Make up lies." I'll try to avoid the last part.

The first truth is that if it weren't for this review, I wouldn't be eating fried seafood. The second is that some of it was really quite good. I can't say that the lightly breaded fish filets had much flavor, but the fry job was impeccable: light, crisp, and barely a whisper of grease. The same holds true for the oysters, which seemed fresh and had more moxie than the fish. As for the shrimp, their breading was different from the light cornmeal of the previous two; it was seasoned with a spice blend that included a hint of cayenne or paprika. If you like this creative touch, then the shrimp will please as well; they're medium in size and freshly cooked to order, just as the menu promises.

If you like Neptune's tartar sauce, well, here we part ways: It is very mayonnaise-y and, because it must all pass through the nozzle of a squeeze bottle, well blended. I gotta say that the coleslaw, a staple of fried fish palaces and barbecue joints alike, didn't pass muster, either. Not that it wasn't fresh, but it had no dressing, creamy or otherwise, to speak of. Paradoxically, a combination of slaw and tartar sauce made for a much more interesting pescatorial accompaniment than either alone.

One other word of advice: No matter which entrée you choose, consider the rice sides. Both the "wild" rice blend and the nutty pilaf tasted like a pre-packaged mix, but they're honest enough. Fries and a sometimes-available baked potato are the other options, along with corn on the cob.

My next quest was for something grilled or broiled. Neptune's offers a regular selection of "grilled" fish, shrimp, and chicken. But the chalkboard special, a grilled tilapia with lime pepper and a topping of grilled peppers and onions, called out siren-like. As is the case with most sirens, it was more show than go - generously endowed but a little overcooked, lacking any real lime-pepper punch and relying on the grilled accessories for most of the flavor. Though it wasn't at all bad, I won't be seduced again.

Neptune's Seafood House
1922 Goliad Rd.
11am-8:45pm Mon-Thu,
11am-9:45pm Fri & Sat
Price Range $4.29-$14.99
Major credit cards
Wheelchair accessible
I would, however, rush right back for the fried okra, probably the best example of this humble appetizer I've ever had. In truth, it's served with an average ranch dressing, but I still found the cornmeal-breaded bits - crisp, fresh, and fat-free - utterly irresistible.

A small bowl of gumbo was less worthy of unbridled praise, but my quibble is based on 'Awlins-style authenticity. Once you get over that hurdle, the gravy-thick, seafood-studded concoction had a slight, tomato-like sweetness and no bulky rice, which gives Neptune's bonus points in my book. Neighborhood-friendly service, by the way, adds even more bonus points to the tally.

Desserts aren't emphasized in the house of Neptune, though there are cello-wrapped cake slices at the cash register counter. One was Pepto-Bismol pink, frosting and all. It might have been good, but after fried fish, I just couldn't bite. No lie.



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