Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hog Island Fish Camp

Seven thousand years ago (give or take a few years), a particular barrier island was formed off the west coast of Florida. By the 1830s this spit of sand, strangely enough, had come to be known as Sand Island. In addition to being a dandy recreational area, some enterprising folks set up a hog farm on the island. That, of course, called for a name change and Sand Island became known as Hog Island.

In the early 1940s, another group of folks decided that Hog Island would be a great place for weddings and honeymooners. Since Hog Island didn't strike a romantic notion in people's minds, another name change was in order and ever since, the island has been called Honeymoon Island. That ends our history lesson, but brings me to the present day and the point of my story.

An enterprising restaurateur, Walt Wickman, took over a space at 900 Broadway in Dunedin and named his rustic eatery Hog Island Fish Camp in homage to the area's history. The name itself piqued my interest, so I pulled up their menu on the Internet. The "salty Southern" cuisine served at Hog Island hooked me and reeled me in.

Our party of four, Sweet Polly, Underdog, my bride and I, wandered in yesterday for a late lunch or early dinner. We were greeted warmly, offered a choice of indoor or outdoor seating. We chose to dine in the main dining area where Ronald, our server, immediately showed up to describe the daily specials and take our drink orders.

Hog Island has a full bar, a large selection of draft beers on tap, bottled and draft wines, and a delightful Peach Cider. The cider was light and refreshing, but I couldn't resist the Reef Donkey American Pale Ale. This brew is not as hoppy as the stronger IPAs that were created to withstand the voyage from the U.K. to India way back when.

To begin our dining adventure, our table decided to share the 3 dips: Pimento Cheese Spread, Smoked fish Dip, and the Smoked Salmon Spread.

All three of these balls of goodness were creamy and delicious; my favorite was the Pimento Cheese Spread. That was the one I thought I would like the least, but it turned out to be the one I liked the most with a hint of piquancy.

There were a number of intriguing charcuterie choices, but I knew I wouldn't have room for them all, so I chose the Duck Ham. This savory delicacy is the house cured and smoked duck breast with superb taste and texture, trimmed with rich ribbons of duck fat.

Hog Island has four Salt and Pepper Fried dishes: shrimp, catfish, hogfish, and oysters. I chose the hogfish since we were dining at Hog Island. This was a lightly breaded, very mild fillet that was not overpowered with salt and pepper. Each of these dishes is served with slaw, hand-cut fries, and a house tartar sauce.

The fried hogfish was good, but the Salt and Pepper Fried Oysters that Sweet Polly chose, were one of the best fried oyster dishes ever. They were cooked to perfection and were not overly seasoned or breaded.

While the oysters did come with sides, Sweet Polly couldn't resist the pan fried corn and after one bite, I had to say that she made an excellent choice.

My bride is still watching her caloric intake, so she decided on the hogfish sandwich on potato roll with lettuce, tomato, bacon, white cheddar, avocado, and lemon caper aioli. I am not sure how diet-friendly that sandwich was, but it must have been good because a take home box was not required.

I truly believe that Underdog grabbed the brass ring with his choice of the Southern Style Buttermilk Fried Chicken Dinner. I had a thigh and that was the best fried chicken I have ever consumed ... tender, juicy, and cooked to perfection.

This chicken was served family style with tender greens, heavenly cornbread, and the ubiquitous slaw.

Ronald offered us a dessert, a deep fried Key Lime pie. It was tempting but we were all too full, so we requested our bill before we waddled to the door. Our total for all food and adult beverages came to $148.46 for our party of four.

The food and service at Hog Island Fish Camp was memorable, and with so many taste-tempting treats on the menu left untried by us, I can envision a return.

Hog Island Fish Camp Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Did you know that Reef Donkey is slang for the Greater Amberjack game fish, which inhabit our coastal waters? Neither did I. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Brewing Company for that little tidbit.