Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On the hook

Lake Mary joint caters to the seafood lover with a conscience

Posted on Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Could the urban eco-friendly seafood shack be the new dining trend in this city? The Winter Park Fish Co. has become an undeniable draw for area residents, and now the denizens of Lake Mary have quietly submerged themselves into the soothing maritime surroundings of Fresh on the Fly and its menu advertising 'wild-caught fishâ?� and 'chemical-freeâ?� entrees. I'm not sure how accurate the latter claim could be, given the mercury levels in today's fish (however minute), but I think I get the idea. Sustainability is clearly an important facet of their business, and integral to attracting the diner with a conscience. Their chicken and beef selections are of the hormone-free and grass-fed variety, and the green mindset parlays to plates and utensils as well. Even their servers are as efficient as compact fluorescent light bulbs.

But the limited menu is an exercise in self-restraint ' just a handful of 'surf-inspired� dishes appear, along with a couple of meat dishes, salads and soups. The signature, a Floridian fish chowder ($3), was a properly chunky tomato-based stew of flounder, potatoes, celery and onions, though a heavy-handed use of black pepper diminished the comfort factor. Blackened mahi-mahi went into the duo of fish tacos ($5). Though the portion was more fitting for lunch than dinner, the tacos were wonderfully fresh, dressed with shredded lettuce, pineapple salsa and a jerk mango sour cream. 

The same fish made an appearance in the intriguing 'mahi-mahi cheese steakâ?� ($7.50), a wrap that would gratify the proudest of Philadelphians, even if it would've worked better in a traditional hoagie roll. While the cheese grits ($2) were a tad bland, other sides, like grilled corn on the cob and black-eyed pea salad, made excellent accompaniments.

The finest, and most problematic, dish we sampled was the special: pan-seared North Atlantic salmon ($13) served over sautéed baby spinach and finished with a strawberry-mango beurre blanc. Indeed, the light sauce accentuated the flavors of the succulent fish and the spinach offered a nice finishing kick, but it was my post-meal research that proved troubling. Wild-caught Atlantic salmon, I learned, is on Seafood Watch's 'Avoid� list primarily because of overfishing. From what I gathered, the majority of Atlantic salmon is designated 'farmed,� which is also on the 'Avoid� list. When I called to inquire about the matter, I was reassuringly told that the salmon was 'wild-caught� (not what I wanted to hear) and that, possibly, it was 'Canadian.� Now, if it was Pacific salmon, there wouldn't be a problem, but the menu specifically noted 'N. Atlantic.� A typo? Who knows, but for reference, the Winter Park Fish Co. only serves Canadian (Pacific) and Alaskan salmon. 

For seafood haters, the chicken sandwich ($7) is a worthy option, with its fluffy bun and moist white meat. Thin-cut fries weren't as crispy as I would've hoped, but decent nonetheless. Desserts like Key lime pie ($3), served with homemade whipped cream, and the coconut cream bar ($3) were competently prepared cappers.

After a string of unremarkable Italian trattorias and pizzerias, the space in the busy, upscale strip mall is finally poised for success. Like the Winter Park Fish Co., Fresh on the Fly is a welcome anomaly in an age of upmarket seafood houses like Oceanaire Seafood Room, Ocean Prime, Moonfish and Bonefish Grill. The open kitchen reveals a fairly young kitchen corps, but what they lack in age, the lads certainly make up for in execution.

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