Gainesville, Georgia – A simple little town that surely had seen better days. From small, dusty business buildings to the tiny mechanic shops that have lost its gloss and glamour, this must be District 12 from Hunger Games. But, even the darkest coal mine has its shiny treasure. Tucked in the middle of Gainesville is Atlanta Highway Seafood Market, directly off of its namesake street. As you step into this seafood joint, immediately you are faced with stocks of fish, shrimps, clams, and other salt and fresh water creatures that may or may not be recognizable to the common diner. This is the fresh catch of the day. At the register, you can choose from the fresh seafood selection or the extensive menu of prepared dishes.
Owner and head chef, Louisiana native Phuong Le, has perfected the large variety of recipes and left even the Creole food capital, New Orleans, green with envy. By handpicking his own ingredients from the restaurant’s own seafood market, Le’s cuisine ranked highest in freshness and authenticity. First and foremost, have a cup of gumbo. This authentic, iconic dish is a melting pot blend of sausages, okra, shrimps, and shredded chicken, served over steamed rice. One bite and you’ll think you were in the midst of a Bourbon Street Jazz Fest. Now that you’re hooked on the gumbo, venture to the rest of the menu. From Fried Calamari, Scallop Etouffee, Oysters Platter to Chilean Sea Bass Tacos, Atlanta Highway Seafood Market promise to deliver satisfaction.
Take advantage of the crawfish season and order the Cajun Crawfish Special. More often than not, the standard seafood shacks tend to over season their country boil, masking the natural flavors of the protein with an overwhelming amount of spices. Ultimately, the heavy use of cayenne, hot sauce, and other spicy agents overshadow the seafood itself, turning the dish into a man-versus-fire challenge. However, Le’s knowledge and respects for his ingredients translate to his food, making Atlanta Highway Seafood Market a cut above the rest.
Le’s Cajun Crawfish is a juicy marriage of fatty, buttery crawfish with just the right amount seasoning to excite the palate, allowing the sweet and tenderness of the crawfish to still be the shining star of this plate. The dish comes with corn on the cob, nicely bathed in the crawfish broth itself. Having table manners is out of the question. You’d want to dive right in with your two hands and devour those plump crawfish and corns. Feel free to do so, the restaurant will supply you with a generous portion of napkins.
As a salute to his Vietnamese background, Le also has a one-of-a-kind salmon banh mi, a unique French baguette that combines East Asian culture to Cajun cuisine. A thick salmon fillet is seasoned and grilled to perfection, placed in a warm baguette with sriracha aioli, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, then garnished with fresh cilantro. It is an innovative, nontraditional take on the Vietnamese signature sandwich.
With selections of sea bass, frog legs, scallops, or soft shell crabs, one would assume Atlanta Highway Seafood Market is an upscale seafood cafe with white table cloths and sparkling silverwares. Conversely, Le stays true to his roots and operates the restaurant as a neighborhood eatery. The casual ambience, the upbeat chattering, the made from scratch food will make you feel like you’re having dinner at grandma’s, if you were lucky enough to have a grandma that cooks this well. Le’s high standards for his food, combined with his friendly charisma, make him well regarded by his community and peers. ?The combination of delectable food, respected chef, and close-knit community create an at-home atmosphere in the market’s dining area.
No matter what time of the day it is, the entire population of Gainesville seems to gather here for a quick bite. Here, everyone knows each other. The wait staffs are warm, but dining guests are even warmer. They shake your hand and welcome you, ask about your baby, and tell you wonderful stories of their grandchildren. They may even share their hushpuppies with you. So, whether you are craving seafood or just want a full experience of small town hospitality, come to Atlanta Highway Seafood Market. You may even run into Katniss Everdeen, munching on a Po Boy.