There’s a certain set of criteria for fishmongers. Is the shop busy? Is the display ice slushy and clear or melting and discolored? Does it smell like the inside of a sailor’s shoe? Generally speaking, a negative mark for any of these questions will deep six a fish joint. It’s simply not worth the risk to eat bad fish. Especially when the fishmonger in question is based in landlocked Indiana.
Caplinger’s Fresh Catch Seafood Market, on Indy’s Northeast side, passes these tests with flying colors. In fact, it’s almost as if the shop goes out of its way to prove its legitimacy. If buying fish in Indiana takes a certain kind of bravado (idiocy), Caplinger’s invites the challenge.
What’s great about Caplinger’s is that it is both a fish market and a seafood restaurant, with both aspects of the business operating within the same small space. If the shop weren’t in a strip mall on Shadeland and 75th, it might be right at home as a standalone shack near a Louisiana pier. Three feet from the threshold sits one of the shop’s counters and display cases – in this case, the “money display.” Rock oysters, round scallops, and plump prawns perch atop hills of ice right in the doorway to the shop. Any expectations that a Hoosier fish market might hide more exotic seafood are dashed.
That being said, the rest of the shop is decidedly un-exotic. Because the location is so compact, customers pick fish and wait in line directly next to the tables and chairs where those eating in sit. The tops of the counters are chock full of the spices and sauces used to prepare seafood. Clearly, convenience is the name of the game. And finally, all orders, whether from the sandwich section or the dinner menu, are served in Styrofoam boxes with plastic utensils. These details, simple as they may be, mean the entire experience revolves around, nay depends on, the quality of the fish and the ingredients. The result is exquisite.
First, the standard lunch fare: fish sandwiches with a side. As one would imagine, the preparation of the protein is well executed. The fish is lightly breaded and fried (optionally grilled) until hot and flaky. Then, a chef takes a locally baked bun, tartar sauce, lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles and assembles them into a sandwich that would entice even the least experienced seafood-eater. The portions are ample, even with more expensive proteins such as the “Lobsta” roll. Finally, the sandwich specials are rounded out with sides that might be even better than the entrées themselves. Yats enthusiasts will be delighted to find Southern classics such as red beans & rice with Andouille sausage, collard greens, fried okra, and big hush puppies. What could be an afterthought strongly bolsters the overall meal. The slightly sweet, golden brown bun pairs nicely with the spicy beans and rice, making the menu more dynamic than the average lunch place. A few bites in, it doesn’t matter that the meal comes in a Styrofoam box. The experience is better for it.
Taken together, a visit to Caplinger’s is an absolute must. Even though a pork tenderloin sandwich plays to the Hoosier state’s strengths, an opportunity for fresh and delicious seafood cannot be overlooked. Grab a Lobsta roll for lunch and some Alaskan King Salmon for dinner. Don’t be afraid to experiment with strange types of fish – the fishmongers behind the counter know their stuff and guarantee the product is fresh, usually caught the day before. Best of all, Caplinger’s is family owned and operated. The owner of the shop is dedicated to delivering quality seafood at a fair price. He won’t hesitate to inform a customer that they might find a better deal or fresher options elsewhere if he doesn’t have something on hand. Additionally, the staff behind the counter are always friendly and quick to offer suggestions. Caplinger’s has invested in fishmongers with skill and experience, which is what you want in a fish market. After a few visits, they’ll recognize you as a regular. Do yourself a favor and visit Caplinger’s Fresh Catch Seafood Market. You will not regret it.
Written by: Brian Banta