Connie’s Seafood Market, and a tribute to Valentina
When you pull into the parking lot of Connie’s Seafood, you’ll see an odd variety of vehicles. You might see a dropped Monte Carlo on dubs, a new Mercedes S500, and a Ram truck pinstriped with a pattern of Ram logos, parked next to one another. Blue collar families save their money to eat here as a special occasion, and white collars stop in as an escape from their sitcoms.
Bright primary colors and handpainted signs abound, the interior is like walking into a recently painted kindergarten, with an unparalleled selection of toy-releasing quarter machines. If you’re there on a weekend, you’ll find an accordion player and guitarist making their rounds among the tables while you strive to avoid eye contact with them. Calling Connie’s “casual” would be an understatement- for some reason, a lot of moms are wearing sweatpants here at any given time.
When the waitress takes your drink order, choose a michelada. If you don’t care for micheladas, that’s because you’ve never had one from Connie’s. They’ll ask what kind of beer you want with it. Go with the cheapest beer they’ve got, because the beer you choose simply serves as a michelada vehicle. You will instantly understand the power and magnitude of this glorious beverage, and fervently wish that you could make these at home. Lucky for you, they recently started bottling this sauce, and they sell it behind the counter for five bucks if you specifically ask for it. You’re welcome.
You can order from the big menu, or you can walk up to the counter and choose a fresh fish from the ice underneath the glass. This can be really tricky if your Spanish is rough, but the helpful sign boards tell you how to order the fish in both languages. I’m a fan of the black drum, an inexpensive and underrated fish (which they were out of on my last visit), but you can also choose from redfish, red snapper, or flounder. You can buy raw fish by the pound if you’d like to cook it at home, or tell them how you’d like it cooked: fried, grilled, pan-grilled “a la plancha”, steamed, or ranchero style. Translations for the different cooking methods are available on the signs above, but it can still be difficult for non-Spanish speakers to communicate to the waitress. If you’re solo, get the smallest fish they have. Be warned of the ranchero style- it is topped with a spicy mix of stewed tomatoes, garlic, jalapenos and probably serranos. It’s very spicy and tastes great on its own, but you won’t taste the fish at all. You can never go wrong with just frying up your fish. If you choose it “ala plancha” (on the grill), they season it well, and it works great with lime and the available Valentina sauce.
If you’re not familiar, Valentina is a mainstay at every serious taqueria in town. This dark, complex and incredibly inexpensive sauce (that is somehow always missing its lid), is the most underrated liquid substance in the Western hemisphere. It’s better than Sriracha. (Sriracha is incredibly popular, but it’s really just spicy red liquid garlic in a dope looking bottle.) There’s nothing wrong with garlic, but you can’t just make your food taste like pure garlic and say you’re improving the taste. Consider this Emiril Lagassi prick, who made his career taking pride in putting tons of garlic in everything, destroying potential relationships across the globe. Imagine the scores of guys and gals of all ages who attempted to impress their dates with these Lagassi garlic recipes, who were then were grossed out by their own dates due to burpy garlic breath. Go Valentina or go home.
You can order a shrimp or octopus cocktail if you’d like. They have ketchup in them. If I had a Delorean with a flux capacitor, my first mission would be to go back in time and bludgeon the idiot who came up with the idea of putting ketchup in seafood cocktails. If you’re seven years of age, and you’re at Red Lobster with your parents, it’s okay to dip your Kid’s Meal fried popcorn shrimp in ketchup, because you are seven. If you agree with me on this, avoid the seafood cocktails that come in a glass, unless you are the type of person who enjoys the unfortunate marriage of shrimp and ketchup and probably Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, too.
Connie’s has a big variety of fried combo plates, and you’ll be happy with all of them. It’s a diverse menu- you can even order fried alligator gar, which is better than you might imagine. Fried catfish is a mainstay here, and you can’t go wrong with it. The fried stuffed crab here is solid too, as well as the shrimp fried rice. Big portions of fresh seafood here at good prices. This is also a great place to get Gulf oysters when they’re in season, and the combination of oysters and a cold michelada in a frosted bar mug will make you feel like Charlie Sheen on payday. While you’re on this side of town, check out Canino’s market across the street (weekends only), El Bolillo bakery, and keep an eye out for the elusive Rio Verde taco truck.
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G&T Pro Tip: Next time you want to cook up some pork chops, marinate them in a Ziploc with Valentina and a bit of honey.