There have been several so called restaurants on the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and First Street in Neptune Beach. Oh, food was prepared and sold at these establishments, but whatever their initial good intentions, they evolved into nightclubs.
Having witnessed these many incarnations, I leave North Beach Fish Camp confident that history will not repeat itself. This is because it is the sister restaurant of the very popular Palm Valley Fish Camp. From the interior to the ambiance to the menu, North Beach Fish Camp has been modeled after its older sister. There are of course some differences.
With a second floor soon to be opened, North Beach will use this space to accommodate diners waiting for their tables. I was told it would not be a second dining room per se. It’s a shame as they could use extra space to eat.
On our midweek visit the restaurant was busy and I was glad I made reservations. I think this is a practice that anyone wanting to go to North Beach Fish Camp should get used to – it’s not used to checking out the “new guys” rush. I expect this place to be busy most of the time. With its exposed ceiling and rustic wall coverings, the restaurant is noisy. There are also a lot of people. While I’m used to cramped New York City restaurants where every square inch has to be used as a profit center, here it’s more like roommates who have come into a shared space with too much furniture between them. Several tables, including ours, seemed to interrupt the flow of the room. The waiters sneaked among the customers. I sat in my seat a few times to avoid a stray elbow or to make room for an oncoming food runner.
I present this plaque of negativity on a plate to get it out of the way so that I can praise the food. Our dinner was rustic seafood prepared with panache.
The Fried Clams with Fish Camp Tartar Sauce ($ 8) were the best I’ve had in a while. All the fish are fresh and I could taste the clam with every bite. They weren’t too beaten or in the least soggy. The fresh tartare was creamy, but didn’t hide the flavor of the clam strips.
The Abaco Conch Fritters with Lemon Aioli ($ 8) received the same treatment as the clams. Lightly fried and generously stuffed, the donuts were a good dish rather than a killer appetizer that satisfied the appetite. That said, both entrees were filling and meant to be shared.
Rick’s All Day Seafood Soup (5 cups / $ 7 bowl) is a red chowder filled with okra and chunks of fish and shellfish. It has a hearty, smoky flavor that can be enjoyed even on the hottest days of summer.
The cornmeal crusted brook trout with smoked bacon and crispy potatoes ($ 16) was tasty but suffered somewhat from the presentation. The large fillets were spread out on the plate and covered the thickly sliced homemade chips. The heat of the fish steamed the fries underneath. Crisps are too important an input to receive such treatment. Coleslaw could have been served in a separate cup to make room for the potatoes. As for the fish, it was flaky and the cornmeal filling was just enough to add flavor and texture to the delicate trout.
There’s no need to back down at Spicy Seafood Linguini with Garlic, Tomato, and Parsley ($ 19). While it does have a bit of heat, it’s neither too spicy nor smacked with chunks of garlic. The large pasta bowl holds copious amounts of clams, shrimp, squid and scallops.
North Beach Fish Camp is shaping up well and will be a beach dining destination for some time. I hope it sets a standard that ignites the imagination and the menus of other restaurants in the neighborhood to bring the area back to a great place to eat and party.