Owen’s Fish Camp in Sarasota FL is a really fun place in a hidden away location that transports you to seafood heaven. What else is there to say?? Oh yeah, a lot…read on….
516 Burns Lane Sarasota, FL 34236, (941) 951-6936
Cuisine: Seafood, American, Southern/Soul
Price Rating: $15-$25 per entree
Review Date: June 28 and July 9, 2012
This review is part of a series of restaurant reviews that follows The Watering Mouth’s restaurant review guidelines.
Background Info on the Review
The first time I ever encountered Owen’s Fish Camp, my friend and I had decided to check out that Swedish film “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” at the Burns Court Cinema theatre. We had some time to kill before the show and so we walked around a bit on Burns Court. Thing is, we’d never been to Burns Court before and hadn’t really known it existed before this night. We exited the theatre and started walking south and were immediately overcome with this incredible feeling, like, “What is this place??” when we first laid eyes on Owen’s Fish Camp.
The first thing we noticed was this incredibly huge, beautiful banyan tree that completely overtakes the space right there. And then nestled in underneath is the cute, quaint, little house of a restaurant. Being that it’s seafood, we both looked at each other and were like “How did we not know about this place before? We MUST try this place,” and we immediately made plans to run away and live in Burns Court for the rest of our lives. But before you knew it, she had moved out of town and we had lost our chance to experience it for the first time together.
So you can imagine how excited I was when I finally got around to reviewing them, I was suddenly overcome with joy that I now had an excuse to make a trip there. You’ve got to see this place to believe it, if you haven’t been there before. It’s just such a quaint locale; here is the blurb from the website about the restaurant:
Owen’s Fish Camp is the Caragiulo Brothers’ sixth restaurant creation, inspired by the local Sarasota history and a desire to both mess around with down home Southern seafood fare and to try to develop authentic Southern accents. Owen’s Fish Camp is Southern country style in a cool, comfortable urban setting. The downtown Sarasota cottage, built in 1923, is set under a beautiful banyan tree in the wonderful walking district called Burns Court.
But don’t think for a minute that I wasted this review on my non-seafood loving husband…oh no, Dear Reader, I made sure to bring Dad along with me on this review, since he is a huge seafood lover. Your best interests in mind at all time! Ha.
Cheri’s Food Review
When I first walked in here, I loved the interior immediately. Some reviews (including my anonymous reviewer) think it’s a bit overdone in there, and that’s just fine – but I really like it! There are cute nautical decorations all over the walls and ceiling and when you sit down at your table, you are greeted with a no-nonsense paper menu on the table. Some might want a real menu, but I thought it was the perfect touch of casual to add to the experience.
We were served three appetizers right off the bat. It’s hard for me to tell how quickly they actually serve here myself, because I always get better than average service when I go in for a review, but the food here came out QUICK. We started with the Grilled Giant Prawns with Chili, Lime and Garlic ($12) because those just looked so incredibly inviting. Absolutely huge prawns all fancy and charred and covered in some tasty-looking sauce. One bite and we were in prawn heaven – inundated with a spicy, garlicky, perfectly crispy coating and a bit of charred flavor washed over our tongues. The presentation was gorgeous; the prawns all lined up before the firing squad on the way to their delicious demise. This was easily my favorite appetizer.
The next appetizer was the Bowl of Mussels with Melted Leek Broth ($10). The only negative thing I can say about these Mussels, which my Dad agreed with, was that we should have had them first, because after the spicy Prawns, the first bite was almost impossible to taste. But once our tastebuds had calmed down from the burst of flavor from the prawns, we found these mussels to be perfectly cooked and tender with a satisfying yet subtle sauce. These could easily stand up to any mussels I’ve had in the past – I loved them.
The Fried Green Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese, Country Ham, Crisps & Buttermilk Dressing (lg $9) was the loveliest fried green tomato I’ve had. Granted, I’ve only had these a handful of times, but my Dad has had them many more – and he said that he thought they were really well-done. Not too greasy and with a crisp, light battered outside and the perfect blend of tart and firm green tomato on the inside. And I loved it with the goat cheese; that was a great compliment of flavor. Quite a pleasant way to eat a bunch of vegetables (plus some ham, but who’s counting?).
I got lucky again with this course and bit into my favorite part as my first choice, the Seared Sea Scallops with Braised Pork and Owen’s Succotash ($21). The scallops were substantial and perfectly tender, not at all overcooked with an incredible sauce on top on the pork, which gave each bite a pleasant little spicy kick. The creamy grits underneath might have added another little kick, though it’s difficult tell with all those wonderful textures and flavors going on at once. And the vegetables on top pleasantly surprised me by adding a sweetness of flavor, giving contrast to the dish as a whole. This was my favorite meal of the night, and I am not lying when I said that “This is what I would order if I was on death row.”
