Fall was hectic for longtime South Florida chef Jamie DeRosa. In the span of a few weeks, he and wife Amy had daughter Charlotte, he closed his first South Beach restaurant, Tongue and Cheek, and he opened Izzy’s Fish & Oyster in the South-of-Fifth space next door.
Izzy’s, named for the DeRosas’ first daughter, Isabela, is a bright, friendly homage to Amy’s childhood in Rhode Island, burnished by the chef’s extensive recent travels throughout New England. It’s all about chowder and fresh oysters and clam bellies and Narragansett beer and as good a lobster roll as you’ll find in South Florida.
At 32 seats inside and about 20 on the sidewalk out front, Izzy’s is compact but comfortable. In keeping with his happy-hour tradition from Tongue and Cheek, DeRosa offers enough food and half-price drinks every day to fill you up for a non-South Beach check. You can choose from a wide variety of tap and bottled beers and a creative list of wines by the glass and by the bottle.
You’ll want to start with oysters, sourced primarily from Island Creek Farm in Massachusetts, six varieties offered each day. They’re shucked at the bar and served with cocktail, champagne mignonette and yuzu-kosho ponzu, and all are sharp and flavorful sauces. Oysters are $3.50, but $1.75 at happy hour.
These oysters get fried up and join the party for the Salty Dog Basket, a happy-hour exclusive that DeRosa calls the classic fisherman’s platter. Our basket was brimming with a big, perfectly cooked chunk of cod, a handful of fried clams, three fried oysters, onion rings and waffle fries. It’s an entree size for almost anyone. The onion rings are sweet Vidalias seasoned with Old Bay; the fries — ubiquitous as side dishes here — are not housemade but are still outstanding, with deep potato flavor and a pleasantly faint sweetness.
During a trip through New England with chef de cuisine William Crandall, DeRosa was struck by the prevalence of sugar snap peas. So for Izzy’s, he crafted a bright and delicious salad made with slivered peas blanched a minute and a half, mint, shaved Mercona almonds and Grana Padano cheese, tied together by a champagne vinaigrette with mustard, olive oil and herbs. Pickled shallots are scattered on top; this is a perfectly composed and creative salad.
Izzy’s is not a fancy place, but New England clam chowder gets the white napkin treatment. You’re presented with a bowl of clams and potatoes and leeks, and the server pours the broth from a beaker, creating the soup on the spot. If you’re thinking that “pouring” chowder might take awhile, know that Izzy’s broth is the savory poaching liquid from a 25-pound clam boil, and it makes for a light, deeply flavored chowder that’s actually refreshing.
It’s called a New England crab cake, but Izzy’s four-ouncer is loaded with Maryland lump blue crab meat, the only way to go. It’s lightly battered and meaty, with a red-and-yellow pepperade, greens on top and a quick microplane of lemon adding brightness.
Fried clams are available as a platter or packed into a sandwich roll. For about the same money, you’re better off with Izzy’s Maine Lobster Roll, served warm (Boston-style) or chilled (Rhode Island-style) in a six- or three-inch size. Our hot six-inch roll was full of buttery, succulent lobster meat, an entire lobster’s worth. The lobsters are poached in butter in the shell; when they cool, the meat is removed and set aside. On the pickup, the meat is warmed in the poaching butter and arranged on the soft roll with bread and butter pickles and a Bernaise made from the poaching butter, imbuing the sandwich with intense lobster and butter flavors. A fat handful of waffle fries is here, too.
Our Narragansett beer-battered fish and chips featured more of that tasty cod but not so much fish and many waffle fries. You’re better off sticking with the Salty Dog at happy hour.
Broccoli gratin is a nice, accessible vegetable, blanched broccoli in a big ramekin with a Grana Padano cheese sauce, finished in the oven.
DeRosa and crew pretty much ace the New England fish-fry clambake theme, but deviations from the core program can flop. The Painted Hill Farms sirloin burger with aged cheddar, bacon and onion jam was a juicy delight, beefy and gooey with cheese yet with perfectly textured meat and that soft potato roll.
But a 14-ounce New York strip steak was a disaster, ordered medium but served almost raw and tough to cut despite being Painted Hill Farms prime. A bunch of waffle fries completed what for $35 was pretty unconscionable. (You might chalk up the occasional crime of execution to the tiny kitchen, which has just six burners, a flattop and a single fryer.) Seared Atlantic blue cod was uninspiring, a smallish piece of fish surrounded by many sauteed mushrooms and a few grape tomatoes.
The Boston cream pie got its start at the Parker House Hotel, the legendary luxury lodge that also produced the rolls by the same name. Izzy’s Boston cream pie is a pretty good one, with chocolate ganache, lemon zest, vanilla pastry cream and shaved almonds and chocolate. But Grandma Celia’s lemon meringue is the one to get. Celia, the Sicilian grandma of the chef’s wife, made it for Amy as a child. It’s a standard lemon custard recipe with a nice crust, a tart finish.
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