First Look: Bait & Switch

Let’s get one thing straight: there’s no truly regional seafood tradition in the Mid-Atlantic. Sure, Barnegat Bay has it’s scallops, the Chesapeake has its crabs, and Atlantic City has a completely different kind of crabs, but when it comes to seafood that you eat, Philadelphia sits squarely at a crossroads of traditions. South of here there are soft shells and Old Bay, fish fries with hush puppies. Up north? Clambakes, lobster rolls, and chowder. Even if Fishtown’s namesake comes from shad fishing, it’s a tradition as present in our city lives as Long John Silver, himself.

It’s precisely this freedom from tradition and that allows Bait and Switch, Port Richmond’s newest drinking and dining destination, to be so dang fun. There’s no pretense of authenticity at all at this new seafood restaurant. The window proudly proclaims “The best seafood in the world – founded 1818 by Captain Merrill Stubing” (points if you can name that reference without Google), but it opened just a month ago. The walls are festooned with boat paraphernalia, mounted fish, and seafaring-themed books and paintings. Portraits of famous captains—including Jean-Luc Picard—adorn the “Captain Wall” and canvas panels roped to the walls invoke some uncharacteristically roomy, below-deck storage area somewhere.

Joe Beckham, the force behind Fishtown’s Loco Pez, is also the owner of Bait and Switch, and he’s very clear that just as the mixed-up menu of tacos at Loco Pez’s was inspired by the fusion taco trucks of LA, Bait and Switch is playing, tongue-in-cheek with the seafaring theme to “anchor” (his pun, not mine) a menu of some of our favorite ways to eat fish.

The menu begins with appetizers well suited to the bar offerings of beers and the always-available Schuylkill Punch: clams casino with bacon and parmesan; a classic New England clam chowder; peel-and-eat shrimp; and a tangy fresh salad of baby kale with pickled shrimp, avocado, and escabeche. Your new favorite half price happy hour snack is the “Bait Bucket,” a summer answer to poutine, it’s a paper bucket of Old Bay fries and cheese curds, topped with a ladle of creamy clam chowder and green onion.

There are fish sandwiches and tacos, and a few composed entrees like the shrimp and grits; six big, Mexico shrimp, curling into a bed of cheesy grits. You know the dish is from Port Richmond from the addition of Czerw’s cajun kielbasa. Cod, golden and puffed, appears atop a pile of proper rough-cut potato “chips,” both accompanied by the traditional mushy peas, sweet, fresh, and shot through with the unmistakable flavor of fresh mint.

At the heart of chef Joe Hunt’s menu, however, is just fried fish with two sides and two sauces, and it’s here that you see the mix-and-match ethos of the place in action. Go for the Fish or Shrimp Fry, or the Fry Basket, a mix of fish, shrimp, oysters, and clam strips, tossed in a cornmeal crust. Go Southern and match yours with slaw and hush puppies, or dress it up with seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes. Looking for local seafood? Customize the catch of the day—blackened, broiled, or fried— with two sides and pick two: cocktail, tartar, salsa verde, creole aioli, or Vietnamese pepper sauces.

Even for non-seafood-eating Port Richmonders the menu includes an entirely serviceable cheeseburger, and a classic Nashville hot chicken sandwich. The latter is a cayenne-dunked piece of spicy bone-in fried chicken served open-faced and dripping on a slice of white bread with pickles and a pile of fries. For vegetarians, the “Not Fish Basket” is blackened tofu, crispy fried vegetables, and hot cauliflower, again with sides and sauces.

Port Richmond might not be on your dining radar yet, but it might be worth going out of your way for a classic Key Lime Pie or a nitro pour of Forgotten Boardwalk’s Funnel Cake ale. This Bait and Switch, a new arrival, has the potential to be the neighborhood bar, family-friendly restaurant, and low-key hangout that will draw locals and cross-town traffic alike. And seafood tradition or no, that’s the best kind of catch-all there is.

Bait & Switch [Official]