Smile Politely

Fish sandwiches aren’t just for Fridays

A cropped photo of takeout from Da Shark for a fish in Champaign-Urbana list article. Photo by Remington Rock.
Photo by Remington Rock.

I love fish, and I love pretty much any seafood. I myself am not a pescatarian, but I totally get why someone would be. If you don’t, this article probably won’t strike your fancy (and we probably don’t have much in common). So when I pitched an article dedicated entirely to fish sandwiches to my editor, and she accepted, I was thrilled, albeit a little worried. Why? I didn’t have enough Fridays planned to go eat this many fish sandwiches.

As I’m sure you know, fish is historically solely for Fridays, and the sacred sandwich is hard to find any other day. Turns out, there are plenty of fish [sandwiches] in the sea around here, and I tracked down four delicious sandwiches of the fish variety. Let’s dive in.

Big JJs: an overhead shot of baskets of food. Includes a basket of hushpuppies, fried okra, onion rings, and a sandwich. Next to the basket are packets of sauce. Photo by Remington Rock.
Remington Rock

Catfish Sandwich from Big JJ Fish and Chicken

First up is Big JJ Fish and Chicken, the little corner shop specializing in all the fried, fishy goodness for takeout and delivery. There’s a fish sandwich listed on the menu, but don’t order that because they’ll tell you they don’t have a “fish sandwich” (beats me, too). Instead, order the catfish sandwich ($5.99) — and if you’re really inspired by me so far, then here’s the rest of my order because you know I wasn’t just leaving it there: hush puppies ($2.99), fried okra ($2.99), and onion rings ($2.99). I told you they specialize in all things fried, but in my artery-clogging defense, I didn’t realize that my sandwich would come with fries. With a fried feast before me, I was so jazzed to dig in, having grown up with fried food as its own food group in Southern Illinois (love me a fish fry fundraiser).

The JJ catfish sandwich was a fried catfish filet with tartar sauce, lettuce, and tomato on a hoagie bun. Hoagie buns are the #1 sandwich bread choice — and no, I will not be arguing about that. The shredded lettuce was a bit too soggy for me, so I removed quite a bit of it and added on some cocktail sauce that came as a side. I found this to be a delightful sandwich with a bit of a flavor twist that I don’t see enough of: lots of lemon pepper. Everything I ordered aside from the okra was dusted with that stuff, and I really enjoyed it. It gave a nice brightness and zestiness to everything that I think would have been otherwise rather uneventful. The hush puppies were nice and crunchy on the outside with a soft center. Okra is pretty polarizing, but this okra wasn’t stringy and had a crunchier, “green” taste. Their battered fries were really tasty and crunchy, and there’s something about fries you at fish joints. Overall, the sandwich from JJ’s was at a really good price point for the size; all the extra sides and two sandwiches were less than $25, and that’s hard to beat these days.

Big JJ Fish and Chicken
1114 N Market St
M-Th 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F-Sa 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

A closeup of a sandwich and french fries. The sandwich is layered with a fried filet, coleslaw, onions, lettuce, and tomato. Photo by Remington Rock.
Remington Rock

The classic Legend’s fish sandwich

Beyond the sea to Campustown comes the famous Legend’s fish sandwich. Yes, that one. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Legend’s fish sandwich has a reputation for being one of the best classic ones you can find in C-U. In fact, when I brought in a couple to share with my partner at his work, other folks in the office exclaimed, “Ooh! Legend’s fish sandwiches! That’s a good sandwich.” The Legend’s catch was a beer-battered filet dressed with lettuce, tomato, and onion on a bun; however, it came in a saran packet so as to not assume one was down with the toppings. It also came with creamy coleslaw and choice of side; I went with battered fries. The meal set me back $12.50, and the carryout time was super fast (only five minutes!).

I didn’t get a side of cocktail or tartar sauce, but what I did was put that slaw on that sandwich. The fish filet had a crispy, battered outside with a soft, juicy center. And yeah, it was a good sandwich. It’s the classic kind of sandwich that you want to eat on a warm summer evening and wash it down with a pint or two of cold beer. I would do that regularly, but this is where we get into a bit of a snag with that dream: you can only get the Legend’s fish sandwich on Fridays and Saturdays. But hey, at least there’s some flexibility there — it is technically offered beyond Friday. Don’t get caught up though because the kitchen closes several hours earlier than the bar.

Legend’s Bar
522 E Green Street
11 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily
Kitchen closes at 8 p.m.

Da Shark: An overhead picture of two to-go containers. Inside the container at the top is a sandwich on a bun with a side of french fries. The bottom container holds fried fish nuggets and a side of fries. Photo by Remington Rock.
Remington Rock

Catfish a la nugget from Da Shark

Hold on, I’m trying to get all the giggling out of my system at the idea of ordering fish from a restaurant called Da Shark. Ahem, okay, here we go. When trying to think of different places to go for this article, I looked up delivery options that would still fulfill my prompt, and lo and behold, up came Da Shark. Delivered to me was a crispy tilapia sandwich ($8.28) and the catfish nuggets dinner ($10.79). Y’all I love fried fish nuggets, and I had to order them even though it’s not a sandwich — for the sake of research! The sandwich was listed as a general “crispy fish sandwich” and with a choice of catfish, perch, or tilapia; we switched it up and went with the latter. Sandwich mods are optional, but we went with all of them: lettuce, pickle, tartar sauce, and tomato on a bun.

This sandwich was good, really good with crispy fish, plenty of tartar, and just good all around flavor. My partner described it as “flaky deliciousness.” The fries and rest were light on the lemon pepper, which was totally fine; it didn’t need it. The catfish nuggets were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and just oh, so good, too. It probably sounds odd to say something had a really good fishy flavor, but this was the case with the sandwich.  I highly recommend trying this place out. The meal came with a side of battered fries as well, and while they weren’t as crispy as ones I’ve had from places mentioned above, they were still really good. I wouldn’t classify them as soggy, just a little lower on the crispy-crunchy scale.

Da Shark
2312 W Springfield Ave
M-Th 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F 11 a.m. to midnight
Sa 12 p.m to midnight

Hopscotch: A croissant sandwich sits on a blue plate. Tuna salad and melted cheddar cheese visible inside the croissant bun. The plate sits on a blue gingham tablecloth and there are various canned beverages peeking into frame.
Remington Rock

Tuna melt from Hopscotch Bakery

Switching gears real hard here, folks, we’re going from fried fish to fancy fish with a tuna melt croissant from Hopscotch Bakery. I wanted to try something a little different because honestly, I was starting to feel a little bad from all the fried fish sandwiches. No, not guilty — like, physically, I had consumed a lot of fried goodness in a short window.

This fish sandwich was a house-made tuna salad with capers, celery, and dill topped with sharp cheddar on a butter croissant, and it came with an arugula side salad ($13), lightly dressed in poppyseed vinaigrette and topped with shaved parmesan.. If it’s not a hoagie roll, I’ll gladly take a buttery, crispy-edged croissant as a bread option. The tuna melt had perfectly melted cheese and had a great crunch texture from the celery. It was a really tasty switch up from what most people probably think of when they think of a fish sandwich; it doesn’t have to be fried but could also be light and fluffy like this one. I enjoyed the portion size because I felt satiated afterward, but not too full. 

Hopscotch Bakery
802 W John St
T-Su 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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