Pompano Joe's: A Classic On The Beach
Pompano Joe's opened sometime in 1995. It's built overlooking the Gulf (near Miramar Beach) and its sturdy structure has withstood Hurricanes Opal and Ivan, as well as numerous lesser storms. The parking lot and beach walkway built nearby have been washed away and rebuilt several times. They would have to be. The place tends to fill up early.
Realizing this, we went earlier, hitting Joe's at just around 5 p.m. on a weekend. The host took our names, promised a five-to-15 minute wait, and made good in about seven minutes. Pompano Joe's has a sizable service staff, all of whom look pretty fit, which is a good thing, because they rarely stand still. We were seated, given menus, gave our drink orders, and sat back to watch the place fill up. The crowd was mostly young, mostly underdressed (I mean quantity, not style), and looked fresh from a chilly day on the beach.
The restaurant is long and fairly narrow, with tables along the wall and the beachfront (plenty of good views). There's a lot of wood, and the walls are hung with boating, fishing and general seafaring knickknacks. There's a full bar, serving plenty of tall, punchy cocktails.
Our server Karen was a pro, talking just loud enough to be heard over the ambient conversation, moving quickly but deliberately, keeping drinks filled and plates cleared, pacing it so we never felt rushed. My friend and I sat and watched as a pair of bussers cleared, cleaned, and re-set a nearby table, working like a Mission: Impossible team in complete silence. I wish I'd timed them. These may be small things, but they speak experience and good management.
For starters, we skipped the fried calamari (I ordered it at three of my last reviews) in favor of the Reggae Rolls, a house specialty. Jerk chicken, corn, black beans, tomato and peppers are stuffed into flour tortillas, deep fried, and served with a fruit chutney and spicy pico de gallo. The plump and hot rolls are a savory and spicy variant on spring rolls, and classic bar food. Other appetizers include boiled shrimp, seafood nachos, grilled Voodoo shrimp, jerk wings, tuna dip, crab claws, cheese sticks, and oysters on the shell. There's also gumbo and a daily soup.
For the main course, we went part traditional, part Mexican. My friend ordered PJ's Platter—fried fish, shrimp, scallops and oysters. I got amberjack Cancun, a filet crusted with potato and shrimp, with a rosemary demi-glace.
The seafood platter did PJ credit. The seafood was hot, greaseless and crunchy, and there was plenty of it. We didn't count how many bite-sized pieces there were, but my friend was full and still took home some for next day's lunch. I got a huge piece of amberjack, enveloped in a rich potato crust and studded with shrimp. The sauce was light, with a full but not overpowering rosemary flavor.
Pompano Joe's also offers sandwiches of grilled, pan fried or deep fried fish and seafood, burgers, jerk chicken, grouper served straight up or garlic-crusted, coconut shrimp, beef and shrimp kabob, swordfish, tuna, crab cakes, ribeye, snow crab, steak and pasta, scampi, lobster, and combos of the aforementioned. The fish is variously topped with sofrito, artichokes and scallops, crabmeat, sundried tomato butter, chutney, or lemon herb sauce. Much of the seasonings are Caribbean or Island style, and there's a lot of choice.
After all that, we could only split a dessert. There were four—key lime pie, chocolate cake, coconut cake and cheesecake with raspberry sauce. We got the latter. It was a creamy, respectable sized chunk, drizzled with sauce. I liked that the kitchen didn't send it out frozen, which pretty much kills the flavor of any cake.
Pompano Joe's is an institution here, a place where year 'round travelers head for at least one meal (they serve lunch and dinner), and from which no self-respecting Spring Breaker would fail to buy a t-shirt. All the same, don't just go for the t-shirts…that would be missing the real point.
by Bruce Collier, Courtesy: The Beachcomber