Seafood at the Fair? It's 'Off the Hook'

Photo by Curt Nettinga/Plainsman North Carolina restauranteur James Fountain stands beside his “Off the Hook” seafood trailer on the S.D. State Fairgrounds. This is the first year for Fountain at the fair, as he brings a taste of the coast to the Midwest.

HURON — A backup plan devised to maintain his livelihood has morphed into the ultimate “what I did this summer” story for North Carolina restauranteur James Fountain.

“We’re really learning a lot this summer about how the whole fair network operates,” Fountain said last month from his spot in Aberdeen at the Brown County Fair. “The plan was to hit a few spots, but other invitations came along. We were scheduled for a week in Wisconsin last month and ended up there for five weeks.”

Fountain operates “Off the Hook Seafood Shack,” a name that reflects his preference for fresh seafood. “I ordered the food trailer as a backup in case the state of North Carolina remained closed due to COVID protocols.”  Fountain and his family own and operate Savannah Oyster House in Blowing Rock, N.C., in the far northwest corner of the state, near the North Carolina/Tennessee border, which was closed for the pandemic.

“I really had to do something to earn some money if our restaurant was closed again, and hit on the idea of the food truck or trailer.” A contest on the restaurant’s Facebook page resulted in the name on the side of the trailer that is located right on Independent Midway Ave., on the fairgrounds this week.

The quickest route to Blowing Rock is about 1,400 miles, but Fountain has seen much more of the country this summer - particularly in the midwest - than traveling as the crow flies. And the response has been somewhat overwhelming.

“We have had very good responses from people all summer,” he said. “The struggle has been to get restocked on seafood.”

Limited availability has somewhat altered what “Off the Hook” has to offer. “We’ll have our homemade jambalaya which is our top seller,” Fountain said. “Lobster rolls are our next best seller, although lobster has been tough to find in the midwest.”

Another difficult to get - although popular item on the menu board - is alligator.

Fountain will have alligator po-boy sandwiches available, but some work goes into the preparation.

“Alligator is really tough,” he explained, “so after we portion the tail into bite-size pieces, we soak it in buttermilk and hot sauce for 24 hours.”

Fountain explained that hot sauce doesn’t increase the heat of the alligator, but does help immensely in the tenderizing of the meat. “Then we batter and fry it, put it on a roll and serve it up with french fries.”

Fountain said that all of the offerings at Off the Hook came from his recipes that were developed at the Oyster House over the eight years he has owned it.

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