In its first week, Fishmonger sold nearly 700 pounds of fresh fish from the cold cases. Close to 60 grouper sandwiches are served each day, possibly the most popular lunch item on the menu. The hype surrounding Fishmonger is electric, validated by the stories piling up on the market’s Instagram feed. People post photos of home-cooked fish dinners with fish purchased from the market and tables at Fishmonger crowded with plates of scallop crudo, Gulf shrimp salad sandwiches, and oysters topped with creme fraiche, beads of bright red fish roe, and kiwi.
“We’re selling equal parts lunch menu items and fish, surpassing what we thought it was going to do when we first opened, which has felt so good,” co-owner Skip Engelbrecht says.
It’s how Engelbrecht and Nhan Le (8ARM, Octopus Bar) and their chef and partner Bradford Forsblom knew they were on to something special after opening Fishmonger in Poncey-Highland at the end of April.
As the third week in business gets underway, and the flow of service stabilizes, Engelbrecht, Le, and Forsblom are expanding hours into the evening, transforming Fishmonger into a raw bar serving oysters, shrimp cocktail, fruit de mer, and a selection of dishes from the lunch menu, including the shrimp Louie salad and steamed mussels paired with an Evergreen Butcher and Baker baguette.
Fishmonger will eventually serve beer and natural wine by the glass, bottle, and can when the business receives its liquor license. For now, it’s BYOB at the North Highland seafood market.
Le and Engelbrecht are excited about this latest venture together. The longtime business partners and friends arrive early in the morning to help Forsblom prep, cut, and serve the seafood arriving at Fishmonger from around the Gulf. Engelbrecht is in his element. Donning a work apron, he frequently steps out from behind the seafood counter to greet people seated at tables or standing in line to purchase fish, shrimp, and oysters.
Engelbrecht, who hails from Florida, says the idea for Fishmonger came while he and Le were visiting his father there and touring fisheries in the state.
“I turned to Nhan and was like, ‘let’s do a fish market in Atlanta, it would be great,’” says Engelbrecht. “I’ve got guys bringing me fish twice a week, driving up from Florida. We’re getting seafood fresh out of the water. We had snappers we received in the afternoon that were caught that morning.”
With the closest beach to Atlanta over 250 miles away, it’s not unusual for people to walk in to Fishmonger claiming not to really like seafood or asking questions about how to prepare fish at home, Engelbrecht says. Despite Atlanta boasting one of the country’s most transient populations, many residents didn’t grow up on or near the coast. Fish likely wasn’t regularly part of the weekly meal plan.
“If you’ve never eaten fresh fish before or all you’ve had is fried fish or old, pungent fish, you’re likely going to turn your nose up. I get that,” he says of opening the seafood market. “We want to help change that for people. There’s a big flavor difference between something that’s literally come out of the ocean within hours, or even a day, compared to fish that’s been frozen and shipped and been out of the water for two or three months.”
Forsblom’s menu doesn’t feature fried fish, but rather delicate filets of blackened grouper topped with zesty Florida sauce, herb salad, and pickled peppers served on a buttery toasted bun smeared with nori butter. The savory fish chowder is brimming with whole shrimp, scallops, chunks of flaky fish, and tender cubes of Yukon gold potatoes. It’s satisfying even on a warm day with a cold beer. A sourdough bagel from Evergreen bakery in Kirkwood comes topped with beet- and gin-cured salmon, pickled and fried onions, herbs, and tobiko (flying fish roe).
Whole, fresh-caught fish and shrimp for sale chill on ice next to bundles of oysters, mussels, and clams at the counter. Fishmonger cuts fish to order, and even provides suggestions on seasoning and cooking methods. Sparkling water, sodas, and soon beer and wine are available in the reach-in refrigerator, along with packaged sides of the market’s pickled beets, Sea Island pea salad, and coleslaw.
The menu leans lighter and fresher in the evenings, with shucked-by-the-order oysters, shrimp cocktail, and plates of crudo and boquerones and oil-cured anchovies. People gather around a communal high-top table or the railing inside to eat. The large front windows open out, giving the dining area a breezy feel, as people eat at bright yellow bistro sets dotting the sidewalk.
“We really think about the dining here as a sort of Paris street scene — pulling tables out on to the sidewalk, no reservations, just a super casual, neighborhood place with elevated food,” says Engelbrecht.
He describes the vibe at Fishmonger as similar to the buzzy neighborhood spots found throughout San Fransisco, New York, and Paris. There’s an air of spontaneity to the atmosphere at Fishmonger, one that encourages people running into friends in line to continue catching up over a quick bite and a drink before heading off to their next destination. Inquisitive passersby frequently pop in to check out the scene and ask questions.
“There’s a lot cool things happening on the street and in the neighborhood right now, and it’s really great to be a part of that,” Engelbrecht says. “I love meeting new people and am enjoying getting to know Poncey-Highland and seeing regulars from our other restaurants come to see us here. It’s really neat. We just want to become a staple for people in Poncey-Highland.”
674 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta.
Open for market purchases and lunch, Tuesday - Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Raw bar opens at 7 p.m. Follow Fishmonger on Instagram for updates.
Public transit information: Accessible via MARTA buses #102 and #816 on North Highland and buses #2 and #102 on Ponce de Leon.