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What does South Florida have against eating whole fish?

  • b

There is almost nowhere you can get a whole fish on the grill, which I find very odd and frustrating since Florida is so big on seafood. In NY there are many restaurants that serve this, especially mediterranean restaurants and some even base their menus around a large variety of fresh whole fish. The fact that so many transplanted NYers live here and that we have access to fresh seafood year round would make you think that there would be a demand for it but it's almost the opposite.

The one place by me that has it on their menu stopped serving it because of "complaints." (Why anyone would order a whole fish and then complain about the fact that's it's whole, is incomprehensible to me.)

I just don't understand.

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  1. I love the whole deep fried snapper at the "Fish House" in Key Largo.....And if want to do it myself.Riggins Crab House" has their own seafood market, I buy the small, whole, catfish, and deep fry them myself........It is so good

    1 Reply
    1. re: HotMelly

      Benx.I think it's the eyeballs that turns people off.......... LOL

    2. Too many retirees from elsewhere who don't know how to eat fish?

      10 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        It's funny you say that because in NY there's an abundance of senior citizens in the places that serve whole fish.

        1. re: Benx

          No, no, no. Those are senior citizens from New York--a place where many people do know how to eat fish. I would guess that many people retiring to Florida and coming from inland states don't know how to eat "real" fish.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            the new yorkers and east coasters go down 95 to miami and north. midwesterners go down 75 to the west/gulf coast.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I think it is partly retirees- they often are eating smaller meals & many people seem to feel that left over fish is not good. It also is partly tourist - many of them are from landlocked areas & not real comfortable with fish - hence the popularity of fried seafood in Fl. Older style places that are geared to locals still have whole fish, but they are hard to find. Smoked mullet traditionally is served whole but split.

              1. re: meatn3

                isn't smoked mullet without the head, too? at least in my experience. gosh, smoked mullet dip/spread is great! and smoked cobia! fix like crab salad.

                1. re: alkapal

                  Now that I think about it, you are right - I guess the head has been removed. I think I'm so into the flavor the rare times I get to eat it that I hadn't really been as aware of the visuals!

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Looks good! I'm within an hour of Ted Peters this week, so planing on a smoked mullet feast if I can get rid of the cold I caught on the drive down...I'll eat a few extra bites for you!

                      1. re: meatn3

                        meatn3, how were "my" extra bites?

                        btw, here is the smoked mullet dip recipe i thought i had linked earlier:

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Very, very good! Mullet was perfect, the German style potato salad & slaw quite nice as usual and the good tomatoes in winter made it that much sweeter! Now I'm craving it again...Once a year is not enough.

        2. Hrm. I always find whole snappers in Cuban restaurants. "Pargo entero." I also have eaten the fried whole tilapia at La Moon in Brickell. Maybe you've just been going to the wrong places?

          1. I have had exactly the same experience which you have had. Many of my friends, especially women, are extremely "grossed out" by the head of the fish ("especially the eyeballs," as HotMelly said in her post). But they do not like seeing the fins or tail, either. Quite a few Chinese restaurants will serve a whole deep fried or steamed fish, which is where I learned of other people's bizarre aversion to seeing a whole cooked fish.

            When you say "South Florida," I assume you mean Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, since, for reasons which are not clear to me, "South Florida" does not usually connote Ft. Myers or Naples to posters here. I can't help you with Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, but on the West Coast, try the Charthouse (or whatever they are calling it nowadays) in Naples or the Prawnbroker in Ft. Myers. Either they will have it on the menu or, if not, they will accomodate your "unusual" request. Moving up the coast, I know they serve whole fish at T.C. Choy's on Howard St. in the Hyde Park section of downtown Tampa, and, although I have never ordered it there, I feel certain that Yummy House and China Yuan, both near the corner of Armenia and Waters in Tampa, would serve it to you. Good luck!

            3 Replies
            1. re: gfr1111

              Actually, I mean the West Palm Beach area, specifically northern PBC.

              I know I can get a whole fried snapper at an Asian restaurant but I'd rather have it on the grill. I can imagine that a lot of women are squeamish about the head of the fish but I'm female and I grew up eating this way so it's no big deal to me. The only way I can have it is if I make it myself and it doesn't work out as well in an electric oven.

