A familiar cast at Reel Seafood Grill

by Brian Clarey

It’s in a different neighborhood, far from the cozy strip of Spring Garden Road and the retail sprawl of West Market Street, where it existed in previous incarnations. And it’s got a different name: Reel Seafood Grill, with a logo that incorporates a fishing reel.

But I’d recognize this place blindfolded. It’s Bert’s Seafood Grille.

I worked at Bert’s on West Market Street — and it’s somewhat fancier cousin Mosaic — for a few years in the early part of the last decade, and when I step through the doors of Reel Seafood, I feel like I’m home. Here are the funky fish sculptures and the iconic backboard menu. There are the no-nonsense tables and settings that denotes a casual vibe. And here’s my old boss, Drew Lacklen, looking tanned and trim and ready to show me to my table.

Though Bert’s — which was open for almost 25 years — closed in 2011, it remains a touchstone in the city’s culinary history through those who worked and ate there. And Lacklen says that people are still into it.

“I know most everyone who comes in here,” he says. He’s been open just a few months, after a whirlwind of planning with business partner Steve Stern, an alumni of the Ham’s franchise. The spot was ready to go as a restaurant site after a couple failed attempts, but Lacklen made one major change.

“They had a POS system in here,” he says. “I had ’em take it out.” Most restaurateurs regard the POS, or point-of-sale machine, as a major technological advance in the industry, giving servers the ability to fire off kitchen and bar orders from the wait station. Lacklen, who after the closing of Bert’s worked for a couple years as a server, hates them.

But one of the best things about Bert’s was that it was open for so long, staffed by so many long-term people, that a fantastic system organically evolved. He sees no reason to change it. Servers at Reel Seafood Grill come armed with nothing hut a pen and a stack of hard checks. Bills are tabulated on a plain-old cash register. My old friend Jules Kraus shows me her small billfold with the hard checks tucked into it.

“It’s awesome,” she says. The menu is almost identical to the one that was so beloved at Bert’s, with all the favorites —flounder sesame, tuna Singapore, scallops Barbados and mustard catfish, Lacklen says, make up about 75 percent of sales. He’s added a few dishes, including a salmon BLT that he says his ex-wife Mary, with whom he founded and ran the original Bert’s, would never let him put on the menu. There’s a few Calabash-style dishes, another Mary Lacklen no-no, and he makes his rolls in house.

He killed the calf-liver dish and also, much to servers’ delight, the baked chicken. That one, I remember, was a half-chicken roasted on order that wouldn’t make it to the table for almost 40 minutes, killing my pacing. I always tried to talk people out of it, but it was the cheapest thing on the menu, so we always sold a lot of it.

One major difference is that the menu differentiates between farm-raised and wild-caught fish. When Bert’s was rolling, customers seldom asked about the provenance of the fish. These days people want to know.

Usually I do, too, but not tonight. The mustard catfish — farm-raised, if you must know — comes with a breading made of crushed Ritz crackers and a jalapeño tartar sauce. And it tastes exactly as it always has.


Reel Seafood Grill; 2002 New Garden Road Suite 208, Greensboro; 336.617.4200