Fish House lures with creative hooks


Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 12:43 a.m.

Facts

Rick's Fish House

14841 Main St., Alachua (386-462-3224)

  • HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
  • FOOD: American
  • ATMOSPHERE: Key West casual
  • SERVICE: Satisfactory
  • LIBATIONS: Full bar

ALACHUA - At last check, Jimmy Buffett had never visited Rick's Fish House.
When Buffett wrote his famous "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," the song that has become the Parrot Head anthem, the Fish House was no more than a sparkle in owner Rick Robertson's eyes.
But this restaurant, 4 months old last week, feels as if it could have been the inspiration for Buffett's anthem (or, more likely, vice versa).
In most ways, it seems a fugitive from Key West. It's not fancy.
There are fishy things on the pastel walls. There are lots of fishy things on the menu, and plenty of tropical drinks at the bar.
The only things missing (thankfully) are that crusty, stale beer odor, the Hemingway look-alikes and the pale-legged tourists wearing board shorts, Hawaiian shirts and rum.
Here, smack in the middle of farm country, you are more likely to see Florida ranchers than Florida surfers.
Housed in an older building on Alachua's Main Street, the space has been a restaurant for some quarter of a century.
It formerly hosted Grandma's Place, The Connection and Mulberry Landing. In its current configuration, the main dining room is downstairs.
Upstairs is a full bar dubbed the Suwannee Flats Lounge and a big, New Orleans-style deck, a great place to eat or drink on a warm Florida evening.
Rick's Fish House is the newest offering from Rick Robertson, owner of Conestoga's, a meat and potatoes restaurant which is just across the street and down the block from the Fish House. And the Fish House carries on many of the themes established some 20 years ago at Conestoga's.
For one, the menu is filled with clever names.
Onion Rings ($6.99) are called "Inner Tubes. "Conch Fritters ($8.99) are termed "Mermaid Biscuits," and Fried Mushrooms ($6.99) are dubbed "Beach Umbrellas."
For another, it offers significant amounts of food at very reasonable prices.
Yes, just as you can buy a $19 hamburger at Conestoga's (a three-pound monster), you can spend $28 for two warm-water lobster tails at the Fish House. But everything else is much cheaper, $9 to $13 for the most part.
The Fried Catfish dish is a perfect example of the Robertson formula.
Three whole catfish (yes, three), beheaded but not deboned, are dusted in cornmeal and fried, and sell for an amazing $11.99 with great tartar sauce, hushpuppies and a pair of side dishes such as roasted fingerling potatoes, cheese grits, greens, french fries and pineapple-spiked slaw.
My favorite dish is Barbara's Suwannee Grouper, a half-pound grouper filet baked and topped with tasty garlic-parmesan cream sauce ($10.99).
Scallops sauteed in lobster butter ($12.99) and Fried Oysters ($12.99) are great choices as well. Sandwiches include good Po Boys on crusty Cuban/French bread, a half-pound Angus burger and Jerk Chicken ($7-$9).
The Mermaid Biscuits (conch fritters) are a quintessential Key West offering, and Rick's version doesn't disappoint.
They're served with an interesting dipping sauce of orange marmalade spiked with jalapeno.
Servers are very young, but they do a reasonable job. The wine "list" is pretty much Ecco Domani, but we found a passable pinot noir at $22.
The big question is this: If you are going to drive 20 minutes north to Alachua, should you choose the Fish House when you get there?
I think it depends on what you're hungry for.
If you really want fish, Rick's is the place. If you want meat, choose Conestoga's, and if you want something else, pick Ristorante Denino, one of the best Italian restaurants in the area.
David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 15 years. Email him at dave@carlsonfamily.net. Dining is done anonymously and without advance notice. All meals are paid for by the Gainesville Sun.

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