SEA DOG BREWING CO.
8496 Palm Parkway | 321-329-5306 | seadogbrewing.com | $$
Prior to opening their namesake restaurant in Winter Park a couple of years back, Maine’s Shipyard Brewing Company did many a beer enthusiast a favor by bailing out the then-financially troubled Sea Dog Brewing Co. from bankruptcy protection. Fast-forward a decade, and Shipyard has opened its first Sea Dog brewpubs outside Maine – one in Clearwater and this one, situated in the cavernous former Crab House space in the heart of the tourist sector. But unlike the original Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, diners here are actually afforded a waterfront view. Granted, it’s a tiny pond whose bucolic atmosphere is shattered by the car-and-concrete crush of I-4, but just try bursting the bubble of the cheery salty dogs gathered under the covered deck for happy hour each afternoon. Folks definitely come here for the beer, and, judging from the fare we sampled, stay for the beer
Seafood is the specialty. For what it’s worth, it’s far and away better than the food served at the Crab House – if you ever ate at the Crab House, you’ll know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but the kitchen here is considerably more proficient. Fact is, the clam chowder ($6.99) is wicked creamy (not watery in the least), New England proper (no tomatoes), and doesn’t skimp on clams and potatoes either. We liked the blueberry sauce on the sweet, smoky chicken wings ($9.99), even with a pint of the famous blueberry wheat ale. When our thoroughly capable and efficient waiter suggested we try the off-the-menu “gamechanger” burger ($13.95) as “it was voted the best in Orlando,” well, we had to comply, even if it meant downing yet more blueberry sauce. The patty blend of beef, bison and venison was ship-shape, and toppings like bacon, Boursin cheese and a dusting of paprika impressed even our burger-shocked systems (see last week’s “Burger time!” feature).
Unfortunately, it was the seafood dishes that took the proverbial wind out of our sails. An overly spiced fish dip ($8.99) and a thoroughly bland Maine lobster roll (market price, $17-$20) offered the sort of contrast that few would find appealing. Ale-battered fish and chips ($14.99) were visually grim (the saddest fillets of cod you ever will see) and arrived dead on the palate. While we applauded the plump barbecue shrimp ($14.99), we lamented the dry bacon-cheddar grits on which the curly critters sat. Of the sides offered, the house-made potato chips and crispy fries were both unremarkable, while the crunchy coleslaw did find a few fans at our table.
Desserts, we were told, are made in Miami using Sea Dog’s own recipes and shipped to the restaurant, but both the server-endorsed crème brûlée cheesecake ($7.50) and the Key lime mousse éclair ($5.99) were, dare I say, dogs. Further, the way-thick crust on the latter tasted stale.
For a good many readers of this publication, the real question is whether or not to make the drive to sample Sea Dog’s chow. My opinion aside, consider this: If reviews are your sole indicator, it could be a case of the tail wagging this dog.