“There were tons of these places years ago,” says Brad Lopsteich, a third-generation Miamian. He means fish houses in our seaside towns – restaurants where catch of the day is just that. Lopsteich and Joe Delaney, a native of Liverpool, England, thought we needed a straight-ahead American fish house. Delaney, a veteran of the club business (Café Iguana) as well as a boating enthusiast, found a spot on the Rickenbacker Causeway with a great view of the water, the boats and the Miami skyline and lots of outdoor seating space. He redesigned it with a nautical theme (one can dock by the restaurant), and came up with the menu.
Delaney envisioned “the kind of place I’d find in Key West, with a casual feel but nice and clean.”
The mahi-mahi and snapper are local, as are, when available, tilefish, wahoo, tuna, lobster, shrimp and stone crabs. But the locavore thrust did not stop there. “I grow six varieties of lettuce in my backyard,” says Lopsteich, and most of it goes to the restaurant.
Chef Keith Conow hails from Trinidad and his island touch is apparent in a mahi fillet on a bed of green curry as well as in conch fritters and coconut shrimp (“not too sweet,” Lopsteich says). Conow’s clam chowder is a far cry from bland faux-New England soups; the broth is like a well-seasoned bisque, and the seafood is finely chopped so its flavor is fully integrated.
His ceviche is also Caribbean style, with a touch of ginger. “I lived five years in Lima, Peru,” says Lopsteich, who is fluent in Spanish, “so I was very special about the ceviche.”
Not all the fish can be local all the time, and big blackboards showcase what’s available on any given day. Tuna comes occasionally from local boats, but the menu’s staple is Pacific ahi, and one can forgive this exception. The fish is done rare with a wasabi crust that has just enough kick, offset by mashed potatoes with seaweed and Japanese ginger on the side.
But what about fish house fare? There’s a local classic, grilled or blackened mahi with tartar sauce on toasted kaiser roll. Lauren Griffiths, who works lunch, suggests ordering it blackened with Cheddar and rémoulade sauce. The blackening spices on the big, juicy fillet are neither too hot nor too mild – the same equilibrium found in other dishes – and the cheese and rémoulade add dimension. House-made French fries are crunchy Yukon Gold. It gets a fish house A+.
A visit to Lopsteich’s backyard is revealing: With the exception of a few ornamentals, every inch of it is either produce or mulch. “The mustard greens are loaded with vitamin K,” says Brent Knoll of Brent’s Organic Gardens, who designed Lopsteich’s – “best raw in salads.” Lopsteich begins his day with a walk through the garden, munching on what he’s grown. It’s not easy, he admits, to save these veggies for the restaurant.
Of course, there must be something indulgent, and the Rickenbacker Fish Co. owners brag about their Key lime pie. It’s at just the right point between tart and sweet, and it’s topped with a fat dollop of whipped cream mixed with vanilla dust. End with it and float over the bay.