Proctor’s Restaurant – Best fried fish in the world!

I was reading some of the comments over at http://www.historicpalmbeach.com/ about things people remember and loved about growing up in West Palm Beach. One restaurant that got more mention than any place else was Proctor’s Restaurant. It was the type of restaurant which is becoming so rare – family run, inexpensive and always good.

Proctor’s is the story of two families – there really was a Proctor at Proctor’s. The restaurant opened in 1947 on Dixie Highway just north of Belvedere Road. H.D. Proctor and his son H.D. Proctor Jr. ran the restaurant that featured seafood fare. Their most famous was the “All the fish you can eat” meal of golden fried fish fillets. In August of 1964, the Proctors sold the restaurant to a couple from Europe, Charles and Gertrude “Trudy” Seigner. According to the August 18, 1964 article in the Palm Beach Post, the Siegners paid $50,000 for the business and leased the building from the Proctors. At some point in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the restaurant moved about 100 yards to the south and to the opposite side of the street. I don’t know if this was an existing building or one they had built. Then, in 1975, they moved for the final time to an old A&P grocery store located across the street. It added 50% more serving space and a larger parking lot.

Proctor’s Original Restaurant

Proctor’s menu was so simple – a good selection of seafood entrees, both fried and boiled, along with a few steaks and chops, and fried chicken made fresh to order. When you ordered the chicken, you were told it would be a 20 minute wait. They also had daily specials such as pot roast on Mondays or corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays. This was real old school fare! The all-you-can-eat fish was delicious – served with french fries and a cole slaw that was finely chopped and delightfully sweet-and-sour. If everyone at the table ordered fish, your meal was typically served within 5 minutes! If your appetite was not huge, you could order the 2-piece meal and save a few dollars. My cousin told me that he was thrown out of Proctor’s more than once as he and his teenage buddies would get the “all-you-can-eat” and just keep eating…and eating, until they were asked to leave.

The “line” was always something to be dealt with, especially in the season from December through April. It started to form around 5 PM, and would begin to taper off around 7 PM. As in the postcard above, the line was typically around the building, but it was worth the wait. As you got closer to the door, you would get a number. The number set was used so much that they were all taped over on the top where they fit on the number stand. Proctor’s also had a busy take-out window. They closed during the month of September for vacation, and we would count the days until they reopened again.

Trudy was typically out front seating parties at tables, while her mother was at the cash register well into her 80s. Charles was in the kitchen, making sure the high-quality was maintained. The waitresses stayed for many years and the staff all around was very stable – it was just a great place to work.

They also had wonderful homemade desserts such as “Mississippi Mud” or the “Better than Sex” cake – who could resist that? The Seigners were also animal lovers – they fed and cared for a feral cat colony, even buying an old house at the back of the property so that the cats would have shelter from the weather. There was always a red collection box at the cash register for the Animal Rescue League.

The restaurant closed in 2006 when the property was sold to a spa operator. I have often wondered why they did not sell the business itself, but all good things must come to an end. The best approximation to their fish dinner is at John G’s on Lake Worth Beach. It’s close, but not exact.

If you have any more details or memories about Proctor’s, please leave them in the comments.

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20 Responses to Proctor’s Restaurant – Best fried fish in the world!

  1. Nancy King says:

    Dear Ginger,

    My mother, Flavia (Fay), was a waitress at Proctor’s for years and also in the Tea Room of Burdine’s.
    She and my father owned and ran the Rest’A While hamburger stand in Lake Worth in the 1950’s. I was born at St. Marys during the Second World War. My Dad drove a milk truck for Alfar Dairy during the war and later worked for them in Delray Beach.
    I went to school with Barbara Boutwell and spent many days at her home in Lake Worth. I have tons of stories and memories, plus lots of pictures if you are interested.
    Just drop me a reply via email. I just loved your stories about the Palm Beach area.
    My Aunt was Elizabeth Hand, Superintendent of Palm Beach County Schools for almost 15 years and her sister, Emilie Stephens (Tanner) taught Spanish and French at Lake Worth High School. Aunt “Beth” and her husband, Lauren Hand, owned Hand’s Book store in Delray which is still operating under that name some 60 years later. Thanks for the memories.

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    • Ron Bartley says:

      I moved to West Palm Beach in 1977 and immediately fell in love with Proctors. In the 25 yrs I lived there…there wasnt a week ( other than sept vacation time) that I wasnt in the restaurant or at the pickup window atleast 3 times per week. I was so sad to hear of it’s closing. I’ve attempted to copy their fried fish and tartar sauce recipes numerous times, but just cant get it right. If anyone out there worked in the kitchen at Proctors and knows these recipes…please contact me. I’ve been craving this fish for years!

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      • Monique Punter says:

        Ron, I wondering if anyone answered you with the recipe for the fish and tarter sauce? I to remember and love and miss it.

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        • ron says:

          Monique….

