I lived down the street from Conch Republic 10 years ago, and it was always my go-to place as a single...walkable, affordable, decent seafood and a good bar. In fact, that's where Underdog and I had our first date when we met nine years ago this week. I remember that lunch being much better than the one I had today, but I could've been blinded by the stars in my eyes on that day in 2001. ;) Or, it's entirely possible (probable, even) that I've become more of a "food snob" since I've been with UD...however, perhaps the Conch was having a off-day or has been forced to cut corners in a tougher economy. Maybe even a little of all three.
I've always loved the scene. If you need a Key West fix but don't have eight hours to get there, hit Conch Republic (at least for simple fare and drinks)! The place has a typical Florida Keys vibe and menu, along with plenty of Jimmy Buffet music to enhance the experience.
The starters were pretty much the highlight for everyone. We shared an order of conch fritters...golden nuggets served with spicy remoulade sauce and mango salsa. These were really tasty...crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, with a respectable amount of conch in the batter...easily as good (if not better) than any I've ever had in Key West. These babies were snarfed up in a heartbeat.
I also ordered a cup of the soup of the day, which was a seafood chowder. It was exceptional...creamy, well seasoned, and full of potatoes, fish chunks and bay scallops. I have always been of the opinion that the creamy soup concoctions at Conch were a bit thicker than they needed to be, and this one was no exception. Delicious, nonetheless!
Next came bread and salads. The rolls were fine...hot and tasty, but I'm not a fan of the Denny's-style butter portions with the tear-off foil tops that were sprinkled amidst them. I think the Conch is a cut above that (or should be).
Salads were definitely not as inspiring as I remember them. The house salad once included treats like marinated artichokes...but mine contained nothing more interesting than a cucumber slice and a couple of cherry tomatoes. At least iceberg lettuce wasn't involved! The house-made honey mustard dressing was nice...but, again, when I'm paying $20 for a lunch entree, I really don't want my dressing to arrive in a little plastic condiment cup. Even Chili's can present better than that.
The lovely Rhonda proudly displays what appeared (and was rumored) to be a fairly forgettable house Caesar salad.
Seafood is always fresh at Conch and today was no exception. I went straight for the fried scallops and loaded baked potato, only to be told when my food arrived that baked potatoes were only available after 4:00 PM. However, the kitchen cheerfully loaded up some of their tasty, fresh mashed potatoes for me with sour cream, butter, bacon, cheese and chives, which was a sight (and taste) for hormonal eyes! <3 The scallops were large, sweet and nicely (lightly) breaded...I couldn't eat all of them.
The spousal unit opted for the Coconut Crusted Mahi with Mango Chutney. The fish was very nice, as was the light coconut crust. There was a bit of chutney-overload, but a little scraping remedied that. His cole slaw and mashed potatoes were deemed "tourist seafood-house ordinary". Maybe he should've ordered his potatoes loaded, too.
Righteous Rhonda's grilled scallops along with their marinara and parmesan-topped zucchini side were fine but did not elicit raves. You know you wanted them fried, RR.
Tim's entree was probably the least appetizing. He's a good eater who enjoys a lamb chop, but he wasn't impressed with his rack of lamb with portobello mushroom and Cabernet Bordelaise sauce. Both he and UD (who never met a lamb chop he didn't like) thought the sauce was too heavy and detracted from the dish. Much of it was left uneaten.
For dessert, we all shared a monstrous slab of Upside Down Apple Pie, which was comprised of Granny Smith apples, caramelized walnuts and cinnamon in a home baked crust, served warm with vanilla ice cream. There was nothing a bit wrong with this!
Almost everything we ordered was decent and some of it was quite good (as was our service)...but I don't think quality delivered all it could considering the price structure and our Conch Republic "virgin" friends were were somewhat disappointed in their selections. I think I'll keep the Conch a fond memory going forward and spend my dining dollars elsewhere.