Story and photos by Mark Sterling-Ogle, Sept. 25, 2014.
Although I keep my ear to the ground about the latest and greatest dining destinations around town, on occasion establishments that have been around for some time catch my eye. Whether you are new to the Valley or, like me, have never given certain places a chance, keep in mind that even the roughest looking oysters can have beautiful pearls hidden inside.
Knock Kneed Lobster has been run by the Sullivan family continuously for more than 65 years. Originally situated at 24th and Washington streets, the restaurant is now located just one light east at 32nd Street. This building dates back to the 1930s and was once home to the most popular nightclub in Phoenix, Guys & Dolls.
On occasion, I’ve driven by this self-described shrimp and fish shack without giving it a second thought, other than to ponder about the interesting name. It wasn’t until my fifth or sixth date with my fiancé that I actually pulled into the lot, fairly skeptical of the little white building. But the full parking eased my apprehensions.
Inside, the décor — what I would describe as “shabby-chic wharfism” — features artificial flowers separating the booths of dinette tables and a neon shark in an empty aquarium tank sits front and center. Posters of seaports, fisherman’s nets adorned with seashells and strings of Christmas lights abound. On my first visit, my partner reassured me that this was the norm, and that the only change was the absence of the Ms. Pac-Man machine he used to play as a young boy.
But we go here for the food — fried seafood to be exact — we place our orders at the counter and, in return, we receive a numbered receipt and Styrofoam cups for our drinks.
Then on to the condiment bar, set up with just about everything you might need, for fresh lemon wedges, house made cocktail and tartar sauce, Louisiana hot sauce and malt vinegar.
It is my partner’s love of their fried shrimp that has made us semi-regulars here, but I’m always up for a fish fix myself. The fish are hand cut Alaskan cod filets, approximately five to six ounces each, and they utilize Mexican jumbo shrimp (21-25 per pound), when available.
When my partner declares it’s time for a dose of his childhood favorite, he always orders the six shrimp and chips ($12.35). The large shrimp are sliced lengthwise into long strips before hand battering and frying, and are served with a sizable order of shoestring French fries. The shrimp and chips come in as small as a two-piece meal ($5.05). I usually opt for two fish ’n three shrimp ($12.80) and rarely polish off the fries, but there are countless combinations available to suit any appetite.
We took a friend most recently and he ordered the seafood sampler ($14.45), which includes one freshly battered piece of cod, one fried shrimp, one fried oyster, 4 ounces of fried clam strips and your choice of two side dishes (like all of their seafood dinners). He was impressed that all the fried food was piping hot and crispy, not at all greasy.
There are many side dishes to choose from, which are also available à la carte. We found the wild rice blend ($2) to have a rich nuttiness, the coleslaw ($1.95) to be rich and creamy with just the right balance of tart and sweet. The hush puppies (regular, $2.95; large, $5.95), from an old family recipe, were beautifully browned on the outside while still fluffy, not too dense, with bits of fresh corn inside.
This visit also gave me a chance to try a few more items. I ordered steamed king crab legs ($15.95) and two grilled lobster tails ($27.95). The crab legs were split and it was no work at all to extract the succulent meat. I would say the order yielded about 6 ounces of deliciousness and, with the addition of the two sides, was the clear winner of the two. The tails were small, about 4 ounces each, and spilt before being grilled. While quite tasty, they lost the perceived value competition.
The only soup on the menu is New England-style clam chowder (8 ounces, $4.35). I am a big fan of clam chowder, both the cream- and the tomato-based varieties, here I was disappointed. The soup seemed to have “broken,” the culinary term for separated. Rather than having a silky consistency, it had a grainy look to it and I was digging for pieces of clam.
The menu hasn’t changed much, except for the small price increases through the years. The one new item is a fish taco ($2.50), which features a strip of their famous fried cod served with corn tortillas, lettuce, cheese and a “secret sauce.” It was as good as any I have had south of the border and was accompanied by a side of ghost pepper and mango salsa that was outstanding but spicy enough to earn a “used in moderation” warning.
There is nothing fancy about this seafood shack, but the scrumptious fruits de mer frits will certainly get you hooked.