          No replies as of yet…but…i’ll let you know if anyone does contact me with those recipes

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      • David Zulick says:

        Hi Sir
        Were u ever contacted by anyone with the proctors fish recipe , coleslaw , tartar sauce?

        Thanks for you help
        David

    • denise says:

      do you remebeer a purvis motel farther out of town off dixie hwy back in the 60’s. it was a motel and apts.

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      • Karen Newhart says:

        I would pay good money to get the recipe for their fish batter.

        I grew up on the fish dinner and I have never had anything that can compare since!

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    • Larry Thomas says:

      Hi Nancy, i’m the son of Sen. Jerry Thomas and started eating at Proctors in the early 60’s. I was given the fish statue by Charles and Trudy the last night at Proctors. Call me if you get a chance.
      772-223-0929

  2. Shannon says:

    There is nothing like the tartar sauce. I am so desperate to know the secret. Has anybody had any contact with anybody in the kitchen? So sad to not share one of the wonders of the world with the rest of us. Anybody?

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    • Ron Bartley says:

      Shannon…

      I havnt heard from any one from the restaurant yet.. but.. with a little experimenting I came up with something that I think is close to their tartar sauce. 3/4 cup miracle whip, 3/4 cup sour cream, 1 1/2 tsp onion powder, the juice of 1/2 lemon, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 1 1/2 table spoons of sweet pickle relish…1/2 tsp salt and pepper. try this.. see what you think…and make any suggestions to me to make it more authentic.

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  3. Robert Olesen says:

    The tartar sauce was definitely made with a different type of mayonnaise — I’m thinking — yes, Miracle Whip or perhaps some other mayo-like “salad dressing”as the base. It was sweet, had onions or shallots for sure and my Mom always said it had capers in it. It had little red chunks of something in it that sure seemed like sweet red peppers to me. I’d sure love to have the ability to re-create it.

    That and the “House Cheese” salad dressing at Fredric’s Restaurant along with their “Shrimp Scampi” sauce (available here on the Post Times archives somewhere) were the three tastes I love and miss about the old West Palm Beach.

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  4. Pete says:

    I too grew up near Proctor’s and ate there since age 5 (in 1975) up until they closed, which was truly a sad day. Me and a lifelong friend who also lived nearby ate there every night the week before they closed. Fish dinner with fresh rolls and those little pats of butter squares on wax paper. As far as the tartar sauce recipe, my mom once got it from a lady who worked there. She was told all it was is mayonnaise, finely chopped white onions, pimento, and some lemon juice. I made it at home mixing ingredients to taste and it was just like I remembered. It definitely contained no sweet relish. I also made it using Miracle Whip. Not sure which was closest.

    One funny story is when they amended their “Allyou can eat fish” menu to include “Within reason” some time in the 80s. Apparently, a fat man from the PT Barnum & Bailey Circus (which was in town annually until the WPB auditorium became a Jehova’s Witness temple) came in and ate 92 pieces of fish. I think right before they closed they disconinued the all-you-can eat fish entirely.

    • David Zulick says:

      Hi
      Were you ever contacted or ever learned the fish batter and cole slaw recipe.
      I used to eat at the restaurant with my grandparents and would love to prepare the fish and slaw for my children.
      Best
      David

  5. J. Ryals (Jim) Dempsey says:

    We lived just around the corner from Proctor’s on Westwood road from 1943-1951, but we continued to frequent the best fish place in the Palm Beaches when we moved to Hillcrest in 1951. I remember my mother raving about the fish at Proctor’s whenever the topic of seafood came up, along with the inevitable comparisons to Red Lobster, which became by default her new ‘fish place’. Ironically, I have a new ‘fish place’ in North Syracuse, N.Y. called “Sal’s”, where people still line up and a Deputy Sheriff is needed every Friday to direct traffic!

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  6. Carole says:

    My mother raised 5 children from working at Proctors in the mid 60′ to mid 70’s. She talks about working there very often.

  7. Christopher Burdick says:

    What kind of fish was served? I don’t remember Proctor’s, but I remember hearing about it as a kid. It is one of those places that would be great to revive someday. That area of town is ripe for redevelopment, and a remade, updated Proctor’s sounds like a great opportunity if done right.

    • Jeanne Slaon says:

      Originally they used red snapper but later on used gouper. Went there when we were on vacation, always a highlight. So sad to see it close. They did have the best tartar sauce. This was the only place I would eat fish. My parents loved fried fish but I didn’t. I even remember when they didn’t have air conditioning, just big fans. Ah the memories!!

  8. Timothy V says:

    Found a place in Jacksonville beach called Parsons – the fish is close but the tartar sauce is right on the money. Place even has the Florida State paper placemats ! Not Proctor’s but its as close as I have found.

  9. Deb Ely says:

    Grouper fried. There was nothing like it . There tarter sauce was to die for! I cannot imagine any one duplicating it with out knowledge .

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