What gets you hungrier than a platter of freshly caught Florida fish and a side of hush puppies, coleslaw and cold beer?
How about if it’s fish that you’ve caught, but you don’t have to do the cooking?
I recently learned that some restaurants will prepare fish that you catch, so long as you filet it for them. How I missed out on this golden nugget of restaurant wisdom before, I’m not sure, but I’m glad that I know it now and can share it here.
“It is such a cool thing that you can go fishing, bring in the filets, and we cook it and clean up,” said Caryn Hodges, marketing director for The Chiles Group, which owns The Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach, Mar Vista Restaurant in Longboat Key, and The Sandbar in Anna Maria.
Although all three restaurants will do what they call “customer catch,” it’s more common at Mar Vista because of its location on the Intercoastal Waterway, Hodges said. “It makes it easier for people to come by boat rather than having to wade in like they would at our other two restaurants,” she said. At Mar Vista, patrons request customer catch three to five times a month.
Similar to other places I interviewed, Mar Vista and affiliated restaurants will prepare the fish that are brought in fried, grilled, blackened, and other styles. The fish is then served family style with french fries, coleslaw and hush puppies.
Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grille in New Smyrna Beach also does customer catch, said owner Ian Carrey. In fact, he anticipated a busy period for customer catch during this month’s Atlantic red snapper season. He said it takes restaurants like Outriggers a little extra work to do customer catch as they have to keep customer catches separate from the restaurant’s own fish, but they’re happy to accommodate. “We call it BYOF, or bring your own fish,” he said.
At the Marker 92 Waterfront Bar and Bistro in Cape Coral, chef Drew Tait will cook customer-caught fish broiled, grilled, blackened, baked, seared, and more, said spokeswoman Lesley Duckworth. Some local catches at Marker 92 have included grouper, mahi mahi, tuna and snook.
So why might customers pay chefs to whip up a tasty fish dish rather than do it themselves?
“We know how to do it,” said sous chef Mike Neely of The Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria. “They don’t want to worry about the ingredients, they’ll probably overcook it on their own, and they want it done right,” said Neely. The Waterfront also prepares customer catches upon request.
“A lot of people aren’t home, or they’re not close to home and they’re on a charter,” Carrey said. “Or, they’re just hungry. They don’t want to wait two hours to cook fish they may not know how to prepare.”
Apparently, the customer catch phenomenon is part of a rising trend. In the hotel and resort world, it’s a way to give guests a unique dining experience, said Brecken Swanberg of Quinn PR in New York. Swanberg sent me a list of resorts in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and even Ireland where restaurants and resorts will prepare customers’ freshly caught fish.