One fish, two fish, red fish, bland fish

Sweeney’s Seafood in Centerville

By Paula Johnson

The first thing you notice upon entering Sweeney’s Seafood, located in a business district filled with lovely old buildings, is the waiting area, a testament to the popularity of this Centerville standby. In business since 1994, it’s one of Centerville’s (and Dayton’s) favorites, as attested to by several laminated “Best of Dayton” plaques. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I didn’t have a reservation, so we had a little time to observe. Our wait wasn’t long. We filed past the crowded bar (there was an Ohio State game on) to our comfortable booth in the main dining area.

Nautically nice

Sweeney’s attractive dining room atmosphere is nautically themed, done in tones of weathered grays and blues, with triangular billows of sailboat sails edged in lights cleverly draped from the ceilings. Atop a half wall, softly lit fluorescent pastel fish tanks showcase a variety of fish, and one particularly spectacular undulating spotted eel.

Our server informed us we were visiting during Sweeney’s 21st anniversary, and that in addition to the regular menu, there was a special menu with a three-course offering for $21. PIP immediately committed to the anniversary menu when he spied an old favorite of his—stuffed sole. He chose a smoked salmon crêpe and clam chowder, as well. I stuck with the regular menu offerings for my dinner selection.

No sear here

For an appetizer we ordered Seared Ahi Tuna ($13). Except it wasn’t. The bland, watery fish was desperate for a crusty outer layer of crunch (and some seasoning) that could only happen with a lot of heat. Alas, the result was light brown flabby looking slices. PIP’s observation was that if you didn’t like wasabi you couldn’t make this dish work. He was referring to the wasabi sauce condiment served with the tuna, along with pickled ginger and soy lime syrup. His point was well taken: The only way to eat this was with the sauces and ginger. The fish couldn’t stand alone. With some more careful preparation, this could be a good dish.

Steamer punk’d

Nostalgia for my time spent in seafood bars in Boston led me to order the Steamers appetizer ($12). Steamers, for you landlocked folks, are succulent clams, bivalves which never shut completely, thereby prompting purists to claim they aren’t actually true clams. I won’t quibble. I love these guys. And what I love most is the fragrant clam-y broth to be slurped up and the melted butter with a spritz of lemon to plunge these maritime morsels in. The clams, pleasant though they were, didn’t have a broth, but were prepared with a garlic-flavored oil.

PIP’s clam chowder, one of the anniversary offerings, arrived next. It was fine but in need of a liberal dose of pepper. My salad also arrived. I ordered the house vinaigrette with dried blue cheese, which I think was what that white dust sprinkled atop the lettuce was supposed to be. Sigh…

For my entrée, I decided to stay classic with a Broiled Seafood Platter. Sweeney’s platter is more accurately called a duo: scallops and a choice of salmon, tilapia or flounder ($23), a lobster tail ($29) or snow crab legs ($30). Unlike the tuna appetizer, they figured out how to sear the scallops, but a little too well—resulting in them being slightly overdone. And the lobster faced the same fate.

PIP’s smoked salmon crêpe was unremarkable, as was his entrée. I generally don’t like prix fixe special menus. The trouble with this kind of special is that the portions are small and the offerings usually aren’t a good representation of a restaurant’s best dishes, largely due to the bargain price point. Neither the crêpe nor the stuffed sole is on the regular menu.

Fish story

I was put off by a few of Sweeney’s menu descriptions. This may seem like quibbling over something small—after all I just read about the food, I admittedly didn’t taste it—but the fact that the menu describes things in confusing, strange or wrong ways hurts my confidence in whomever is cooking it.

To wit: Trout Amandine. The menu describes it as Idaho Rainbow Trout dredged in organic blue cornmeal, pan fried, topped with chili aioli and served with chipotle mashed potatoes. Wait. What? Trout Amandine is a classic French preparation made with almonds, flour and butter and practically nothing else (certainly not chipotle). There’s not even a mention of almonds in this description. This preparation might be perfectly acceptable and maybe even tasty, but Amandine it ain’t.

Sweeney’s offers pleasant surroundings, attentive service and undulating spotted eels. Their approach to seafood is sticking with basic preparations, and, overall, they do an acceptable job. There are a few places in town where I’ve had a really good piece of fish, and it wasn’t at any of the restaurants known as seafood restaurants. What I’ve appreciated is that these places have treated the fish (and seafood) in ways that allow its natural tastes and textures to shine through expert preparation. I would encourage Sweeney’s to up their game on the attention they pay to preparation. I would like to return and try again with the seared tuna and seafood platter to see if they do.

Sweeney’s Seafood is located at 28 W. Franklin St. in Centerville. For more information, please call 937.291.3474 or visit

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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