              1. re: Benx

                In Asia and parts of Latin America, women seem to be better fish head suckers (getting all the goodness out of the head) than men.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Always enjoy an Anthropologists observations! :)

            2. It's partly the eyeball looking back thing that northerners are not accustomed to, and it's partly that aside from snapper and pompano, many Florida fish are too large to be a single serving.
              I fing it equally curious that Florida diners expect Maine lobster (and most rerstaurants do specify when it is) and the spiny lobster which is the only type native to the area, can be hard to find (except in the Keys).

              1. just wow -- I find plenty of whole fish. Try: San Pocho on Calle Ocho at 10th Avenue for whole deep fried snapper. Or Chez Rosie in Little Haiti on those lucky days when the chef/owner Ernesto is grilling who fish. Or try Garcia's or Casablanca on the Miami river... or just pop int any cuban seafood place you see: deep fried snapper (it's not breaded, just deep fried) is a staple item.

                1. A lack of good taste? =)

                  1. Objection, false premise. If you're speaking specifically of North Palm Beach I can't really respond to that, but as for South Florida in general (which typically means Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties) I think it's plenty easy to find fish served whole (usually yellowtail or snapper, sometimes pompano) in any number of high-brow and low-brow restaurants.

                    1. I think Michael's Genuine does a whole grilled fish. I will say, aside from the appearance, it can also be a pain in the rear to eat around the bones, which may also throw people off.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mikek

                        Yes, MGFD always has a whole snapper done in the wood-burning oven - usually has various sizes depending on how many you want to feed with it. Yes, some people are also wusses about eating food with bones. But the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.


                      2. just off the top of my head, Captain's Tavern in Miami has whole fish. haven't been there in a while, but know I've accidentally ordered it before. Plus it has the apparently desirable number of retirees often present. I'm sure if anyone sits to think about it, they'd make this question seem silly without naming a single Thai restaurant (which always offers whole fish at great prices)

                        1. Whole fish just isn't a Florida tradition. Lots of filets and steaks but never a whole fish complete with head; in my years growing up in central Florida such a thing was unthinkable.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: johnhicks

                            That is unfortunate... the best parts of the fish... like cheeks are not found in either fillets or steaks.

                            1. re: johnhicks

                              It would seem to be a mistake to make any generalizations about what amounts to a "Florida tradition" based on what's available in central Florida. Here in Miami just about any "old-school" seafood place (i.e., Captain's Tavern, Garcia's Seafood, Captain Jim's, etc.) will have a whole yellowtail or snapper available, to say nothing of the many Cuban places that will have a "pargo entero".

                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                I wasn't especially basing my opinion of tradition on central Florida.

                                We used to go fishing around Marco/Goodland before anything was there; no condos, all mangroves, great fishing. Later I lived in the Big Bend area, St. Marks to Apalachicola, for about six years. Ate _lots_ of great seafood from my commercial-fisherman friends and in local restaurants.

                                I don't recall ever, back then, seeing whole fish on a menu or seeing anyone eating it. A restaurant at Shell Point used to offer grouper cheeks, which were wonderful, but they weren't presented along with eyeballs or still attached to the rest of the fish. <g>

                                Eyeballs don't bother me; just an observation.

                            2. We typically find good whole fried fish (snapper and tilapia) and Cuban and Colombian restaurants. My husband loves to suck the eyes out, just to gross out his daughter. . . . I leave the eyes intact, but enjoy the otherwise flaky goodness of fresh, whole fried fish flavored with garlic and a squirt of fresh lemon.

                              1. Not sure if it's grilled or not, but when I went to my favorite Japanese restaurant in Coral Springs the other day, they had on their menu "Whole Snapper with a Thai Volcano Sauce". I was there for sushi, but thought it sounded pretty intriguing...

                                Nu Sushi, on University Drive, in Coral Springs

                                1. http://www.lasirenaonline.com has a whole key west yellow tail snapper as a special fairly often! they are located in west palm beach...

                                  1. Being a native, I thought everyone ate their fish whole....
                                    but the non natives prefer the skin, head and bones removed.
                                    tsk tsk!

