Tuesday January 22, 2013
I don’t know how many of you know this, but for as much time and money as Matt has put into getting fishing poles, lines, lures, basically anything for us to catch fish while we’re out on the boat…he does not like fresh fish. A few summers ago when I’d make these delicious fish tacos made with tilapia and a to-die-for mango salsa, he would turn up his nose at it. While I was trying to get into a healthier diet around the same time and would serve fish and vegetables for dinner, he’d make a peanut butter and jelly. There is only one way to get this boy to eat fish, and that to deep-fry it. Turn it around like that, and he loves fish. Any restaurant we go to, he’ll search the menu for fish and chips. Drown it in tartar sauce and he’s in heaven. If you ever ask him the question “If you were stranded on a deserted island with only three different foods, what would they be?”, his first answer would be tartar sauce. (And then Ranch dressing. Apparently he thinks he can live off condiments) So to help Matt out with his fried fish fetish, in steps our friend Chris. While bringing us out to see the manatees a few weeks ago he was giving us a rundown on all the great places in St. Augustine to visit (a few among dozens), he told us about a seafood restaurant called Schooners which is a favorite to locals and is rated for having some of the best fried fish in town. Wanting to make sure we experienced it, we set up tentative plans in the future and Matt and I were more than happy to take him up on the offer to try it out.
So this week, when we all had free time in our schedules, Chris picked Matt and I up from the boat yard to take us the few mile drive to the restaurant. As soon as we stepped in the van we were greeted with a smile and a plate of his famous chocolate chip cookies. If he hadn’t raved about this restaurant so much the last time we were together I would have been ready to call off dinner and dig into the cookies instead. But knowing that I might still get a chance to eat one back at the boat that night before Matt scarfed them all down (They are seriously his favorite thing in the world, I think they could now be added to his list of three foods to be deserted on an island with), we continued on to the restaurant. Walking in at 6:30 on a Tuesday night, the place was packed. Always a sign there must be good food if it’s hard to get a table so early in the week. After being seated with a menu in front of me I browsed through and could see why the place was so popular. Scrolling down my eyes landed on items like fried shrimp, fried scallops, fried oysters, and fried crab cakes. They also offered all of those items, non-fried, but that’s not the reason we were there, was it? Everything looked amazing, and I wanted all of it.
Chris wasn’t going to let us off easy either, he also wanted us to try all of it. I couldn’t decide which one of the entrees I wanted, so when the server came I ended up doing a combo platter with stuffed fried shrimp and fried scallops. Even that was a tough choice because the gator tail looked very interesting, and where else would we get a chance to try something like that? Chris was already one step ahead and put in an order of gator tail for an appetizers, but not before he said that I had to try the Minorcan Clam Chowder, so an order of that went in as well. Soon the food began coming out and while we discussed all the repairs on our boat (or the current lack thereof), I started sipping on the soup that did live up to it’s recommendation. It’s a slightly spicy soup and very specific to the region because of the Minorcans that originally inahabited the area back in the mid to late 18th century and used it on almost all of their food. It’s made up of fresh Seville orange and Datil pepper season and gives a nice little kick, but wasn’t too overwhelmingly spicy. So far, score one for Schooners. Next to come out were the fried gator tails. Neither Matt and I had any idea what to expect of these as we had never come across them before. Breaded and seasoned, they were served with a slice of lemon and sauce for dipping. Taking a bite the texture was a mix in between chicken and lobster. I’m pretty sure this place has their recipe for this dish down to a T, because these little bite size pieces of meat were perfection. I’m serious, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better piece of fried food.
I must have forgotten somewhere along the way of eating soup, gator tails, and salad that there was actually a main dish on it’s way and never slowed down to save room for my entree. When it was set down in front of me my eyes grew as big as dinner plates, it looked extremely appetizing, but there was so much food! Did I mention that it came with two sides and two hush puppies?! I don’t think my eyes had quite caught up with my stomach yet though and I was still ready to tear into this plate of un-health food heaven. Picking up the first piece of fried food goodness, I took a bite of my stuffed shrimp, which was fried shrimp stuffed with crabmeat. Omg, it was so tasty. The breading was very light and flaky, and would start to crumble in my hands as I ate. Picking up the fallen pieces I’d just dip them back in the sauce and jam it into my mouth.
This is about the point where my stomach started to beat out my will to keep eating. Not ready to throw in the towel just yet though, I forced myself on like a food challenge champion and also went after the fried scallops and hush puppies. I don’t even know if I can describe how good this meal was. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used every word out there. It was savory, delectable, heavenly. I didn’t get very far though, before having to stop and request a doggy bag. Looking over at Matt, his plate was clean. Looks like he enjoyed it just as much as I did. When the option for dessert came, even though we had been planning on sharing a slice peanut butter pie, Matt and I were at the point where we could not put one more bite of food in our mouths and didn’t want to ruin what would otherwise be a good experience by making ourselves literally sick. Although among Chris’ many recommendations among St. Augustine there is another place, The Gypsy Cab Co, that is also supposed to serve a sublime peanut butter pie as well, and it just might give us all an excuse to have to go out again. I think I can manage to pencil that in.
*And in case you think I give glowing reviews to everything, it’s only because most everything we’ve had deserves it. But I will say that if you’re in St. Augustine, don’t bother going to O.C. White’s. We’ve been there twice, and in our opinion, the food is overpriced and bland, especially when there are so many better options just up the road. (Ok, their crab sandwich wasn’t that bad)
Fried gator tails. I could eat these all night.
Bliss in the form of sugar.