There’s something wonderful about a divey seafood place, the kind of place you only find in coastal cities. Until recently, you couldn’t get fresh seafood unless you lived near the shore. But with fishing boats equipped with blast chillers dropping their catch off at the pier to be whisked away by jets, folks in Boise have just as much chance of eating fresh seafood as those of us living in coastal areas. Especially now that 90 percent of seafood consumed in America comes from other countries, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For a guide to local seafood, see below.
Still, as my Aunt Betty used to say, “Don’t let a little something like the truth get in the way of atmosphere!” Whether the seafood is from local waters or not, these places have the feel of authentic seafood dives from the past. FYI, I limited my selection to independent spots, no national chains and also eliminated any highfalutin places that use things like cloth napkins, cause the true dives don’t even use paper napkins, just a roll of paper towels.
1317 S. Federal Hwy., Dania Beach
Tark's has been serving up fresh shucked raw clams and oysters since your parents were newlyweds. There’s not much more to it than a tiled counter and some bar stools where you can watch the kitchen staff whip up old school favorites such as steamed clams and grilled mahi alongside some new faves such as buffalo shrimp. The lunch specials are great deals; 10 freshly shucked clams for only $6.95 or whole belly clams for $8.50 on Fridays.
1536 Cordova Rd., Fort Lauderdale
Sit out back on the deck overlooking the intercostal and enjoyed fried clams, scallops or raw oysters until two in the morning. Get a pound-and-a-half of snow crab legs with corn on the cob for less than $20, or a half dozen huge stuffed baked clams, enough for a meal for less than $7. Service is friendly is a bit harried and forgetful, but you’re not here for that anyway.
4003 N. Andrews Ave., Oakland Park;
What’s on the menu? A little stain from the tartar sauce! Plastic checkered tablecloths, mounds of paper napkins to mop up all that melted butter and fryer grease. Early bird meals (4-6 p.m.) include Maryland crab cakes, catfish, shrimp, mahi, cod, fried oysters or clam strips and are all priced between $12.50 and $13.50 and include hushpuppies, soft drink and dessert. If you’d rather dine later check out the nightly all you can eat specials such as fried or peel and eat shrimp, fried clam strips, snow crabs, fried oysters and crawfish. Service is friendly and, often efficient, but I think that’s by more by accident than intent.
Tarpon Bend Food & Tackle
200 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale
Sure, it’s a tourist trap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good, and a good deal. Check out the conch chowder (just $5 for a large bowl), the Mediterranean chopped salad is huge with chickpeas, olives, feta and grilled shrimp for $14 or the Asian tuna sandwich ($13). However, my favorite is to stop in for brunch and savor shrimp and grits topped with a fried egg. At lunch, check out “It's 4 Free Thursday,” buy three lunches and the fourth is free.
Dockers Restaurant & Pub
318 N Federal Hwy., Dania Beach
Not quite as divey anymore since it was bought by new owners last January and significantly renovated, but I’m including it anyway. The good food and reasonable prices (everything is priced less than $15) make up for the ho-hum view of the marina and inattentive service. I have just two words to say, “Lobster sliders.”
G&B Oyster Bar
429 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
While a tad pricier than the other places, G&B offers up the plumpest freshest oysters in town for the price point. Among the other dishes that tempt me are the lobster Green Goddess salad (only $19), New Orleans-inspired stuffed shrimp with grilled asparagus, lobster BLT and the aromatic cioppino (Italian seafood stew). For non-seafood eaters, the dark and stormy ribs will make this one of their favorite places.
1305 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale
I wish I had better things to say about this place. They do a mean lobster roll, but the “hosts” for lack of a better word, are rude beyond belief. We have been told there was a 20 minute wait, and after 40 minutes when we inquired as to how much longer until our table was ready, were treated as if we smacked them with a piece of dog crap (I kind wish I had). They don’t take reservations, but if you call ahead they supposedly put you on a priority list (we’ve tried and they still didn’t have a table ready for us.) Three strikes and they’re out. How’s that for a Red Sox reference?
Fresh From Florida? Not So Fast!
It’s not every day that Floridians get to eat fresh, local seafood caught off their own shores. In fact, unless you caught it yourself, there’s a good chance you never have. If you think that the lobster or king crab legs you’re salivating over are locally harvested, forget about it. Lobster and king crab all grow in much colder waters. So if 90% of America’s seafood is from foreign countries, what can you get locally? If you order any of the following, all indigenous to Florida, there’s a good chance it’s locally caught:
Conch (pronounced "konk")
Dolphin aka mahi, not the mammal
Florida lobster aka spiny lobster
Shrimp (Key West Pinks, Rock Shrimp)
Stone Crab (seasonal October to May)