Conch - tell me more!
How do you like it best?
Going to St Pete Beach for a week, never had conch. What should I look for? Conch chowder? Conch fritters? Conch sandwich? Any recommendations where to go out at St Pete Beach/Pass a Grille area?
I had a delicious seafood dinner last night at Mid Peninsula Seafood in St. Pete, with a generous portion of cracked conch as an appetizer. It was in strips and good size pieces, well tenderized, and prepared in an egg wash and lightly seasoned french bread crumbs, then fried. They source their conch from the farm in Turks & Caicos. It would be a good beginning for a conch first-timer. They have a homemade habanero sauce that I mixed with tartar sauce for a sassy dip.
Then dinner went from good to better - a delicious grouper sandwich with LTO. I went with grilled - blackened and fried are options, and cheese if you like. It was fresh black grouper, which is more precious than red grouper, and both are hard to come by at a fair price during the long-line fishing moratorium since January, and all gulf grouper must be taken by rod and reel or spearing. A grouper sandwich for under 10 bucks is unheard of, this one was 8. My whole meal is this spacious, cheerful Caribbean themed resto / market, including a draft beer and a tip to Godfrey, who plays gentle live caribbean music on weekends, was $20. I chatted with a 20 year customer who summed it up well - "you just can't beat it".
Mid Peninsula Seafood
400 49th St S, Saint Petersburg, FL 33707
I can confirm the cracked conch at Mid-Peninsula is very tasty and tender. We enjoyed a dash of the habanero sauce on the calamari and the catfish. The catfish was a novelty for us, coming from Texas where catfish comes dipped in cornmeal, but we thoroughly enjoyed the light breading and the flakey, moist fish interior. My scallops had a lovely sear you can only get with nice, fresh scallops. We spent around $60 for three people and enjoyed cracked conch and calamari starters, catfish for daughter, fried shrimp for hubby, and scallops and shrimp scampi for me, white wine and soda included. We thought it was quite a bargain for such well-prepared food.
Very little domestic conch is available in Florida or elsewhere in the states. The queen conch is a protected species, and many of the sandy turtle grass flats where they live and feed are in state parks and protected areas where no marine life can be taken. Most conch in restaurants here are from the Bahamas, Caymans, or from Turks & Caicos, which has one of few conch farms in the world in Providenciales. At Da Conch Shack in Provo, live conch are kept in a fenced pen in shallow salt water, and are fetched, cleaned, and pounded to order: either cracked, fritters, or conch salad with raw conch.
Five pound frozen boxes retail for $50-60 in the states. Conch are tough even when fresh, and are pounded hard to tenderize them. Frozen are even more difficult to get right. For this reason, you are unlikely to find conch except in small pieces in fritters or chowder. The larger strips of conch which are battered and deep fried and served as "cracked conch" in the Caribbean I have not seen in Florida. My favorite form is conch ceviche and grilled conch with garlic, called "caracol al mojo de ajo" in Cozumel and the Yucatan, and grilled conch in Belize.
It has a mild but distinctive flavor. In sum, you may find conch fritters and chowder, but not much more. I wish I could be more encouraging, and maybe another poster will know more.
Really appreciate the informative and honest reply. Was looking forward to trying something new, but maybe will save that for our trip to the Caribbean next year. On the other hand, conch fritters sound interesting, and seems like everyone on St Pete's Beach has them when I check out menus. Thanks also for the information about the conch farm. Sounds so interesting, I wonder if there is any such thing as a tour? :)