Saturday, November 18, 2017
Restaurant News

Restaurant review: Hog Island Fish Camp a rustic, welcoming addition to Dunedin

RECOMMENDED READING


DUNEDIN

Sam's Fresh Seafood was an Old Florida institution in Dunedin, the kind heavy on smoked mullet and hush puppies. Owners Sam and Phyllis Hart retired this summer and sold the rustic spot to Walt Wickman, a move that seems nearly poetic in its rightness.

Wickman for a number of years had the fish-forward, ambitious Walt's Seasonal Cuisine on Main Street, for whatever reason a tough location that has subsequently cycled through a couple of other concepts. In the meantime, Wickman took over the space that for years had housed part of the retail/wholesale Dunedin Fish Co. and debuted Olde Bay Café in 2011, quickly a locals' go-to place for honest, super-fresh gulf seafood (hogfish, snapper, cobia, etc.).

Olde Bay has the benefit of killer water views and an inviting indoor-outdoor setting that make for a convivial stop after boating, running and Dunedin-dabbling when fish tacos and local craft beer are in order. The biggest problem for Wickman: a tiny, bare-bones kitchen that means no grilled food, no fried food and a lot of elbow jostling with fellow kitchen workers.

People who are inattentive may still think Wickman's new spot is Sam's with a bit of a glammy trophy-fish makeover. It has a welcoming, no-pretensions feel, but Wickman has made some big changes: He has added outdoor seating, ripped the bar out and added a new one with repurposed wood from Viable Lumber in Pinellas Park. He's got reclaimed wood from the old Dunedin Pier and from trees knocked down at a golf course in Seminole, little bits of local history that seem mirrored fairly elegantly by the food.

The name itself, Hog Island Fish Camp, is a nod to the area's history. Honeymoon and neighboring Caladesi, once a single island, had been home to a hog farm, thus the name Hog Island. Once the destination was being sold as a honeymoon spot for newlyweds, the name seemed like a sketchy marketing gambit and it was rebranded in 1939. With the name, Wickman is paying tribute to the area's past, but hog is also germane to the menu. There is an excellent blackened or fried hogfish sandwich ($12) and plenty of pork, from a pork sandwich with sweet-zingy housemade bread and butter pickles ($9) to a rustic pork "steak" ($16).

You know how on menus the stuff in boxes is what the owner really wants you to look at? Look at the stuff in boxes here.

On one side is Southern-style buttermilk fried chicken ($35, serves two or three), a big pile of crunchy-exteriored, juicy-interiored poultry pieces offered up with a choice of three sides, the best of which are the nicely seasoned braised greens, the not-too-mayo-y coleslaw and the skillet corn bread. (I wasn't wild about the butter beans with small, round pasta called fregula, too bland, but the roasted baby zucchini with tomato and toasted sesame seeds is another fun choice.)

On the other side of the menu is a box containing the salt-and-pepper fried seafood options, from shrimp ($15) to oysters ($17), all offered with fries (just okay), slaw and nice housemade tartar.

As at Wickman's other restaurants, seafood is unmistakably fresh and very Florida-centric. He and chef de cuisine Jonathan Plichta (most recently of the Living Room and the Smokehouse in Dunedin, but previously in Charleston, S.C.) are calling it "salty Southern," with their own larder increasingly adding canned, preserved and cured doodads into the mix (apple butter and pickles, plus they have a duck ham and a pastrami using pork belly that I'm eager to try next time I visit).

