Vol 7 No. 20 - February 7, 2007

Sportfish Grill: one great Island hangout

Sportfish Grill’s Tortilla-Encrusted Dorado

By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer

Fish and fishing are the decorating motif at Sportfish Grill, a welcoming, unpretentious restaurant in Holmes Beach Shopping Center. Covering the walls are enormous swordfish, tarpon, tuna and dolphin hanging with photos of friends, family, charter captains and customers in their proudest fishing moments.

The place has a funky weather-beaten look, enhanced by the quirky aesthetic of corrugated metal walls and mismatched furniture. Bar stools and bar tables are steel and distressed Mexican tin top cantina tables, purchased at Sand Dollar Gift Shop just a few doors away, are different colors and with different logos.

Young people, dressed in T-shirts with the Sportfish Grill logo, delivered friendly, caring and casual service. In fact, before we had even ordered, the waitress, waiter and the owner, Jeff Cummins, had all introduced themselves to us. Soda glasses were filled before it was needed; additional napkins arrived without our asking and complimentary pinball games were given to my daughter while she waited for her meal to arrive. You can sit outside at picnic tables and catch a good breeze, or sit at the bar and have a choice of catching a game or a cooking show on the large, flat-screen televisions. Regulars tell me the restaurant is a hangout for fishing captains, who are presumably drawn to the seductively-cold, imported beer selections and reasonably priced fresh and tasty food.

In truth, one of the things I like best about Sportfish Grill is the homemade hot sauces: smoky toasted abol and chile verde made from chilies and tomatillos. Jeff’s wife, Marcela, makes them from scratch, and unfortunately her recipes are a secret. But the food that goes along with these condiments would have to make this one of the best Island hangouts you’re likely to eat at. It’s party food — big portions, festive, spicy, very fresh and attractively presented. Since Jeff took over the restaurant from Crabber Tom last May, the menu has changed to accommodate local clients’ desires and now Sportfish Grill offers choices of authentic Mexican, Tex-Mex, local coastal and even French inspired original dishes.

Menu choices are fairly straightforward and are the same from lunch through dinner. Frog legs, fried crab claws and mussels or clams in a buttery, garlicky white wine broth are a perfect way to start. Other menu possibilities include salads, sandwiches and five fresh Tex Mex choices: seafood burrito, quesadilla, taco, tostada or chile verde. The bigger entrees also proved very good. New York strip steak is grilled and served with Creole rice pilaf and grilled asparagus. An excellent dish called Sunset Skewers consisted of two skewers loaded with shrimp, scallops, fish and veggies and baked with a sweet and spicy glaze.

One of the best choices is the Tortilla-Encrusted Dorado served with Pico de Gallo and cumin-scented black beans. Dorado is Spanish for mahi mahi, which is Hawaiian for what Americans call dolphin fish. The mahi mahi covered with this crunchy and unusual coating is something I would like to make for a simple dinner or for my guests at a dinner party. Of course the desserts at Sportfish Grill are sweet and appealing. Among the best are the bread pudding with bourbon sauce, crème brûlée and a classic key lime pie.

Sportfish Grill’s Tortilla-Encrusted Dorado
2 eight-ounce filets of mahi mahi
1/3 c. flour
2 eggs whisked with a Tbs. of water
2/3 c. crushed tortilla chips
Preheat oven to 350°F
Place flour in pie dish. Whisk eggs to blend in medium bowl. Crush unsalted tortilla chips and place in a second pie pan. Sprinkle the mahi mahi filets with pepper. Dip both sides of each fish fillet into flour; shake off excess. Dip fish into eggs, then into crushed tortillas, coating completely. Press to adhere.
Melt 2 Tbs. butter with 1 Tbs. oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish fillets to each skillet and cook just until coating is golden brown, taking care not to burn the crust. about 3 minutes per side. Place fish in the hot oven and bake until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 11 minutes.

Pico de Gallo
(prepare as the fish bakes)
Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
1/2 c. diced sweet Vidalia onion
2 medium diced ripe red tomatoes
1 finely chopped jalapeño
2 Tbs. chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

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