                                    if you drive up and down 441 through Dade & Broward, you will come across all kinds of Bahamian and Jamaican places that fry whole fish (sorry, i've not seen whole grilled fish in these places) and serve it to you hot and crispy...
                                    you just learn to eat like a native when living down here! :)

                                    1. Had dinner at the new Ratatouille (former 8 1/2 space) in the Clinton Hotel on 8th and Washington. Ordered the dorade which was presented as whole fish and then expertly deboned tableside by a French culinary student. Delicious fish and a great example of a much-appreciated dining ritual.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: allpurposedark

                                        Isn't there a Cafe Maurice connection? What's the difference between their menus?

                                      2. There's a new place in Boca with a selection of grilled whole fish on the menu - Turquoise in the Royal Palm Plaza. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/509561

                                        1. Purchasing whole fish can sometimes be a pain too. This weekend I was looking to do some whole fish for a dinner at home. I guess shopping on Sunday is the problem, but I couldn't find whole fish at any store in the NW Broward Area, and settled on skin on rainbow trout from All Seas Seafood in Coral Springs. Pops, as I mentioned before, always has whole fish. Anyone have any other Broward recs for purchasing quality whole fish with a good selection and helpful staff? Open Sunday helps too.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: johnmlinn

                                            Whole Foods usually has whole fish available on Sundays. The one in Boca is not that far from Pop's.

                                            1. re: johnmlinn

                                              We have great whole fish at Captain Mike's in Davie, and at the new Food Town Market, but I have no idea how to cook it! I know what to do with filets, but I'd love to try a whole fried fish Thai style or on the grill. I mean, do you just take the fish and toss it on a hot grill? Do you need to skin it? Spices? Time? Whole yellow tail and red snapper are always available where I am.. can someone help?

                                              1. re: ldkelley

                                                Idkelley - Try http://www.epicurious.com. Type "whole fish" into the recipe search box. You should get around 240 results.

                                                Here's a recipe for Pla Rad Prig - Fried Fish with Tamarind Sauce. http://www.thaitable.com/Thai/recipes...

                                                Good luck.

                                                1. re: RickL

                                                  I got 7 results, two of which were salt baked fish. Not what I was hoping for.

                                                  1. re: ldkelley

                                                    Idkelley - Sorry, don't use the quotation marks. You should get 243 results which includes the two for salt baked fish.

                                            2. Ortanique on the Mile in Coral Gables had fried whole snapper when I was there 2 years ago. Good food, nice place.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Mat Josher

                                                Su-shin in Coral Gables often has whole fish depending on the market.

                                              2. Most Salvadorian resturants offer a whole fried fish on the menu

                                                1. River Oyster on the Miami River next to Tobacco Road serves a delicious grilled or fried whole fish. Valentino's on Federal Hwy in Ft. Laud. serves a whole fish - I think branzino.
                                                  Also, in Broward you can buy whole fish to cook yourself at The Fish Peddler East on Commercial Blvd., just east of Federal.

                                                  1. Latin Cafe 2000
                                                    2501 Biscayne Blvd.
                                                    Miami, FL 33137
                                                    Whole Fried Red Snapper $14.95 inc. salad and tostones, enough for two. For photos see www.dailycocaine.com (They also have a silky flan de coco and $3 Hatuey's (pronounced ah-TWAY) the 'lost Cuban beer'.

                                                    1. Goldie's on 441 around Miami Gardens Drive is a Bahamian restaurant that serves up whole fish, tons of conch and Bahamian beer!

                                                      1. I hear that Calypso Restaurant in Pompano Beach now serves whole fish as a fairly frequent special.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: CFByrne

                                                          THAI SPICE on Commercial Blvd Ft Lauderdale
                                                          serves whole KEY WEST yellowtail snapper and whole red snapper several different ways.
                                                          One of the best, legitimate Thai places in tri county area - great service, combined with very fresh seafood!!

                                                        2. My suggestion would be to check out your local Greek restaurants, Asain restaurants tend to fry their fish, which is good, but IMO, nothing beats a fresh grilled fish from a greek restaurant. off the top of my head, Taverna Opa,