I wouldn’t usually order Fish ‘N’ Chips ($13) when I go out, mostly because, while I love fried things as much as the next gal, I usually opt for something a bit more complex and healthy. But if I *was* a Fish ‘n’ Chips kinda gal, I would be super satisfied with what you get at Owen’s. The fish served was delicate, soft and mild, remarkably juicy with a breading that was light and crisp and reminded me of a great tempura. And let me just say – those fries were just the kind I like, thin and plenty. They have a slight flavor to them which I can’t describe, but is better than your average french fry. Yum. Even if it wasn’t that guilt-free of a meal, I still thought it felt light enough to try and sort of pretend that it was healthy.
We also ordered the Blackened Grouper (market) from the “Naked Fish” part of the menu, where you can choose two sides and your own sauce to go with it. We got this particular choice because Dad is a connoisseur of blackening spice and the waitress said that the grouper was the way to go here. I was glad we chose this fish, because it was exactly how I like fish; flaky, tender and juicy with a satisfying delicate taste. Even though Dad thought there was a bit too much blackening spice on the fish, he said that he liked the flavor. It did have a kick at the end. I really loved the brown butter hollandaise sauce and thought the lemon caper butter could have had more flavor. I enjoyed the flavor of the garlic potatoes that we ordered as a side and they were not dry at all. And even though collard greens aren’t my favorite side, I wanted to give them a try here, because if you’ve been following along, you’d know this is only my second time having them and I actually did find them to be quite pleasant.
The Fish Tacos with Green Salsa and Spicy Baja Sauce ($11) were very good and I loved the way that the soft, warm fish contrasted with the crunchy cabbage, cool green salsa and creamy, spicy Baja sauce. I felt like the Mahi Mahi was a bit firmer and maybe drier compared to say, Tilapia, when I make them at home, but I think that’s a matter of personal preference.
The Maine Lobster Rolls ($15) were the most interesting choice of the night by far. Dad and I were both patient through about six bites each to figure out what the taste were that we were having (in my head I guessed tarragon, and I swear I’m not just saying that because I was correct). We thought they were good, and interesting, but we both agreed that we probably wouldn’t order them again. Especially not with the “Cheri’s Last Meal” Scallops on the menu.
The Bourbon Pecan Pie with Fresh Cream ($7.50) was a great starter for the dessert course and I apologize for the difficulty I had in getting a decent picture of this beauty. We did like this one, but thought we’d had better in the past. It also may have been just future mental comparison with the next dessert, which was by far the best of the evening.
There is nothing to say about the Fried Blackberry Pies with Vanilla Ice Cream ($7.50) other than the fact that this was the only thing that we ate in its entirety the whole meal, without even thinking twice. These pies and ice cream disappeared within 4 minutes of them arriving at our table – they were incredible.
Normally, Key Lime anything is my favorite dessert, and while the Key Lime Bar with Fresh Whipped Cream ($6.50) was good, it just paled in comparison with the Blackberry Pies. I do remember really liking the crust and also, it was very light-colored pie, so that’s how I could tell it was quality stuff – but again – The Blackberry Pies!
Cloaked Restaurant Review
This is the part where I have an anonymous review done to critique the entire restaurant experience in a undercover way so that you can get a good idea of what it’s like for the typical restaurant-goer like yourself! It keeps us all honest!! Here’s what they said:
FYI: The low lighting and time of day proved too much of a challenge for the reviewer’s cellphone camera, so we were only able to get a couple of semi-visible pictures, so we’ve posted what we could. The reviewer did say that “overall, everything was plated nicely.”
The decor is cute and rustic while the historic wood frame building makes a lovely backdrop for the nautical theme. The open, airy feeling is especially pleasant for such a small building. It gives the illusion of a much larger space; however, this also seems to create a rather loud atmosphere that may be unpleasant for some when the restaurant meets its capacity of patrons. The staff is pleasant and attractive though their “uniforms” leave a bit to be desired; the extremely short and tight shorts being worn by most of the servers brings to mind more of a sports bar and less a Southern restaurant. The low lights and close seating make for a cozy and intimate dinner setting. Menus await patrons at the tables (and serve as placemats) giving an opportunity to review the selections while waiting to meet the server.
I started with a small Fried Green Tomato Salad. If you have ever had a southern fried green tomato then you know that they have a firm texture with a slightly sweet acidic taste and only need a light dredging (to hold in the moisture) with a short frying time. These were perfect! And the chef made an interesting adaptation by adding goat cheese and bacon to the top of the tomatoes and then placing them on a bed of dressed greens, onions, cucumbers, and red tomatoes. What an indulgent way to start a meal! I would suggest maybe getting the light vinaigrette dressing on the side as there was a little too much for my taste.
