A cool thing happened the other day. My baby brother, Shawn, who is twelve years younger than me, invited Mart and I out to eat at Casey Key Fish House. Now this is cool for multiple reasons . . .
First, it’s always a pleasure to hang out with siblings, but when your younger sibling is doing well and wants to spoil you a little, well that’s awesome on all counts.
Secondly, I’ve been driving past Casey Key Fish House every time we visit a listing Mart and I have on the north end of Casey Key. I’ve visited the restaurant for lunch several times and have enjoyed a few libations at the restaurant’s Tiki Hut bar, located on the east side of the main parking lot. The restaurant and bar are hugely popular, with parking on both sides of Blackburn Point, just to the west side of the historic “Swing Bridge” that takes you on and off the Key. And every time I’ve been there, the joint has been busy, busy, busy. During snowbird season, (between Christmas and Easter,) it’s not unusual to see a long line of guests waiting for a table, so when we were seated right away, well that was triple cool! (enough with that adjective!)
Shawn has been living on Casey Key since January and has become somewhat of a ‘regular’ at Casey Key Fish House. He even has his favorite server, Crystal, as well as a preferred area to sit, even though every seat in the restaurant has a water view. We sat on the back patio, where we dined al fresco near the boat docks. Even though the Sarasota area is surrounded by water, there aren’t many restaurants that offer deep water dockage. Just look for Dockage Marker 32 if you’re planning to visit by boat.
Mart and I are both fans of a really good grouper sandwich, but Shawn wanted to treat us to one of their entrees, quickly ordering his favorite dish; the Seafood Pasta. Served in a large bowl, this dish consists of numerous shrimp, scallops, grouper and mussels with fresh basil, tomato sauce over angel hair pasta. Shawn said if he didn’t order it, he’d have wished he had, so why fight it when your taste buds are obviously in charge! I took a few bites and really enjoyed the slightly sweet flavor of the red sauce, and especially the balance of seafood to pasta. No wonder it’s his favorite!
May is the start of soft shell crab season, which runs through summer when blue crabs begin to shed their shell and start a new one, leaving a soft new shell that you can bite right through. Originally thinking he’d try the grouper sandwich, Mart couldn’t pass up the Soft Shell Crab special. Served with a side of rice, fresh seasoned carrots, and broccoli, Casey Key Fish House serves their soft shell crab lightly fried in tempura batter and topped with Thai chili glaze. This was an absolutely brilliant way to serve up soft shell crab. We all took a taste, commenting on the nice crunch of the tempura batter with just the right blend of sweet and spicy. It takes a deft touch to do soft shell crabs just right, and when prepared correctly the combination of tenderness and crunch makes soft shell crab one of the great delights of eating.
I took our server Crystal’s suggestion and ordered another nightly special; Casey Key Fish House’s Yellowtail Snapper with artichokes, tomatoes, and capers. Oh! My! GOODness! Yellowtail Snapper is one of the tastiest fish harvested fresh from Florida waters, and my fish offered a firm texture with moist, white flesh that was both delicate and mild. (I bet it came off one of the nearby fishing boats earlier that day!) The juxtaposition of the Yellowtail cooked with salty capers, sweet tomatoes, and artichoke slices all seemed to soak up the flavors of the luscious lemon butter sauce. My plate was so clean when I was done, you barely needed to wash it! Barely . . .
They call the Casey Key Fish House “Old Florida at It’s Best” and I’m thinking that’s a fair moniker. Nothing fancy here. . . no pretentiousness. The outside of the restaurant looks like one of those fishing shacks you see around the Florida Keys. Inside you’ll sit on plastic chairs, with your utensils rolled in napkins and a basket of condiments already on the table. You can come in your flip-flops and a bathing suit cover up — fresh off your boat, or however you darn well please. The atmosphere is strictly Florida casual, just the kind of place where you can sit back, relax, enjoy a cold beverage and watch the dolphins playing in the bay.
Speaking of wildlife, we enjoyed visits from several seabirds while we were dining. The first was a large Snowy Egret that seemed more interested in the small fish swimming around the docks than the people eating fish at the tables. Somewhat shy, the bird didn’t hang around long, flying off soon after seeing a school of fish in the bay.
Our second aviary visitor was much more precocious, a Black Crowned Night Heron who, instead of shying away when Mart attempted to take a photo, hopped off the railing of a nearby boat and walked right up to him, turning to show his handsome profile, which made for a better photo. Again, this wasn’t a pesky bird trying to snag our food, like a sea gull does . . . I suspect this little guy just wanted to be part of our food blog!
I’ve always considered waterfront dining to be one of the great “flavor enhancers” in our corner of the world, and with great company, delicious food, perfect weather, friendly wildlife, and the salt air, well, the whole experience becomes totally restorative.
And we can all use that more often!