There’s no better place to eat fresh seafood than the parking lot behind First Presbyterian Church on Brickell Avenue with Biscayne Bay views and breezes.
At Surf & Turf, the surrounding high-rises of Miami’s financial district seem far away as you dig into a platter of grilled octopus nubs with red onions seasoned with smoked paprika, or cracked stone crabs with pink mayo sauce.
Business partners Mark Fernandez and Alfredo Valdes leased the lot six months ago and moved their operation from Pinecrest Gardens, with loyal customers following despite heavy traffic in the area.
Fernandez left Asturias Spain to join an aunt and uncle in New York City, studied financing and became a certified public accountant. He came to Miami 35 years ago for vacation, bought a house, stayed and became a real estate investor.
Valdes was born in Cuba to a wealthy tobacco family who lost everything and fled on a sailboat to Cozumel Island, then, when he was 3, crossed the border from Mexico into Texas, eventually settling in Miami. Valdes ran Crusty’s Raw Bar & Grill after learning the restaurant business at Shuckers.
The two met eight years ago when Valdes sold Fernandez an African grey parrot, and they ended up forming Surf & Turf Catering.
Valdes’ brother is a crabber, so the stone crabs are always fresh. He also supplies spiny lobster and grouper. Oysters are from Apalachicola Bay in the Panhandle, shrimp are wild-caught from Louisiana, and octopus is from Spain.
The shaded, open-air kitchen is dissembled, loaded into a van and cleaned every day and set up again the next day. The queue starts forming around noon with Fernandez as the cashier and Valdes taking orders.
Live lobster is stabbed, gutted and cut in segments, shell on one side, lightly breaded and fried in butter with white wine, served with yellow rice. Add on a few oysters on the half shell with cocktail sauce and homemade potato chips, and you have a feast.
There’s also Peruvian-style ceviche made to order using a fillet of corvina cut in chunks, mixed with amarillo and rococo chile sauce, garlic, ginger, lime juice, cilantro and a squirt of evaporated milk for creaminess. You can add on shrimp, lobster, octopus or all three. There also are big, ground-beef empanadas and ribeye steak.
Whatever the choice, end with homemade Key lime pie with an extra-dark graham cracker crust at a place where good food is worshiped.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.