Simplicity is at the heart of the 100-seat Blue Fish, A Casual Neighborhood Seafood Restaurant and Bar, which opened last December. The space, in an indistinguishable shopping center along Highway 51 in south Charlotte, was once the mojito lovers' Siboney Cuban Restaurant and had remained oddly blank until Blue Fish hooked the space last December. The restaurant's main dining remains the "private courtyard," but now cheeky fish swim along the walls that have been scaled a vivid green and shades of sea blue. No anchors or netting, mind you, nor urbane paper fish floating across the ceiling. Blue Fish keeps it uncomplicated, which was the intention of owners Bob and Linda Miller.
Bob Miller, a Long Island, New York, native, spent 30 years in the fast food and fast casual industry with stints at McDonald's, Chili's, and Bennigan's Grill & Tavern, from Florida to Kentucky. The Millers moved to the Charlotte area 12 years ago, but jumped at the chance to open "a neighborhood fish place." Miller said, "The only place around here is Red Lobster."
The dishes at Blue Fish are simple and simply prepared. This is not a chef-driven restaurant, boldly presenting vibrantly innovative dishes. In fact, the kitchen isn't manned by a chef at all; instead, the menu was developed for the Millers by Doug Allen, a restaurant consultant. But the kitchen offers enough enticements to merit patronage. Bob Miller knows many of his diners by name and spends time at the tables. The servers, who are not polished professionals, strive to please. Broad smiles and sincere efforts overcome any faux pas.
The dining room buzzed. Servers carted dishes, Miller circulated, quiet families sipped sodas, and wistful-looking older couples regaled others with travel misadventures.
The menu is lengthy with serviceable renditions of regional delicacies. Some give a Southern nod with dishes such as fried green tomatoes, gumbo, and fried oyster po'boy. Others cast an allegiance to New England, with chowder for example, or to the West with fish tacos. The fish du jour, several each day, are scrawled in chalk on a blackboard. The menu is reasonably priced, which is good in these times of economic stress. Entrees range from $12 for shrimp and grits to $20 for a 6-ounce prime filet mignon. Sandwiches, $6 to $10, including a yellow fin tuna sandwich, and salads offered in two sizes are available all day. Only a few wines are served here, and most diners opt for tea, beer or liquor.
Perfectly cooked mussels arrived in a steaming broth of tomatoes and wine. Unfortunately, the only bread to dunk is the ordinary sliced white bread. The Charleston-inspired She Crab soup was as comforting as a soup can be with a liberal shot of sherry and satisfying deposits of crab flecked with orange roe orbs. A small spinach salad was bolstered by thin slices of onion and bits of crunchy bacon.
Fish, as one can imagine, is the rewarding option and a light touch is extended to the daily seafood entrees. A grilled North Atlantic salmon was served naked though my server quickly offered a duet of sauces. The crab cake sandwich, on the other hand, seemed a little wan in comparison. Perhaps it was the multigrain bun that harnessed the fresh flavor of the crab.
Desserts, like the decor, are minimalist. This was a take your pick of Chocolate Chocolate Cake, Key Lime Pie, or the lush and lovely New York Cheesecake, anchored with a very extra thin crust. Don't let the carb counting get in the way of gobbling all of them.
With down-sizing the rage among restaurants and with the surge in popularity of fast casual, Blue Fish seems to have found a niche in South Charlotte. And why not? A simple, low-key, neighborhoody place serving straightforward food never goes out of style.
Over 100,000 folks visited the Charlotte Shout Culinary Arts Experience and Blues, Brews & BBQ. Grand Champion Winner of the Memphis in May BBQ event was Jack's Old South. Other "Cue winners are Pig Pounda Kappa, Jack's Old South BBQ, and Allnighters for Whole Hog; Jack's Old South BBQ, Pig Pounda Kappa, Philly Pigs for Shoulder; Pig Pounda Kappa, Big Show Grilling and Allnighters for Ribs; and the Backyard Griller Winner was Pig Headed and Big Dog BBQ. Congratulations to the winners and tasters.
At the Great Grapes! Wine & Music Festival, from noon until 9pm on Saturday, October 9, and noon until 6pm on Sunday, October 10, at Symphony Park at SouthPark Mall, a 100-pound fudge sculpture of an eagle will be crafted by professional food sculptor Jim Victor. The artwork is sponsored by Eagle Brand. Tickets for the event are $15. Fifteen North Carolina wineries will participate.
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