White River Fish Market- Tulsa’s Fresh Fish Mecca
By Linda Miller
White River Fish Market in Tulsa isn’t in a bustling downtown or a trendy neighborhood, yet it has been discovered by Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Southern Living magazines. That’s testament to the food.
The restaurant, nestled in a small, nondescript strip center on the north side of town, dishes up some of the freshest seafood in the state. So fresh that it’s flown or trucked in almost daily.
Scallops, flounder, tilapia, sea bass, catfish and red snapper, and nearly a dozen other kinds of fish, fill the large refrigerated case at the front of the restaurant. Diners place their orders there, then seat themselves in the dining room. Servers find them, orders in hand.
It’s a practice that started decades ago, and Tom Clark, the third owner, has kept up the tradition.
What is now a popular restaurant and seafood market started as a delivery service. In the early 1930s, Oran Fallis and his father carted produce from Oklahoma farms to stores in Arkansas. Being smart businessmen, for the trip back to Oklahoma they filled up their truck with fish from White River and sold it roadside. That turned into a fresh-fish wholesale business in downtown Tulsa. After World War II, the younger Fallis returned home, grabbed a frying pan and opened a lunch counter.
Two decades later, the restaurant relocated to north Tulsa and has been getting raves ever since for its flavorful fried, grilled and broiled fish.
I caught up with Chad Brinson, general manager, who shared more information about White River Fish Market.
Has the restaurant and its operation changed much since it moved to its current location?
Virtually not at all. Expanded the back area slightly and added new restrooms. Fried food has stayed mostly the same and the restaurant started focusing on grilled fish as well in the 1980s. The business opened in 1932 downtown and moved to this location in the ’60s.
Was the location chosen because it was close to the airport or was that just a happy coincidence?
Just a happy coincidence. At the time this location was chosen it served mostly fried fish that was trucked in. Now, however, we have the luxury of driving 30 seconds to the airport to get our fish which has been flown in.
How often is fresh seafood flown in and from where?
The restaurant usually receives a shipment of something either trucked in or flown in daily. Scallops from Maine. Halibut from Alaska. Salmon from Canada. Oysters from Texas. Catfish from Louisiana. Shrimp from Alabama. Tuna from Hawaii. Sea Bass from Chile.
The menu features fried, broiled and grilled fish as well as red beans and rice, gumbo and buttermilk pie. Are there any customer favorites?
The fried combo is very popular (catfish, hand breaded shrimp, scallops and a stuffed crab). We sell roughly 1,000 pounds of catfish a week so that is always a popular choice as is our hand-breaded shrimp which we sell to other restaurants in town. Salmon and halibut are very popular on the grilled side of the menu.
The dishes are served with no special sauces or complicated cooking methods. Is that part of the appeal, just fresh catfish, red snapper, shrimp, oysters and scallops perfectly prepared with a simple house spice mix?
We are extremely basic here. Just fresh fish cooked to order with our homemade seasoning and just a little lemon, drawn butter or tarter sauce. We get too busy and serve too many people to get fancy. Might mess up the whole operation if we tried to get fancy!
Do you get any requests for fish you don’t regularly carry?
Sometimes. I can generally find a fish that a person is looking for or I can send them somewhere else in town.
What’s your favorite item on the menu? I understand the previous owner didn’t even like fish.
That is true. Garry Cozby owned the restaurant for 28 years and did not like to eat any seafood. I personally love fish and my favorite thing on the menu is the broiled scallops followed by the sea bass.
White River Fish Market 1708 North Sheridan Road, Tulsa
Information and menu: www.whiteriverfishmarket.comShare story on Facebook Share story on Twitter Email a Friend.