This summer marks five years since whatever dark magicks at work in Dartmouth led to an architectural behemoth to spring forth unbidden from the mud by Highway 111.
A sprawling, clumsy golem with the word "buy" scrawled across its forehead, this colossus shows no mercy to tiny shopping districts of yore, its strongman grip tightening with every new store and restaurant. "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Dartmouth Crossing roars, as tears roll down the lonely cheeks of Barrington Street.
In the midst of some of the big-box stores and stadium-sized restaurants are a handful of tiny fast food joints, chains mostly. Sam's Seafood Express is one of the locals.
It's a pretty standard take-out joint, a sort of diner-meets-cafeteria style dining room that sits in the shadow of an overhead menu filled with fast-food classics from fish and chips and fried chicken to the challenge of a one-pound cheeseburger.
There only seems to be one person working in the half-full dining room. She finishes tidying up a corner of the restaurant and pops behind the counter, in front of a small window that peeks into the kitchen, to take our order. We decide on a one-piece fish and chips platter ($5.95), the quarter BBQ chicken platter ($6.95), onion rings ($3.95) and a couple of fountain pops ($0.99).
The food isn't exactly fast. The turnaround takes a little while, but it's delivered to our table by the friendly cashier who took our order.
The two red trays are packed with food. The piece of fish is the size of a brick, glistening with oil on top of a pile of golden French fries. A little tub of coleslaw and a lemon wedge finish the plate.
The fish is cooked well, still moist and flaky on the inside. The batter is thick and has a nice crispness to it, though there is an oily blandness to the flavour. Some vinegar--- Sam's has white and malt, which is nice---and packets of Kraft tartar sauce do something to add some flavour, but I am a little disappointed a place that specializes in fried seafood doesn't make its own tartar sauce. It would be an easy way to make the meal feel a little more special and a little less Sysco.
The chicken platter is a mirror to the fish plate, with a barbecue-sauce-coated quarter chicken replacing the fish in the combo. The chicken is OK, but not great. It's very moist, but the skin isn't quite rendered enough so it's kind of slimy. The sauce tastes like a standard rib and chicken Diana sauce. There is a hint of smokiness to the predominantly sweet sauce, but it's pretty run-of-the-mill.
The French fries served with the platters are your average frozen fries. They are thick and very potato-y, but lack any crispness and are basically unseasoned when they hit the plate. Adding a bit of salt and some malt vinegar amps up the taste, but the vinegar also makes them even soggier. Once again, I wish that there was a little more attention spent on the basics. The coleslaw falls heavily on the sweet side. I wish it had been more acidic, to cut through the grease.
The onion rings are the highlight of the meal. They are super crispy, with sweet onion and a nicely seasoned batter. They're pretty simple---probably frozen---onion rings, but they are fried to perfection and absolutely delicious.
Our huge lunch for two, with tip, clocks in around $25---it's not the best lunch I've ever had, but it is a decent find in the shopping park. And as Dartmouth Crossing continues to expand, it's nice to see some local businesses get in on the growth.