Fourteen years ago this month, the Islamorada Fish Company restaurant, known to many from travels in the Keys, opened its second location in Dania Beach.
It was a partnership between Bass Pro Shops and a little restaurant that started in 1948 as a seafood wholesaler supplying fresh Florida fish to local eateries. Bass Pro now owns all 24 Islamorada Fish Company restaurants nationwide.
The Dania Beach location is starting to look nicely worn, which seems to have been the point of re-creating a faux dockside restaurant on the edge of I-95. While it won't win any awards for its cuisine, tourists — and even us locals — can do much worse than the moderately priced seafood served here.
Like the adjoining Bass Pro Shops, the restaurant is huge. It has 450 seats inside and out. I prefer the Marlin Room, meant to evoke an old Florida fishing camp with loads of taxidermy, photographs and fishing rods. Guest sit at armchairs. A big bar accommodates the drinking crowd, and the lighting is much dimmer than in the larger main dining room, which was overtaken by families with small children.
While I'm told guests who order entrees receive wonderful, sweet Bimini bread, our otherwise efficient and friendly server never brought it. Oh, well.
We started with something from the sushi menu, which surely didn't exist when the restaurant opened in the Keys. The Beach Roll ($13.50) includes tuna, salmon, dolphin, crab, cream cheese, masago and avocado. While I didn't have high expectations for Japanese at restaurant with a Florida-fish-house theme, I was surprised by its freshness and execution. The menu lists more than a dozen rolls, as well as hand rolls and a la carte sashimi.
Back in more-familiar fish-house territory, the raw bar offers steamed shrimp ($8.99/half pound, $16.99/pound), raw or steamed clams and oysters ( $7.99/half dozen, $12.99/dozen) and a very good New England clam chowder ($3.99/cup, $4.99/bowl). Among the other appetizers is farm-raised gator ($9.99), conch fritters ($7.99), spinach dip ($7.99) and smoke fish dip ($7.99).
If you can't resist fried seafood, you won't do much better than the fried-shrimp basket ($15.99), an oversize bread basket filled with salty, breaded shrimp. The basket comes with decent coleslaw and a choice of French fries, baked potato, wild rice or potato salad. The fries are nice and crisp. The seafood sauce for dipping had a nice bite.
Pan-sauteed crab cakes ($18.99), two to an order, needed more crab in the cakes. As they're served, they're more like crab-flavored bread crumbs than crab cakes. They come with the same side choices as the shrimp. Grilled-seafood choices include scallops ($18.99), salmon ($16.99) and dolphin ($19.99).
I try to order at least one of a restaurant's specialties. Here, it was grouper Portofino ($21.99), lightly blackened fish topped with shrimp and a dollop of brandied lobster sauce. It wasn't bad, although the grouper was a little overcooked for my taste. I had to remind myself that I was at a crowd-pleasing tourist spot and not a refined seafood restaurant.
If you're in the mood for lobster, the 2 1/2-pounder costs $69.99. Steamed and cracked in the kitchen, it's a glorious splurge that's served with a bib and drawn butter. For this price, I'd rather eat lobster someplace where butter is served in a warmer and the meal ends with warm towels instead of moist paper towelettes.
For more-casual fare, Islamorada serves several different fish sandwiches ($13.99-$15.99), including grilled dolphin, char-grilled tuna and something called the grouper Reuben on thick-cut rye bread topped with Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese.
Key lime pie ($5.95) seems like the thing to end a meal at a restaurant with Islamorada in its name. This one was too sweet for my liking, but it was served in a charming jar.
I won't go running back to this spot. But next time I'm at Bass Pro Shops to buy wood chips for a barbecue, I'll stop in for a beer and an appetizer.
220 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot