Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Some restaurants never seem to change. The years go by, and the decor remains the same, the menu is static and the same drinks are poured day after day. Fisherman's Wharf, the classic Hot Springs seafood restaurant on the shore of Lake Hamilton, is just such a place — and before anyone starts thinking that we're complaining, let's get one thing clear: We're happy that Fisherman's Wharf has stayed the same over the years, because we wouldn't change a thing.
Modeled after coastal seafood houses, Fisherman's Wharf features the expected maritime kitsch on the walls; but with a steady stream of boats running up and down Lake Hamilton just outside, none of the decor feels like a put-on. It's the perfect combination of tourist restaurant and local favorite, and we've enjoyed the food and atmosphere here for years.
The appetizer menu at Fisherman's Wharf is extensive, so we recommend getting one of the sampler plates ($10.95 for three items, $12.95 for four). On our most recent visit, we chose three of our favorites: clam strips, calamari and coconut shrimp bites. There's nothing fancy about any of these items, but it's hard to hate any seafood that's spent some time in the deep fryer. The clam strips and calamari are both tender and flavorful, and the sweet/savory flavor of coconut adds a nice touch to fried shrimp. Portions are generous, and everything arrived piping hot, so we certainly felt we got our money's worth from the sampler.
After all that glorious fried food, we decided to go lighter for our entrees, ordering from the broiled fish section of the menu. We started with the Crab Stuffed Shrimp ($16.95), which features six jumbo shrimp split and filled with a tasty crab cake filling. This was a filling dish, and we were hard-pressed to finish the large portion of shrimp and crab cake. Some of our party found the crab cake mixture to be a little too fishy tasting for their liking, but they were overruled by the majority, who found the dish delicious.
Our next dish was a tender, flaky, broiled Mahi Mahi ($19.95), which came with a tangy sauce on the side that went with the fish perfectly. An order of mixed vegetables to the side of this dish arrived overcooked, sadly not unusual at family seafood restaurants. Still, the fish was fine, sure to please anyone who craves something lighter yet filling.
Our last dish was a longtime favorite, the Grouper Oscar ($19.95). We're not sure who Oscar is or was, but whoever decided to take a grouper filet and top it with shrimp and crabmeat is a genius in our book. This is a delicious seafood experience, made only better by the creamy Dijon mustard sauce served to the side. The sauce is a standout because it features pungent mustard that is nevertheless subtle enough not to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish, shrimp and crabmeat. Our side of boiled potatoes with butter made up for the overcooked vegetables with the Mahi Mahi, and we declared the Grouper Oscar to be the star of the meal.
Fisherman's Wharf is a classic Hot Springs eatery, as much a part of the landscape of the Spa City as the Mountain Tower or Bath House Row. The lake scenery outside makes for a wonderful setting to enjoy a meal, while the old school menu of seafood is a treat in this day and age of deconstructed dishes and fusion cuisine. Eating at Fisherman's Wharf is like coming home after a long time away, and we hope the place keeps on just like it is for years to come.