There are certain things you can count on when ordering fish in Key West. First, it will be fresh. Second, it will be moist and flaky and probably dusted with coconut or some Jamaican conch seasoning strong enough to set your mouth ablaze. And third, it will be accompanied by many, many tropical drinks that will slur your vision right along with your vocabulary.
At Green Fish, the newest incarnation of the intimate A-frame bar and grill at 2528 N Federal Hwy., just south of NE 26th Street, the owners promise that Key West experience. It says so right on a sign out front. What they, in fact, deliver is something else entirely. Which is definitely not a bad thing.
As you would expect, the mainstay at a grill called Green Fish is fish. In this case, the selection is limited to tilapia, salmon, mahi mahi, and shrimp. Any or all of the above are prepared grilled, fried or blackened (shrimp is only served fried). Most of the inside of the restaurant is occupied by a large bar, suggesting a local hang-out type of place. And while it’s a full bar, it’s not a complete bar. No mojitos, margaritas, pina coladas or any other drink that requires a blender, for according to our server, Elise, the bartender doesn’t have one. But there certainly is an adequate assortment of beers, ales, and liquors that will swamp the rat with ease.
The real surprise here is not that Green Fish serves a menu typical of many bars, but that its fish is fresh and as excellent as any we’ve tried in flavor and seasoning. The Grilled Tilapia Fish Fillet ($10.99) is offered Caribbean style, with a perfect fire zip with a mild fish flavor. The dish comes with fries or Cajun rice, an order of cole slaw and a corn muffin. We ordered this dish blackened, and were amazed at the texture and sweet resound of the meal. True, the fries were soggy and were sent back to the kitchen, but the replacement rice was absolutely a winner. Even though the slaw tasted like it was scooped from a Walmart vat, and the corn muffin was something you might defrost from Sara Lee, the point here remains the same. It was an amazingly well-prepared fish dish that deserves a return engagement.
Ditto the Grilled Mahi Mahi. At $12.99, it’s a bargain in portion size and a taste bud delight for the unexpecting diner. Once again, order it with rice, and forget the corn muffin and slaw, and realize that you’ve found a new secret spot in town.
This particular building seems to change concepts with each passing season. We remember when it was a place called Shucks on the Water, which became a place called Boo Riley’s, which then became a place called Chowderheads. And now Green Fish. Hopefully, you won’t be put off by the small front patio that borders on Federal Hwy. or the dark inside bar that has just enough light to not see the spots on the glasses. Push immediately past that and out onto the small dock-space that borders the Middle River canal.
It’s not fine dining to be sure, but it is an incredible and quiet spot to discover with someone special. Get past the PVC furniture and the plastic basket holding the entrees, and prepare yourself for a fun, tasty meal by the water. Feel free to order the Fried Conch Fritters ($7.99) or the Jerk Buffalo Wings (10 for $8.99). They won’t disappoint. And remember to say Guy Magazine sent you.