Salt Cracker Fish Camp looks like a giant, elegant, white and silver three tier rectangular wedding cake. As one of the last restaurants in Frank Chivas’ Baystar group of restaurants, it rises majestically on the asphalt of the Clearwater Beach Marina, just south of the roundabout off the Memorial Causeway. There, it is surrounded on all sides by dozens of parking meters; I imagine them as Dickensian orphans standing, hungry for your quarters. Instead of having to feed the beast every 30 minutes, however, the camp offers a $ 2 parking tag, so you can stuff your face without interruption.
Once you’ve collected your pass right inside the main gate, you can opt for the air-conditioned interior or, if the Florida sun is in full swing, step up to the outdoor patio to watch the boats lining the marina. . There is no additional charge for a copious accompaniment of nautical envy.
The camp is open daily, starting with a varied breakfast at 7 a.m. each morning, through lunch and dinner at noon. We wander around at dinner time looking for classic dishes and immediately choose three âdockside snacksâ.
Smoked Fish Camp Dip is a mix of chunks of red pepper, celery, and a touch of mayonnaise to bind it all together. There is a slight smoke on the palate, allowing the fish to predominate as it is crammed onto crackers. Spread is standard, unlike fried green tomatoes, which come in the form of a mini cast-iron skillet filled with small, bite-sized triangles to dip in a soft remoulade. It’s an interesting and tasty choice that makes the dish easy to share.
We skip the oysters, shrimp and chowder to focus on a quartet of hot southern puppies. The four perfect dark golden orbs are light and airy, indicating more flour than cornmeal in the dough. I’m used to a more dense texture, so this surprises me, but these are quite nice, even without the accompanying chili cheese fondue. In fact, fondue – as it’s called on the menu – is a misnomer. Although the cheese is soft, it is not at all runny (you have to add it with a knife). Either way, they’re a hit, and we’re now ready for the entrees.
The chicken and the waffles are awesome. It is served ‘Mack the Knife’ style with a huge blade impaling the crispy, sweet tea-brined breasts and ensuring they sit firmly on the hot and crispy golden Belgian waffles. There’s a little bit of black pepper bacon butter and, of course, maple syrup – we want more and our attentive waiter will be happy to answer.
Obviously, a great lure of the camp is the fresh catch “straight from our own fleet of day boats fishing just off our shores”. In our case, it’s grilled grouper (also available blackened or fried, but when you have a good piece of fish I would strongly encourage you to keep it simple to enjoy the peach in all its glory). This fish is served with rustic whipped potatoes, well seasoned, red skinned, thick, firm and sprinkled with pieces of skin. There is also a tablespoon of “Aztec corn” with onion and red pepper. It’s tasty, so fleeting; serving size seems like an afterthought.
The bone-in stuffed pork chop fills a small slit with cubes of spicy andouille sausage, caramelized onions and Swiss. Sadly, peering under the delicious red-eyed sauce is a totally cremated piece of pork while a light char will suffice. This is the kind of culinary faux pas Gordon Ramsay would throw at the pass and send screams to the leaders of Hell’s Kitchen. How it got to my table, I’ll never know. Cooked properly, it should work – but someone should have seen the burnt chop and sent it back to be cooked again.
This amazes me, as the manager on duty on our visit clearly pays attention to detail, mentors less experienced waiters, and moves with great skill to make sure the dining room is buzzing.
The current menu offers three desserts, but two of them differ from an earlier menu posted on Yelp after the camp opened. The constant is the Meringue Lime Pie, which we order but are told it is not available. When you only offer three desserts, it is not good that one of them is out of stock. We try the others, both served in a small cast iron skillet.
While the Foster Banana Bread Pudding, made with caramel sauce and powdered sugar, is warm and enjoyable, it could definitely use some of the cream or ice cream which is a staple of this classic. . The offer is one-dimensional as it is. Homemade cinnamon bun comes hot from the oven with a melted sweet cream cheese frosting. Its cinnamon paste is soft and difficult to cut when it first arrives, and the tangy frosting is dripping because it hasn’t had time to set. This dessert is the one that gets better because it has a chance to cool down. I would have loved to taste the banished apple crisp and the chocolate chess pie.
Baffles and duds aside, the Salt Cracker outperforms most other similar beachside kitchens.
Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously during the exam. Discover the explanation of its rating system.