The lobster spring rolls are the first plate to hit the table.
Two crunchy, blistered rolls are split diagonally and plated among heaps of emerald-colored wakame salad, thin somen noodles tossed in sesame oil, and a drizzle of spicy sauce.
If you’ve eaten at Cru, or the old Lush, or at Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery just up the street, then you’ll recognize these rolls. They call(ed) them volcano spring rolls, stuffed them with fake crab meat and charged $10 or more for them.
At the 4-month-old Fish Tale Grill here in Cape Coral, the rolls overflow with hunks of sweet lobster pulled from the icy tanks of Merrick Seafood next door. Price: $12.
The advantages of opening a restaurant attached to your seafood market are many: First access to fresh seafood; and the ability to cut out the costly middleman – just to name two.
Husband-wife duo Patrick and Kerry Krieg recognized these advantages. Kerry’s family opened Merrick Seafood some 21 years ago on Southeast 47th Terrace facing the Big John’s Plaza. She and Patrick took over four years ago, first adding more take-and-bake-style items, and eventually dipping into restaurant waters with Fish Tale.
The Kriegs hired serious chefs in Rich Montoya and David Spina, two Cru alumni familiar with fine dining. Credit them for the elegant plates and complex flavors showcased at this tiny but polished restaurant. Credit the Kriegs and Merrick for a menu that rarely tops the $13 mark.
Pistachio-crusted salmon in a citrus beurre blanc sets you back all of $9.99. For $1 more there’s the ginger teriyaki tuna, each ruby rectangle of fish plated opposite a small puddle of wasabi aioli. There is more wakame and more somen. And sweet bits of mango for that cleansing touch of sweet.
Clams casino are made from middlenecks, their briny plumpness rounded out by a generous helping of smoky bacon and just enough bread crumbs to keep the lot together.
On the lighter side, the seafood Cobb salad is a thing of beauty. Cold scallops, shrimp and crab meat, each perfect, placed around a bed of greens layered with velvety avocado, boiled eggs and the best tomatoes summer has to offer.
There are classics such as oysters Rockefeller, lobster bisque, and huge shrimp cocktail that curl around the edges of a martini glass. And there are Florida classics such as red grouper fried to a golden crunch, then served with cinnamon-dusted sweet-potato fries.
You can have your grouper stuffed with crab meat, if you’d rather. Don’t let the “market” price tag scare you. Last week it was just $13.99.
Fish Tale can get away with that because of its six-table dining room where plastic lawn chairs are disguised by blue tablecloths that match the blue walls lined in wavy-wood panels painted crisp white.
And it can get away with it because, for now at least, Fish Tale is open only for lunch.
This column is typically reserved for dinner restaurants. Word is Fish Tale is expanding into the space next door, with plans to open for dinner in the coming months. I say: Don’t wait. Food of this caliber should be enjoyed as soon as possible. No matter the time of day.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact email@example.com; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).