Just before you reached The Gasthof restaurant and hotel, right next to the Redbones Bar & Grill in the city of Montgomery, Ind. the biggest thing other than The Turkey Trot was this one, hole in the wall restaurant that lay smack in the middle of the town.
Since the original owners passed and the owners of Redbones Bar ultimately shut down the shop, after failed service and controversy, growing up in Daviess County, Ind. this restaurant I hold near and dear to my heart since it’s closing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a special place and I think about this place a lot sometimes, especially about where to find cheap fried fish sandwiches near me.
It gave many people like me a chance to get out of the house and spend quality time with family and friends you might have never met before and might not ever see again.
The place was very unique to the eyes of a small-town American journalist because you could hear the county news by just simply talking to rooted individuals of all shapes and sizes.
You could walk into the store, hear the “ding” of the doorbell, and hear this crackling, almost a campfire-like sizzle unlike I have ever heard before. You could see up to 20 to 40 different rare Alaskan cod fish, baked into fry batter, frying on a deep fryer from dusk till dawn.
The walls were white, with trophies on top of the small window panels showing the hometown Barr-Reeve Vikings athletic accolades. A small TV was in the corner of the shop, and there was a large menu on the wall with a Pepsi logo beside it.
I was always told as a kid, if I was good, I could get some ice cream and extra fries. On a bad day, I could just get a fish sandwich.
You had to turn your eyes to look left and pay attention to the large options on the menu. This was in no way Chicago’s Weiner Circle; it was friendly hospitality that mattered more than clanging pots and being rude toward the drunk customers. It was more like a classic Denny’s type service, but you had to rush your order during big crowd rushes during lunchtime, but they were easy with you 24/7 365 days a year.
On a busy day, this shop that seated 20 people was sometimes a standing-room-only ballgame of the whole community gulping on fish sandwiches, sweet tea, and salty French fries.
To so many Catholics around the Daviess County community, this shop was the place you went to after attending Friday mass at the St. Peter’s Catholic Church because you couldn’t eat Redbones tacos or munch on the Gasthof’s long all-meat and side buffet lines, so the shop made this a perfect spot to enjoy a sandwich during the Catholic holiday of Lent.
All of this combined with the hole-in-the-wall atmosphere of chatter and grassroots culture in small-town America made the once-known Stop n Sea Hot Fish Shop one of the best places across southern Indiana to get a simple slice of fried fish and fries.
How good was it, the owner of the shop for almost 40 years until his retirement would give out fish sandwiches for free to those that worked in the coal mines on the hill past the Gasthof every day as a treat for lunch. After they sweated and gulped toxic waste into their lungs, they could wash it down with a well-made sandwich and fries.
The restaurant had more than sandwiches and fries, they had one of the best creamy ice creams with Oreo pieces you could ever have. A creamy vanilla ice cream with a chocolate Oreo combination with a tall plastic spoon was the go-to for me.
My god those fish sandwiches had this texture of cod and coats of breading. The fish was downright delicious, so delicious I would say it was more than a go-to shop for sandwiches, it sometimes became an everyday habit to eat at the shop. It was that good!
The prices were cheap in a pre-inflation economy, but I think if it was still open today, Stop n Sea would still be cheap because the model was to serve people of all economic abilities.
The shop also made burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches with a bowl of tomato soup and salted crackers that my grandmother enjoyed from time to time, fried funnel cakes, and served breakfast with pancakes, hashbrowns, and a ham platter. The list of options was endless on their wall, including tenderloins, chicken strip baskets, barbecue pork sandwiches, potato salad, and over 30 other menu items including drinks. We always got lemonade.
This healthy, yet unhealthy gauntlet of fried food and American obesity was the perfect go-to meal in any situation. One fault was their drive-through, which could take forever even on the slowest of days. One year, we had to stand outside of a store and wait on our order outside in the cold of winter. My grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s by then, cried the whole afternoon and was having problem after problem, but the slow lines inside made things worse outside, but we eventually got our food.
This was not just the only thing plaguing this iconic shop for fish sandwiches and fries, after the original owner retired to spend time with his family through retirement, it was reported by the Washington Times Herald around 2014 that the new family was accused of assaulting the family’s kids in front of customers. This led to worse service than before, and ultimately the end of Stop n Sea as we know it.
Today, the store has been shut down. Chairs and tables have since been liquidated and are still being sold outside of the now-shut-down business. Today, I look at the shop since its closing as a community hangout, a place to cheer on the ball team, a structure of my life that the younger generations of family members of mine could never understand.
I have had other fish sandwiches throughout my day, but nothing compared more to growing up and learning than biting into a cod fish sandwich and fries at the Stop n Sea Hot Fish shop.