On the breezy night I visited Johnny Longboats on Singer Island, I couldn’t see the ocean – but I could feel it. The restaurant seems to float amid the salt and sea, like a cruise ship. In fact, the music alone is poolside cruise ship-ready, calypso fugues mingling with the breeze from open windows.
The place was packed like a cruise ship, too, with a happy bustle at the bar and a brisk shuffle of servers in the dining room.
But, unlike a cruise ship, islandy Johnny Longboats serves pretty terrific dishes. We glimpsed this fact upon sampling the homemade conch fritters ($8.95), hot and crispy and abundant fritters served with a bright key lime sauce.
Further confirmation came from a bowl of crab bisque ($5.50, one size), a sherry-laced cream thick with fresh blue crab. I do have to note, however, that I found a couple of small bits of crab shell in the bisque. It wasn’t enough to send it back, nor did it change the fact that the soup was delicious. But it does indicate a bit of haste in the kitchen.
Like in any self-respecting island spot, the menu here is seafood-centric, with an emphasis on fresh grouper, snapper and mahi mahi. (Of course, there are also nightly specials, grilled steaks, Caribbean chicken dishes and a variety of wings, as well as a hefty breakfast menu that’s served daily from 7 a.m. to noon.)
Of the many tempting-sounding offerings, the one that most intrigued me was the "Grouper in the Bag" house specialty ($19.95). A large, fresh grouper fillet is lightly dredged in breadcrumbs, dotted with butter and baked in a brown paper bag. Mine was served with a quite large bouquet of steamed mixed vegetables, a mound of yellow Bahamian-style rice with diced carrots and peas and a delicious, ultra-thin-shredded coleslaw.
The fish arrived still enclosed in a puffed brown paper bag, which was torn open by a server. It was best to eat the fish directly out of the torn bag, as it would have been quite messy to extract it. The fillet itself was fresh and beautifully cooked, but I found it under-seasoned. Its flavors improved dramatically with a squeeze of lemon and a dip in the pink, kicky sauce that was served on the side.
My companion’s fried snapper ($19.95) – one of the fresh catches – also arrived nicely cooked, but under-seasoned. The black beans that were served over the rice accompanying his fish dish were yummy, thick and cumin-spiked.
We also sampled the Island Crab Cakes ($18.95), respectable patties brimming with crab and deep fried (you can order them sautéed as well).
During our visit, I found myself wandering away from the food and just taking in the ambience, the true attraction of the place. There’s something about the place, located at the southern end of the Ocean Mall, just doors down from its new sister tavern, Two Drunken Goats, that transports you to a happy vacation land.
And it was clear that, despite its laid-back island vibe, Johnny Longboats runs on good, efficient, hospitable service.
The hostess quickly found us another table when we let her know the first one, by an open window, was too chilly. Our server immediately brought a basket of crackers when she learned that my dining companion was having a blood sugar dip.
Oh, and speaking of blood sugar, here’s a word about dessert: Try the carrot cake ($7.95) – it’s moist, delicious and huge. It’s certainly shareable between two – or four. And a little dessert gives you a great excuse to hang out a little longer on the cruise ship’s lively deck.
R E V I E W
ADDRESS: 2401 Ocean Ave., on Singer Island
TELEPHONE: (561) 249-2795
PRICE RANGE: Moderate
HOURS: Open daily at 7 a.m., serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (kitchen open until midnight, Sundays-Thursdays; until 1 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays)
CREDIT CARDS: All major
RESERVATIONS: Walk-ins welcome
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms