Judging eateries by appearance is probably as wise as judging books by their covers, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t tempted in that direction. In the case of University Seafood, the odd, faux adobe exterior seems to speak of a Tex-Mex building history in a section of Highland Road north of LSU that has seen better days. Some folks at the university or passing by may not be blamed for taking one look and proceeding onward.
But, if you’re looking for a meal that is tasty, reasonably priced and filling, one is reminded of something many a parent has told a picky-eating child: You don’t taste with your eyeballs.
Recent lunch visits left us mostly pleased. University Seafood won’t win any points for ambience, but knows how to fry, grill and boil seafood — and some other items — quite effectively. There is an Asian influence in the menu, with fried rice instead of fries being the side order linked to most of the lunch specials, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
The popcorn shrimp ($7.29 small, $10.29 large) featured 10 fried shrimp tails that were far larger that what we think of as popcorn size, and they were cooked wonderfully, with a crisp, delicate batter with enough pepper to make it interesting, but not so much that the flavor of the shrimp itself was obliterated. Our server didn’t ask if we wanted cocktail sauce, and once we started eating, we didn’t ask for any.
Fried catfish was among the $5.99 lunch specials we sampled on one trip. The fish portion was large for the money, and the quality filets were fried lightly, with the fish flavor dominating instead of the batter. My guest found the shrimp fried rice salty for his taste; I added soy sauce. Different strokes.
Another of the lunch special options is the pork chop, which we chose grilled instead of fried. It was tender, lightly seasoned and, once again, more than worth the $5.99, cheaper than even a McDonald’s value meal these days.
The shrimp salad ($6.99) was another winner. The shrimp were grilled to our liking, and the iceberg lettuce and sliced onions and vegetables crisp and plentiful, topped with grated cheese.
If only because the aroma of boiled seafood left no doubt about what kind of restaurant this was, we got a pound of boiled shrimp, which came out immediately, hot and delicious. This time, we were asked and accepted cocktail sauce, which didn’t have quite the horseradish tang we prefer, but was adequate for the occasion.
University Seafood has a number of sandwiches and po-boys. The restaurant was out of French bread when we wanted a po-boy, so we opted for the grilled chicken sandwich ($4.99) on wheat. It was pretty unmemorable. The bread looked like the cheap stuff at the grocery store, and didn’t do a good job of holding the thick chunks of chicken together as the mayonnaise in the dressing began to soften it. The fries were below average, too.
The corn and shrimp soup ($3.99 cup, $5.99 bowl), however, was satisfying — thick and peppery.