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Hook Fish & Chicken brings Southern style by way of Chicago

By Rege Behe
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

During the Lenten season, there are fish fries all over Western Pennsylvania.

It's safe to say no one serves fried fish (and chicken) in the same manner as Hook, Fish & Chicken. Starting five years ago, when owner Joe Rifai opened the first of three location in Homewood -- the others are in the North Side and Edgewood -- he was determined to provide a different take on one of the region's favorite repasts.

"The idea of fish and chips has been going on for a very long time," Rifai says. "We thought Pittsburgh needed something like this."

By this, Rifai is referring to a unique preparation of food that comes from the South by way of Chicago. Before he opened the original Hook, Fish & Chicken in Homewood, Rifai visited numerous Southern-styled restaurants in the Windy City, looking for something that would satisfy Western Pennsylvania palates.

"We knew of the nature of the Pittsburgh community," he says. "They are very critical about the foods they like to eat. We wanted to make sure we perfected the recipe to their liking."

From the start, the restaurants -- Homewood and the North Side locations are takeout only, the Edgewood Town Center is sit-down -- have thrived because of Rifai's attention to detail. Everything he does is with a purpose, including:

• An open-kitchen concept where customers can see their food being made, and have it ready approximately seven minutes after the order is placed.

• A seasoning comprised of 12 spices (and a bit of sugar), which is designed to complement, not compete with, the flavor of the chicken, fish, shrimp and oysters served.

• The use of soybean vegetable oil in fryers to produce healthier food, especially at the North Side location, which is often frequented by personnel from nearby Allegheny General Hospital.

• Even the chicken wings are specially selected; Rifai uses medium-sized wings because they best retain the flavor of the chicken and the seasoning.

We visited the North Side location, where counterman Zaid Saleh amiably greets customers as if they are family. Our selections were the ocean perch dinner (small, $6.99, large, $8.99) and the chicken tender meal ($6.49 small, $7.47 large). Both include large portions of fries, an especially creamy serving of coleslaw, and two slices of bread.

We also sampled the tilapia ($8.99 and $10.99), catfish ($7.99 and $9.99) and oyster ($8.99 and $10.99) dinners. All have a zesty taste that's enticing, but not overpowering. Be forewarned about portion: the small portions are so generous, a rubber band is needed to seal the Styrofoam containers the food is packed in.

Additional Information:

Hook Fish & Chicken

Location: 1221 Federal St., North Side, 412-697-2285; 1763 South Braddock Ave., Edgewood, 412-342-0386; 6960 5th Ave., Homewood.

Hours: All restaurants are open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Details: 412-361-1060



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