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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fending for quality food in Jupiter: Captain Charlie's Reef Grill

After a long hiatus due to impending deadlines and my sheer inability to sit long enough to focus, it's finally time to make my way back to the internet.  Recently went to Jupiter to attend Field of Beers, and with some time to kill in the area, I wanted to find palatable and unique options for dining to make the stay more interesting for the meals I wasn't served delicious and creative perfectly planned pairings (ala FOB).
    Trying to find seafood in South Florida is about as easy as finding snowbirds in the winter (in other words, a dime a dozen).  However, trying to find fresh and flavorful seafood that is reasonably priced and well executed, is definitely makes for a rare commodity.  Thanks to the wonderful recommendation from a friend, managed to track down Captain Charlie's Reef Grill with some help from the very convenient GPS.  The quintessential hole-in-the-wall, it's easy to pass by without ever noticing it's existence in the back of a little shopping center.
    Since they don't take reservations, the wait was about 50 minutes, however they had another "waiting area" that was actually another restaurant entirely, three spots down in the shopping center.  Complete with a couple of booths and a long bar, you can choose to pass the time imbibing in a glass of wine or with a cold, frosty beer.  Even more impressive was that their wine list including selections from around the world and their beer list managed to branch out a teensy bit from the standard selections, offering Longboard and Anchor Steam among others.
   When we were seated in the main dining room, it was hard to decide from the lengthy menu of daily specials.  The room itself had typical sea-faring kitsch, including the giant taxidermized fishes on the wood plank walls.  Started the meal with a bowl of the artichoke, fennel and crab soup.  Luscious and thick, it was a splendid shade of pea green.  There was plenty of crab meat and lots of flavor.  Next was a conch carpaccio, fresh, without being gummy, the conch was thinly sliced and served on a delicate bed of mixed greens.  It was served with a light sauce that I didn't really touch much of since I felt the conch alone was substantially tasty.
For the last of the appetizers, I couldn't restrain myself from the fried green tomatoes.  This Southern staple is my absolute downfall as I am utterly powerless to resist when I see it on the menu.  That being said, it has disappointed me MANY MANY times.  As simple as it sounds, it's very easy to go horribly wrong.  Dried out, bland tomatoes, too much breading, not enough breading, I've had plenty of complaints.  Thankfully, Charlie's managed to do a pretty decent job. If I'm going to be extremely nit-picky I'll note the breading could have used a smidgen more seasoning and perhaps they should have been sliced a tad bit thinner for optimal coating:tomato ratio and ease of cutting.  That being said, they stacked them like a tower, with a creamy layer of goat cheese spread between each green tomato, and for that I salute them.  If that weren't enough to have me singing it's praises, the addition of beets and shrimp added a surprising contrast that gave the dish an extra element of freshness to combat the heavy "fried food" feeling you might get otherwise.  Bravo for an unexpected but fantastic combination!  I only wish there was a couple more shrimp so every bite could have been a little microcosm of seafood and tomatoes.
    Finally we made our way to the entree.  Among the tantalizing alternatives of fresh filets we decided to order the seafood platter to ensure the best variety.  Charlie's gave us the choice of grilled, blackened, broiled, deep fried, and being the lover of all things charred, went with the grilled option.  When the platter made it's appearance (which they had kindly split into two plates for us), I noted the lovely mountain of rice and beans lovingly situated next to some fresh vegetables, topped with a fair assortment of fresh fish, shrimp, scallops and calamari.  The fish was white, flaky and tender while the other items were grilled just enough to be cooked without every erring on the side of rubbery or dessicated.  The combination of the slight char with the delicate meat was absolute nirvana.  If that wasn't enough they even managed to prepare the veggies with the same attention, the Goldilocks equivalent of not too wilted and not to undercooked.  
   After so many superb selections it was hard to resist the opportunity to try their desserts as well.  The berry port creme brulee sounded too enticing to pass up.  Maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe it was just an off night, but this was where the meal fell just a bit short.  The vanilla and port flavors were very subtle if not non-existent.  Additionally, the absence of vanilla bean flecks suggested that perhaps real vanilla wasn't actually used and instead it was some kind of extract.  Furthermore the consistency was closer to a clumpy pudding topped with a chewy sugar layer rather than the traditional creme brulee.  After such a wonderful dining experience it was a bit disappointing. 
  Overall though, this was truly a hidden gem for basic seafood and for dishes with some innovative twists.  I'd  recommend seeking it out if you're in the area and looking for a high quality seafood meal at an affordable price.
     12846 US Highway 1
     Juno Beach, FL 33408
Captain Charlie's Reef Grill on Urbanspoon

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