It’s hard to resist the kitschy charm of the ferocious plastic shark that stands outside the entrance of the Fish Market, remote roadhouse has the feel of a Cajun hideaway in the Louisiana bayou.
Inside, the tufted banquettes are turquoise, the soundtrack is zydeco and the wall art celebrates the beach, beer and that old New Orleans refrain: laissez les bon temps rouler.
The restaurant opened a little more than a year ago in what used to be an actual fish market near the banks of Liberty Bend. That loopy stretch of river got straightened out years ago, moving the waterway and its fish southward.
The restaurant is at the bottom of a hairpin ramp off Missouri 291, an exit that comes up quickly if you’re traveling north on the highway.
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I will venture to declare that the Fish Market may very well be the best restaurant in the metro that’s adjacent to a junkyard, which you’ll notice on your right as you approach.
That’s not meant to damn with faint praise. It’s more to note that a decent and lively meal can be had sometimes in the most unexpected of places.
I found the Fish Market to be friendly and reasonably satisfying, especially if you’re in the mood for low-country comfort food. But occasional glitches made me wonder about its consistency.
The place is justifiably proud of its cold beers, but one night our party seemed more acquainted with the craft brews on the list than the server was. It also champions its twice weekly deliveries of farmed catfish from Mississippi and freshly caught shrimp from a Gulf Coast supplier.
In general, most of the shrimp I tried here — boiled and fried — was fresh and plump, but the fried catfish chunks struck my companion, She Who Is Not Easily Pleased, as on the tough side. (We tend to prefer our fried catfish whole, but that’s not an option here.)
Kansas Citians have had a long-lasting taste for Cajun and Creole cuisine, at least going back to the 1980s, when Kiki Lucente gained a huge following with her Bon Ton Maison in Westport.
At the multiple area outposts for Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen or at Danny’s Big Easy at 18th and Vine, you can still satisfy cravings for étouffée and jambalaya.
At the Fish Market, there’s less reliance on those Creole standbys; you’ll want to be in the mood for cornmeal-battered, crispy-coated bites and guilt-inducing slatherings of a tasty remoulade.
Because this is more a sandwich shop than a raw bar, you also won’t find fresh crawdads or oysters, as you’d expect from a place that pays tribute to the Gulf Coast.
But much of what the Fish Market offers is quite good: a variety of po’boys and Gulf shrimp in various guises.
It was disappointing, though, on two visits to discover that dishes I ordered — both menu staples — were unavailable. On the first experience, during a frenetic though not overly busy Sunday, it took an inordinate amount of time after ordering to learn that the kitchen was out of fried shrimp.
On the next slip, a weekday evening, it seemed surprising, if not lamentable, that my table of four would be going without gumbo.
When the fried shrimp was declared missing in action, I opted for a boiled shrimp basket, which presented about 10 good-size, tender shrimp, along with a short barrel of corn on the cob and some nicely boiled small potatoes.
I’m not one to avoid the come-hither of butter, even when presented in commercial packets, so I used it with abandon over the potatoes and corn and pronounced myself happy.
She Who and I were much less impressed with a heap of fried okra. The crust was too crunchy against the undercooked okra inside.
Among appetizers, fried pickle chips delivered a pleasing contrast of crunch and a slightly sour interior. A firecracker shrimp appetizer, not fried, indeed carried a peppery edge in its dressing.
Conch fritters, another specialty, managed to include more than a microscopic bit of the Bahamian conch inside the substantial ball of fried dough.
One night’s special was an Asian shrimp po’boy, which featured a good-size pile of the curled crustacean on a long roll, with a slightly sweet and peppery sauce. A smoked, pulled-pork po’boy served on a soft onion roll seemed a little too heavily smoked. The fried shrimp basket came through and proved an able companion to the crispy fries on the side.
We’d heard from a friend that the fried frog legs were exceptional, and I will second that.
“Does it taste like chicken?” someone at the table asked. Sure thing.
These frogs were real porkers, too, having a pair of legs reminiscent of an Olympic weightlifter. A couple of corn fritters and those respectable french fries rounded out the basket.
We were filled to capacity but succumbed to the offer of a strawberry cake, made by Classy Chocolate, a downtown Liberty bakery operated by the same owner, we were told.
The cake was dense and flavorful and smeared with a super sweet icing; my friends were a little horrified, but I almost couldn’t stop eating it.
Bon temps, for sure.
The Fish Market
1120 E. Old 210 Highway, Liberty
Food: Though inconsistent, the kitchen delivers some classic, fried Cajun comfort food.
Service: Friendly, but casual and a little overtaxed. T
Atmosphere: Fun diner-style room up front, cozy bar area in back. Two and a half stars.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.
Entree average (including nightly specials): $$
Vegetarian options: Fried okra, salads, coleslaw and other sides.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
Parking: Small lot.
Kids: A short list for kids includes pulled-pork sliders, catfish, shrimp and more.
Noise level: Moderate; background sound system is ear-friendly.
Reservations: Not required.
Star code: Fair, Good, Excellent, Extraordinary
Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.
Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewer’s. The Star pays for review meals.
What to drink
The Fish Market has a surprisingly attractive beer list, offering craft brews by the bottle and can at value prices. Have a PBR for $2.75, a bottle of Hoegaarden for $3.75 or a Tallgrass 8-Bit for $4.50. Other familiar beers on the list include offerings from the likes of Abita, Lagunitas, Boulevard and more. Chilled schooners add to the attraction.
Fried pickles, $5.95
Conch fritters, $6.95
Frog leg basket, $10.95
Firecracker shrimp, $6.95
Boiled shrimp dinner, $14
Fried shrimp basket, $12.25