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JEWEL CITY SEAFOOD IS AN OCEAN TREASURE

by: Marla Brannan

It all began with a fish sandwich. According to owner Joe Beter, the amazing popularity of his downtown eatery can be traced back to Huntington’s love affair with the fish sandwich... and seafood.

"When I founded Jewel City Seafood in 2000, 60 percent of our business came from the sale of fish sandwiches," says Beter. "This town just loves them."

But that was eight years ago at his first location in a small shop on Huntington’s east end. Since those humble beginnings the business has seen tremendous growth, transitioning from a seafood market with great fish sandwiches to all that and more. Today the new location at 1317 4th Ave. is one of Huntington’s favorite sit-down dining destinations with a loyal following of lunch and dinner patrons. It seems Huntington’s love affair with seafood is stronger than ever.

Before opening Jewel City eight years ago, Joe worked 13 years for a seafood wholesaler in Central Florida, servicing many little restaurants right on the beach; local hang-outs where the food was the priority.

"I’d go in these places in my suit as a seafood rep and all the guys without shirts at the bar would laugh!"

Those experiences helped determine the kind of place Jewel City Seafood Market would be when Joe found himself back in Huntington.

"On January 3, 2000 I went in and applied for a business license. It turned out Jewel City received the first license of the new millennium in Huntington."

Jewel City was established on Fifth Avenue in front of the old Big Bear supermarket. But the grocery store closed and in its wake many of the other businesses that brought consumers to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 29th Street. At that time, Jewel City was viewed mostly as a fresh fish and seafood market as well as a place to get fantastic fish sandwiches to go. In reality, it had an entire seafood-based menu, but that fact wasn’t widely known.

"Our customers kept saying they wanted to come in and sit down – we’d been hearing it for so long. So we started looking for a place to open in downtown. When we found an ideal location, it took us about six months to remodel – all told we were only closed for six weeks."

Jewel City Seafood Market reopened in June 2006. The new location at 1317 Fourth Avenue has a special history for the Beter family, as the floor tiles and old photos on the wall just inside the front door proclaim.

"My grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, built this building in the 1920s," says Joe. "It was Beter Brothers Grocery. At that time this part of Fourth Avenue was hopping with lots of ethnic restaurants and stores. Between then and now, though, it got a little dicey down here. I’m proud to be part of bringing this area back to life, and I’d love to see even more restaurants open up."

"I’m proud to be part of bringing this area back to life, and I’d love to see even more restaurants open up." - Joe Beter, owner

Since Joe opened his restaurant, several other eateries have opened up on the east end of Fourth Avenue including Pita Pit, Husson’s Pizza and Rocco’s Little Italy.

Despite moving to a roomier space with a number of tables and booths, Jewel City is still the same authentically friendly, affordable, beach-themed place. The menu is almost exactly the same, still driven by the market and what’s fresh at the time. "We’re a niche and we’re being well-received by the community. We don’t want to get huge – we just want to be named in the same sentence as Chili Willi's and Rocco’s Little Italy, restaurants that are well-priced and available to everyone. Frankly, I’d rather spend extra cash on new equipment that makes us run more smoothly."

In addition to dine-in, everything on the menu is available for take-out. And just like before, Jewel City is still a fresh seafood market.

"Today, for instance, I have 11 kinds of fresh fish available plus wild shrimp and chemical free scallops. We try to carry as much domestic product as possible. Basically, we work like a butcher shop for fish and seafood. So if you come in and say you’re having two people for dinner that night and you need salmon, we get out the salmon, cut it up, package it and send you on your way. Or if you want a bowl of lobster bisque and some hush puppies with your salmon, just order it for take-out and serve."

Joe enjoys the daily running of Jewel City and is happy to have built up a regular clientele. He bounces back and forth between overseeing what’s going on in the kitchen (and doing some cooking himself) and making sure his customers are comfortable and satisfied.

"We have a varied clientele – lots of families and health-conscious folks and Catholics during Lent. But we also have a philosophy group that meets here every Thursday night. We are priced to make this restaurant available to everyone. We don’t want to be exclusive."

The success is obvious, both in numbers and accolades.

"Joe always brings french fries to my two-year-old, Ethan, even when we haven’t ordered them," says Christina Bailey of Barboursville. "And I won’t eat seafood anywhere else anymore!"

Angie and John Hayes from Chesapeake discovered Jewel City about a year ago.

"There’s just something about the atmosphere with the market fish displayed that lets you know you’re getting the freshest possible seafood in Huntington. We love how laid-back it is. The deep-fried pickles with dipping sauce and Joe’s Famous Fried White Fish just seem to draw us there.”

For more information or to see Jewel City’s awesome menu, visit www.jewelcityseafood.com

RECIPE

Grilled Big Eye Tuna

  • 4 Steaks - Fresh Big Eye or Yellowfin Tuna (Don’t use gas pack or frozen tuna steaks)
  • 1 - Recipe of dry rub*
  • 2 - Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
*Dry Rub
  • 3 - Tbsp. of salt
  • 1-1/2 - Tsp. white pepper
  • 1-1/2 - Tsp. chili powder
  • 2-1/4 - Tsp. garlic powder
  • 2-1/4 - Tsp. cumin
  • 2-1/4 - Tsp. onion powder
  • 2-1/4 - Tbsp. paprika

(Rub can be used for any fish steaks)

Brush the tuna steaks with olive oil then massage the dry rub onto the steaks. Then let the steaks stand at room temperature for 10 minutes while preheating grill to 375 degrees.

When grill is ready, cook tuna steaks for 10 minutes per inch thickness for medium, example: 5 minutes per side.

Serve with tartar sauce or soy sauce & wasabi mustard.

Grilled Big Eye Tuna goes great with a salad, parsley potatoes and garlic bread.

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