The Pan Fried Lump Crab Cake appetizer was simply plated with a mound of cole slaw on one side, and the lemony mayo covered crab cake on the other with a lemon wedge. All too frequently cole slaw tends to taste more like mayo than the vegetables it’s made of, but not in this case. It was possible to taste the subtle cabbage and sweet carrots with just a hint of something almost acidic throughout. With such a light “dressing” the veggies stayed crisp making this an excellent counterpoint to the savory, robust crab cake. The crab cake was a little on the small side at first glance, but when cut in half I learned it was a lot more crab than cake. Comprised primarily of large crab chunks, the cake simply filled in the gaps. It was pan fried to perfection with a crunchy exterior and the crab heated to perfection inside. The lemony mayo complimented the crab cake perfectly, adding a sweet citrus accent, but there was just so much of it. After scraping the excess off the top, it was easier to dip each forkful to my liking.
I ordered a glass of “Cheap” Malbec to go with my main courses. The wine menu is divided into Cheap, Decent and Good, and based on my own pallet that would complement the varied selections I would be tasting. The malbec was exactly what I had hoped, medium bodied, fruit forward, but the presentation in a short cocktail glass was, for lack of a better word, odd and didn’t serve the purpose by design to create a large surface area to focus the aroma to the nose. The beer selection ranged widely, from domestic lagers to dark imports to the now ubiquitous IPA. Any kind of beer drinker should have no problem finding something to enjoy.
The first entree was Naked Fish, I ordered the fresh Red Snapper grilled, with sides of Parsley Potatoes and the My Way or The Highway Cheesy ‘Grits’. Naked Fish comes with your choice of sauces and my first inclination was Lemon-Caper Butter, but I was informed they were out. When you consider there are only three ingredients, it leads one to believe sauces aren’t made for each order, but in advance. I picked the green tomato salsa as a replacement, but got it on the side so as to ensure it would not over power such a delicate fish. I tried it with the fish a couple of times, but it didn’t add anything. Not to say it was bad, but the snapper was grilled to perfection, with the inside still moist and flaky. The parsley potatoes were undercooked by a few minutes, but had good flavor, lightly buttered and seasoned. The grits were very light and creamy, like they were made with milk or cream instead of water, and then whipped with a mild bodied cheese that was completely incorporated rather than spread on top.
I then moved on to a plate FULL of Fish Tacos, three to be exact, and shoestring fries. The fries were perfectly crispy, as if they had been double fried or even with a light coating or batter. A perfect accompaniment to the firm, white fish topped with slaw and a robust, spicy, green salsa. There was a spicy baja sauce that was completely lost on me. Essentially sour cream, I didn’t get any real flavor from it. The flour tortillas were a bit soggy so I suggest using a knife and fork to enjoy this dish, otherwise ask for extra napkins.
And last but certainly not least: coffee and dessert. It seems strange to review coffee, but for a cup of black coffee, it was noteworthy. No burnt flavor, not bitter, just a smooth, dark roast accompanied by a small pitcher of creamer and selection of sugar and artificial sweeteners. It cleansed the palate and accompanied both desserts splendidly. The dessert selection is limited, but it closed out this dining experience perfectly. First up was Fried Blackberry Pies with Vanilla Ice Cream, season ripe blackberries wrapped in a buttery, flaky crust; deep fried and served alongside a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream topped with a strawberry. The heat from the fried pastries melted the ice cream for a crème glaze effect as well as a nice balance of cool and sweet notes to accompany the tart and crispy pastries.
A slice of Mud Pie was a special I couldn’t resist, a chocolate cookie crust with a chocolate and coffee filling, a chocolate crumb topping lightly drizzled with chocolate sauce, and a side of fresh whipped cream topped with a strawberry. The crust was firm, but not dry, it held its shape against the smooth filling which I can only describe as similar to a cheesecake, but not nearly as dense. It had a light, smooth texture, and while rich, it wasn’t heavy.
Owen’s Fish Camp has a beautiful, rustic setting in an old Florida home, with an enormous banyan tree out front. This style flawlessly picks up inside without being kitschy, but came off to me as trying just a bit too hard. The image is one of a “fish camp”, a casual dining experience with non-traditional adaptations of southern staples and a laissez faire attitude, though it lost a little something between the servers’ outfits and lack of proper glassware. These are only minor details in the bigger picture, but did distract a bit from what was an otherwise wonderfully satisfying seafood experience. The restaurant was almost full upon our arrival and the worst complaint was after our appetizers were delivered, the server didn’t return to take the entree order for another 30 minutes, but all in all the food was received quickly and always hot from the kitchen.
Cloaked Review Ratings
|Food Quality & Menu|
Go to my Flickr account to check out my Owen’s Fish Camp, Sarasota, FL, Restaurant Review images set to see the full set of pics.