In the window of the Davison Fish Market on Seven Mile a few blocks east of I-75, a neon sign states, “GUMBO HEADQUARTERS.” My love of Cajun and Creole food is no secret. I consider Louisiana to be the culinary mecca. All kinds of fresh seafood — fish, shrimp, oysters and mudbugs, or crawfish — are indigenous to the local waters. Furthermore, no one can cook it up better than they do. Naturally, the sign at Davison’s Fish Market reels me in every time.
I discovered the place around 1980 and have been a regular customer ever since. Several kinds of crab are available: legs, claws, canned, cakes and frozen, Dungeness among them. Live blue crabs are available in season. There is crawfish meat, as well as frozen, whole, well-seasoned and cooked crawfish. Shrimp come in various sizes. There is even some alligator meat (tastes like pork to me). This week, the market is expecting fresh soft-shelled crab, great sautéed, deep fried or grilled.
This market is about the seafood. And I’m talking fish here — fresh fish with a selection that changes daily. On a recent visit there were pickerel, black sea bass, whitefish, white bass, flounder, mullet, snapper, ocean perch and catfish in fillets, nuggets, whole, skinned and alive in a tank. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. If you don’t see what you want, just ask, and the owners will order it for you.
The owners, sister and brother Pat Kallio and Tom Koloff, now in their 50s, have worked at the market since they were teenagers. Now that their mother has passed away and their father has retired, they carry on the family tradition. Seventy-six years ago, in 1928, Pat and Tom’s grandparents opened a fish store on Davison near Conant, where the market remained until 1966 when the construction of the Davison expressway forced the family to move the store. Despite its new location on Seven Mile, the name remains the same.
Many businesses have long since abandoned the neighborhood. Not these folks. They have a loyal following that has given them the support they deserve. Whenever I am there, I am taken aback by the congeniality that exists between staff and customers. A couple came in during my last visit, asking, “How’s Dad?” before ordering. Everyone is on a first name basis.
The market offers several kinds of hot sauces, Cajun and Creole seasonings, a full line of Zatarain’s seasoning mixes and fish fry coatings. For those who want to make a gumbo from scratch, but do not want to take the time to stir a roux, there is Savoie’s. There are hushpuppies that have already been fried. Just put them in a hot oven and let them crisp. The jalapeño variety is my favorite.
One of the items that brings me back to Davison’s is the andouille, a well-seasoned, though not particularly hot, smoked pork sausage that is used in many jambalaya and gumbo renditions. The market sells two brands. Stick with the Marciante’s, which is made especially for Davison’s in Louisiana. The problem that I have encountered with most andouille is that it is frequently very coarsely ground, putting sizable pieces of fat in my mouth. Ugh! When I cook with sausage, I usually slice it thin and cook it slowly, rendering most of the fat. I remove what I don’t need and sauté some of the other ingredients, such as “trinity” — onions, celery and peppers — in the flavorful fat. I also recommend the Parker House hot sausage if you like it spicy.
If you want to make fish stock, call ahead and request some heads and frames. They will save them for you. There is no substitute for saltwater fish in creating a good stock.
Now that barbecue season is upon us, Pat and Tom can recommend several varieties of fresh fish that can be grilled whole or filleted or cut into steaks, which I find easier to turn on a grill than fillets.
This is not a fancy suburban store. It’s a neighborhood market that carries fresh fish. The service is tops. The quality and freshness are evident. The prices are reasonable. Davison Fish and Seafood is a business that will reward your support.
Davison Fish & Seafood Market is located at 1520 E. Seven Mile Road, Detroit. Call 313-893-1106.Jeff Broder is chowhound for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org