Maybe you don’t equate the Inland Empire with seafood, even if we do have questionable tilapia fresh from the Salton Sea. But we landlocked folk still love the fish and chips, or maybe even one step better—shrimp and chips.
In order to fulfill the seafood niche, many IE restaurants serve freezer-burnt fish and mushy deep-fry, or worse, the illogical lemon-soaking fetish that seems to be sweeping the country. Am I the only one who hates fish drowned in lemon juice? Perhaps it’s to numb your taste buds with citric acid so you think the fish you’re eating is only three days old.
Either way, that’s not what you find at Little Fisherman Seafoods. And while seafood restaurants so far inland are usually steeped in bad reviews, this one in Redlands comes with a solid pedigree and a pretty big backstory.
Neil Caserma was a fisherman in Ischia Ponte, Italy before leaving with his brothers across the pond (and the world) to San Pedro. The family began fishing off San Pedro pier, casting nets for squid, mackerel, sea bass, cod and barracuda. That’s where the story gets a little fuzzy, and quickly ends with Neil’s grandson, Michael Kalina, opening Little Fisherman, to continue the family business. How did they get to San Bernardino County? Who can guess what happened in that lost generation? Perhaps a Black Angus or T.G.I. Friday’s franchise that the family never talks about?
On Sundays, Little Fisherman offers brunch and jazz, but while I was there, I was thankfully only subjected to classical piano. Other Sundays, it’s a more jazz-oriented affair, as diners quietly eat their calamari steak or crab cakes.
While the restaurant also sells seafood, the restaurant is very deep-fry friendly, from its hush puppies to fried clams. When I heard they had calamari, I eagerly asked if it had tentacles, or was the more unnatural steak variety. Blame it on my experience at a seafood dive in Massachusetts, but whenever I’m offered calamari, I want to see tentacles, not calamari steak. If you can’t handle tentacles and the little flailing arms of tiny squid being swallowed whole, then you shouldn’t be eating it. Perhaps I’m into culinary sadism, but all carnivores have to embrace their bloodthirsty ways in all of its canine-baring glory.
While the cod and chips are good, I vote for the shrimp and chips. These prawns aren’t the kind you find in your garden-variety shrimp cocktail—instead, you get 10 monster shrimps that could apparently walk onto land and eat small rodents. It’s a generous helping, a rarity in today’s pricey seafood market, and the fries are so deep-fried that they crunch when you bite into them.
For those on bigger budgets than freelance writers, Little Fisherman offers a lobster dinner for two, including sides and a bottle of wine for $45.95. There’s also an oyster bar where amateurs can attempt to be sexy and inhale oysters on the half-shell whole, hopefully without doubling over and choking (the Heimlich maneuver can be sexy, too).
So give some IE seafood a try, without having to inhale the pungent scent of dead fish or the Salton Sea (isn’t that the same thing?). The ghost of Grandpa Caserma will thank you.
LITTLE FISHERMAN SEAFOODS, 1175 W. REDLANDS BLVD., REDLANDS, (909) 798-5998. LUNCH FOR TWO: $25.