September 25, 2018
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Gone Fishin’

Tin Fish’s reputation, quality bring customers back
Chef and Tin Fish owner Morgan Castillo

It could be said fate brought Morgan Castillo to Tin Fish in Newburgh, Indiana.

The New York native moved to Evansville in 2006 to work as a grill cook in the Evansville Country Club’s kitchen. On the hunt for a part-time job, Castillo found herself taking a spot in the kitchen at Tin Fish, 300 W. Jennings St.

“They asked me to come on full time eventually, then to be manager,” she says. “That’s how things got rolling.”
By October 2007, Castillo would become owner of the popular historic downtown Newburgh eatery.

“It’s not just a business; it’s just not like that for me,” says Castillo. “It’s a part of me.”

Tin Fish cannot be categorized as a chain restaurant nor is it franchised. Instead, founder Joseph Melluso touts the company as a “national restaurant developer.” Melluso, a chef who had worked in fish markets since childhood, started the company 18 years ago in San Diego, California.

“The reason it’s called Tin Fish is because the first one was opened in an old tinsmith shop,” explains Castillo. There are 12 Tin Fish restaurants around the country, all independently owned and operated — two in Minnesota, five in Florida, four in California, and the location in Newburgh.

“Each one you walk into is going to feel different,” says Castillo. “They all have their own feel, but we’re all related. We’re just one big family.”

The story of the Newburgh location began in the early 2000s. During a trip to San Diego, a Tri-State couple fell in love with the original Tin Fish restaurant, explains Castillo. When they returned home, they decided to open one of their own in Newburgh. Tin Fish Newburgh opened its doors in 2005, but just six weeks later, the owners realized they couldn’t keep up with management of the restaurant.

Melluso, who owns the Tin Fish name, bought the restaurant back. He and his business partner operated the restaurant until October 2007, when Castillo took over ownership.

The decision to purchase Tin Fish was not one Castillo took lightly. Growing up in a family full of entrepreneurs, she says owning a restaurant felt like the next natural step for her. She was trained as a chef in her home state of New York and has worked as a sous chef in Canyon City, Colorado, and in Florida.

“What I like about what I do is that I own the place,” she says. “It’s mine and I take a lot of pride in it. The biggest things for me are my customers and the quality of the food. That’s what I put all my heart into.”

The main entrance of the restaurant in Jennings Station sits at the back on a hill. A spacious patio area greets customers and beckons them out on warm nights and even on days when the summer heat is not too much. Inside the Tin Fish, there is a definite Southern Indiana, on-the-river feel.

Metal-top tables dot the open, wooden floors, with the small bar at the back of the front room offering a myriad of drink selections, from mixed cocktails to domestic and imported beers. The front counter is accented by the Tin Fish logo on the wall and signs, which boast the restaurant’s full menu and the catch of the day. A captain’s bell hangs by the register, next to a picture of Castillo’s uncle Chico.

Décor and fanfare one can expect from a seaside eatery hang on the walls along with pictures of sponsored youth teams from the area. Business cards from Tri-State companies hang next to the door.

The back of the restaurant leads into a larger seating area, which includes a party and meeting room, and the side entrance of Jennings Station.

The pride Castillo puts into her work is reflected to her customers, both regulars and new, who rave to her and the staff about the dishes and service offered at Tin Fish. From the po boys to the catfish, fish lovers enjoy the consistent quality of the food. Her menu also touts the largest fish selection of any of the Tin Fish locations.

“People come in and expect something different,” she says. “They leave saying this is the best fish in the Tri-State.”

One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the fish taco platter. Customers may choose from nine different seafood selections, including tilapia, shrimp, and walleye. Castillo says the fried North Atlantic cod is the favorite among her patrons.

“We use a very thin cracker-meal breading on it,” she explains. “That’s a big thing, too; it’s not more-breading-to-fish. The fish definitely stands out.”

The platters are served with a taco dressed with shredded cabbage, cheddar cheese, salsa, and house-made white sauce, along with Tin Fish’s criss-cut fries and homemade cole slaw. Castillo’s Tin Fish is the only one to offer a second taco option, tio chico style. Named after her uncle Chico, this style includes papaya salsa and is topped with cilantro and lime.

“He’s a big figure in our family, so I named something after him,” Castillo says with a laugh.

If you’d like to try something a little different, Castillo recommends her favorite dish in the restaurant, the calamari tacos served tio chico style. The shrimp fritter appetizer is a newer addition to the menu. Castillo says customers kept asking her to add a hushpuppy or something similar to her menu. In the end, she chose a fritter with a seafood option loved by many — shrimp.

“I looked at a bunch of different ideas and recipes, and came up with one very similar to a South Pacific type of fritter,” she says. “It’s a very simple mix, but it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Referred to as “shrimp doughnuts” by the staff, the fritters are best enjoyed with the homemade sweet and spicy sauce served with the appetizer.

Diners looking for a lighter option on the menu can dive into one of Tin Fish’s grilled platters. Twelve different seafood options range from salmon and catfish to scallops and mixed options. Mahi-Mahi is one popular choice for a grilled platter.

The dish is served with three large pieces of the tropical fish, seasoned with a blend of spicy pepper, garlic salt, and Old Bay, a common seafood seasoning. The fish is plated on a bed of shredded cabbage and served with Tin Fish’s homemade coleslaw.

Tin Fish doesn’t overlook salads on its menu. If you’d like to spice up your mixed greens with grilled fish or shrimp, Castillo and her staff easily can add your choice to the house salad. Grilled shrimp is a good choice to complement the dish, which is made with romaine lettuce, carrots, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and croutons.

For this combination, Castillo recommends the house Balsamic vinaigrette, which is not like any other you’ve tried.

“It’s like a thick Italian dressing,” she says. “It’s quite lovely and sweet.”

All elements of the restaurant come together perfectly for Castillo. She credits her success not only to the quality food she serves, but the staff who help her restaurant keep its high reputation among the community.

“I always get compliments on my staff, which is fantastic,” she says. “It makes me happy and proud.”

With such popularity, many have called on Castillo to expand Tin Fish or even open another location in the area. But to Castillo, Tin Fish works because there is a perfect combination of good food and good service.

“If we expanded, I feel as though we would lack in those areas,” she says. “What we’re doing now is the right combination and it is wonderful.”

Location: 300 W. Jennings St., Newburgh, IN
Phone: 812-490-7000
Dining Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Website: tinfishnewburgh.com
Adult Beverages: Yes
Prices: $2.50-$17.25
Payment: All major credit cards accepted.

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