Never let it be said that all kids want chicken sticks or plain pasta when they go out to dinner.
Example: Quinn Tonini, my grandnephew, whose goal is to resume my cooking shows when I retire. And he has a palate that clearly says he’s on the right track, even at 6 years old.
So I decided to take him out of his comfort zone and take him to dinner at Aaron’s Fish Camp, which opened in the old Blue Smoke Island Grill space on Siesta Key. Aaron’s has the same owners as Blue Smoke, plus a few happy new faces from Fleming’s and Station 400, plus plenty of new seafood as well as the smoky, wacky barbecue the restaurant is known for.
The atmosphere at Aaron’s is all about the outdoors, from live reggae music to changing color tables and people watching. And while it’s not totally original, calling the restaurant a fish camp fits the new vibe.
On a recommendation from our server, Katie, we started with the tamales pancakes with braised pulled pork. According to Quinn, “this is something everyone should try thanks to the orange peel.” (I told you, this kid knows about food.)
And it’s true: the tamale pancakes were crispy around the edges but soft enough on the inside to soak up the juicy pork. A good start.
A side salad turned out to be fresh and crisp, and the homemade ranch was rated well.
We were both disappointed with the lobster tacos, which were based on scampi (Quinn and I are both from New England). We found them to be a bit harsh and lacking in flavor which the restaurant can no doubt easily fix. And we got a quick rebound in the form of the fresh fried grouper sandwich. This baby was huge, served with a fresh lemon tartar sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion, and hot, crispy fries. Yeah, you guessed it – according to Quinn, you’d be stupid not to order that giant fish sandwich. He ate half of it in record time.
Then the burger, at Quinn’s suggestion. At first I was hesitant about the idea of an 8 oz. Grilled burger topped with bacon, pulled pork and mac and cheese. But again my little freshman review was on the money, noting that the burger was done just right, and the mac and cheese was “so good” with the bacon and pork.
We also tried the grilled salmon – again, a large portion and well done, but I would have liked a little more spice in the mango chutney that came with it. Our sides were cheese cauliflower and caramelized Brussels sprouts. We loved both.
The off-the-hook St. Louis-style barbecue half-rack is tasty and perfect, with a blue cheese coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes to soak up the sweet, dripping sauce.
And since this wasn’t my kid to take home and put to bed, I let Quinn order the fried Oreos with fudge and caramel sauce. A nod to carnival food, it was really, really good.
We both agreed that we would return to Aaron’s, which also has a creative cocktail menu and outdoor TVs for watching sports.
As for Quinn, he’s buying his own journal to take notes on our next caper.
Aaron’s Fish Camp, 149 Messina Ave. Siesta Key, (941) 346-0738 | www.aaronsfishcamp.com