Never let it be said that all children want chicken fingers or plain pasta when they're out to dinner.
Case in point: Quinn Tonini, my grand-nephew, whose goal is to take over my cooking shows when I retire. And he's got a palate that clearly says he's headed on the right path--even at 6 years old.
So I decided to take him out of his comfort zone and take him out to dinner at Aaron's Fish Camp, which has opened in the former Blue Smoke Island Grill space on Siesta Key. Aaron's has the same owners as Blue Smoke, along with a few new happy faces from Fleming’s and Station 400--plus plenty of new seafood items along with the smoky, saucy BBQ the restaurant's known for.
The atmosphere at Aaron’s is all about the outside, from live reggae music to the color-changing tables and great people-watching. And while it's not totally original, calling the restaurant a fish camp does fit the new vibe.
On a recommendation from our server, Katie, we started with the tamale pancakes with braised pulled pork. According to Quinn, “this is something everyone should try thanks to the orange zest." (I told you, this kiddo knows food.)
And it's true: the tamale pancakes were crisp on the edges yet soft enough on the inside to soak up the juicy pork. A good beginning.
A side salad proved fresh and crisp, and the housemade ranch was well noted.
We were both disappointed with the lobster tacos, which were made from langoustines (Quinn and I are both from New England). We found them a bit tough and lacking in flavor, something the restaurant can no doubt easily fix. And we were treated to a quick rebound in the form of the fresh fried grouper sandwich. This baby was huge, served with a fresh lemon-tartar sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion, and hot crispy fries. Yup, you guessed it--according to Quinn you would be silly not to order this giant fish sandwich. He ate half in record time.
Next up was the burger, at Quinn's suggestion. I initially balked at the idea of an 8-oz. chargrilled burger topped with bacon, pulled pork and mac 'n' cheese. But once again my little first grade critic was on the money, noting that the burger was cooked a perfect medium rare, and the mac n cheese tasted "so good" with the bacon and pork.
We also tried the grilled salmon--again, a large portion and cooked properly, but I would have liked a little more pizzazz in the mango chutney that came with it. Our sides were cheesy cauliflower and caramelized Brussel sprouts. We loved both.
The half rack of fall-off-the bone St. Louis style barbecue is saucy and perfect, with blue cheese coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes to soak up the sweet, drippy sauce.
And since this was not my child to take home and put to bed, I let Quinn order the fried Oreos with fudge and caramel sauce. A nod to carnival foods, it really was pretty good.
We both agreed that we'll be back to Aaron's, which also has a creative cocktail menu and outdoor TVs for sports watching.
As for Quinn, he is out buying his own journal to take notes on our next caper.
Aaron's Fish Camp, 149 Messina Ave. Siesta Key, (941) 346-0738 | www.aaronsfishcamp.com