Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hog Island Fish Camp, Dunedin, FL

As a southerner and a casual seafood restaurant devotee, my heart always beats a little faster when a place bills itself as a “fish camp”. Fish camps sprang up along the riverbanks of the southeastern United States in the ‘30s and ‘40s in the form of rustic sheds where anglers could purchase bait, rent tackle, and then later convene with other area fisherman to clean and fry their catches (and hang out with the boys, of course). At some point, an opportunity was recognized and larger camps began offering pavilion-style seating, drinks and side dishes to their patrons. Over the years, the term “fish camp” has morphed into a term used to describe an affordable restaurant specializing in heaping servings of fried fish and southern comfort food…and what’s not to love about that?

Located in the building formerly occupied by Sam’s Fresh Seafood, the vibe at Hog Island is convivial and rustic with plenty of repurposed wood, trophy fish nailed to the walls and directional signs in case you didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs when you drove up from Key West.

All of this, plus a cold beer and a fried grouper sandwich, would be all I needed to make my life complete. But there’s so much more to this unassuming restaurant. The menu cuts a broader swathe than one might expect, offering over 20 craft beers on tap, cocktails and an extensive selection of wines (by the glass and bottle) to satisfy every taste and budget. Then there’s the food.

A trio of house made spreads (pimento cheese, smoked mullet and smoked salmon) proved to be an excellent choice for staving off hunger pangs while perusing the menu.

On my first visit, my party and I sampled locally sourced hogfish (both fried and blackened) with better than average hand cut frites and crispy cole slaw; feather-lightly breaded salt and pepper fried oysters; and a mound of juicy, prepared to order buttermilk fried chicken dinner that was SO worth the 30 minute wait the menu warned us about. “Fried” is the word du jour at Hog Island, so don’t get crazy and try to count calories here. You can always make an attempt at damage control by eating salad later.

Salt and Pepper Fried Hogfish

All side dishes sampled elicited raves – especially the dense, cast iron skillet corn bread studded with bacon bits. Remarkable. Similarly, sweet, butter pan fried (again) corn set everyone’s imaginary tails to wagging along with a trough of smoky collard greens liberally peppered with pork morsels.  Hush puppies were light, airy and non-greasy.

While the generous sandwich and entrée portions (most come with two sides) will be more than most bellies can handle in one sitting, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to tuck into the hearty, tomato broth-based Bay Bottom Chowder packed with scallops, shrimp and fish. It’s a “must-try” and practically a meal in itself.

Red meat lovers need not despair…there are plenty of menu option for you, including hanger, pork and sirloin steaks. On visit #2, a gorgeous, ribbon-textured pulled pork sandwich lavished in zippy sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, white cheddar and house bread and butter pickles left me crying “uncle” before I could finish it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bestow kudos on the tender roll with the beautifully egg-shellacked surface it was presented on.  My side of Mac and Cheese was not my granny’s version. Surprisingly sophisticated, fat pasta tubes were presented lazing in a subtly cheesy béchamel sauce beneath a golden, breadcrumb crust.

Underdog's melt-in-your-mouth Cheer Wine Glazed Ribs literally slid off of the bone of their own accord.

While I was little bummed that no house-made desserts are offered here (Mike’s Pies and a couple of other pre-fabs are the only options), it was probably a blessing in disguise.

If you needed another reason to visit Dunedin’s charming shops and waterfront vista, here it is. Easy for two to dine heartily here for around $60 with beer and wine.

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

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.


  1. Head straight up - you mentioned fried chicken - one of my favorites - although those greens look mighty tasty! June

  2. That looks like a pretty good size portion of fish. Will definitely check it out next time in the area.