Service suits the decor and culinary aesthetic. With Jack Herr as front of the house manager (locals may remember him as the longtime general manager at Heilman's Beachcomber Restaurant in Clearwater Beach), the staff has a chummy sweetness that feels just right in Dunedin. "Hog Island" might not have been quite right to lure honeymooners, but I'm guessing it will do just fine as a magnet for hungry locals.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

   
Comments
No Thanksgiving plan? Head to one of these Tampa Bay restaurants for traditional feasts and more

No Thanksgiving plan? Head to one of these Tampa Bay restaurants for traditional feasts and more

You realize Thanksgiving is just a week away, right? No pressure. If you don’t have a holiday game plan for Nov. 23, let’s do this thing. There are still a bunch of options, many traditional Thanksgiving repasts and some a little less conventional. C...
Published: 11/16/17
A St. Petersburg artist created the labels for this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine release

A St. Petersburg artist created the labels for this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wine release

Every year, there are bad things we can count on: taxes and death. And good things: Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November and on the Thursday before, the Beaujolais nouveau arrives. What is less predictable is just how this vin de l’ann...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Oak & Stone with self-serve beer coming to St. Pete, South Tampa’s Byblos to reopen

Oak & Stone with self-serve beer coming to St. Pete, South Tampa’s Byblos to reopen

COMING SOON: OAK & STONEBeen to Oak & Stone in Sarasota? In early 2018 we’ll get one in St. Petersburg at 199 Central Ave., next to the newly constructed Hyatt Place. The concept is wood-fired pizzas mated with a self-serve beer wall highlighting cr...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Restaurant review: NuMex needs to tell its story better to stand out among St. Petersburg’s taco scene

Restaurant review: NuMex needs to tell its story better to stand out among St. Petersburg’s taco scene

ST. PETERSBURGI seldom have been so perplexed about a new restaurant. The prospect of NuMex’s opening in the Grand Central District swirled more than a year ago and I watched the hip little building come together. The spelling of the name itself was ...
Published: 11/13/17
Proper in downtown St. Pete to close as Park & Rec takes over its space

Proper in downtown St. Pete to close as Park & Rec takes over its space

ST. PETERSBURG — Next week, something almost unprecedented is happening in St. Petersburg’s restaurant scene.Park & Rec, the game-oriented concept from Stephen Schrutt’s Hunger + Thirst Restaurant Group, will expand Nov. 17 into a second building. It...
Published: 11/10/17
Don’t want to cook on Thanksgiving? Where to pick up every part of the meal in Tampa Bay

Don’t want to cook on Thanksgiving? Where to pick up every part of the meal in Tampa Bay

Some years you’re feeling it. The peeling of the pearl onions, the procuring of the chestnuts, that one creepy moment when you’re nearly elbow-deep trying to locate the bag of giblets. Thanksgiving is the most important cooking holiday of the year, t...
Published: 11/08/17
Made Coffee’s cold brew creation is brewed and canned right here in Tampa Bay

Made Coffee’s cold brew creation is brewed and canned right here in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURGLet’s start with the actual can itself, a turquoise-tan-orange vessel emblazoned with text and illustrations: "Ingredients: coffee, water, time"; an image of a simple coffee brewing process under "How we made it." The colors pop, the fo...
Published: 11/07/17
Updated: 11/10/17
New Indian restaurant Rasoi now open in Ybor City

New Indian restaurant Rasoi now open in Ybor City

Rasoi Indian Cuisine, launched its grand opening Saturday (Nov. 4) as the only Indian restaurant in Ybor City. Located at 1701 E Eighth Ave., the traditional restaurant cooks authentic Indian food with the finest spices and ingredients imported from...
Published: 11/07/17
Naples is a dining destination worth visiting, rich with newcomers and long-standing favorites

Naples is a dining destination worth visiting, rich with newcomers and long-standing favorites

NAPLES Naples Restaurant Week is a semiannual promotion celebrating the region’s best dining at an affordable price, with lunch and dinner prix fixe meals available for either $25 or $35, depending on the location. This year it’s slated ...
Published: 11/06/17
Calling food fans: This weekend has food festivals in Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach and more

Calling food fans: This weekend has food festivals in Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach and more

Let’s hope you’ve been in an abstemious mode, maybe even fasting this past week, because things are about to get real for Tampa Bay foodies. TAMPA GREEK FESTIVAL One of the biggest events this weekend is the Tampa Greek Festival at St....
Published: 11/03/17
Updated: 11/10/17