Since it was the last meal of my trip, I wanted to eat something I couldn’t get back home in Los Angeles. Scrolling through a stack of restaurant round-ups from national food magazines, the choice became obvious. Even though Los Angeles is on the ocean, I haven’t found a single casual seafood restaurant in L.A. County worth a second visit. I drove north for Captain Jim’s Seafood Market.
This minimal market/restaurant has become a major foodie destination, despite its desolate North Miami mini-mall location. The big draw is a wide range of impeccable seafood caught daily on Captain Jim’s boats, plus select items flown in from the Caribbean. Wholesale prices don’t hurt either.
Near the entrance, there’s a wooden, rope-wrapped buoy holding rusty metal lanterns and business cards. Red and green wood plaques engraved with “Dancing Feather” and “Romance of the Seas” line one wall. Plaques from Captain Jim’s old fishing boats? There are even four tables for diners who want to eat with the sealife, like myself. An adjacent dining room has yellow walls, tall wood booths, and colorful plastic cutouts on the walls depicting schools of fish, lobsters and crabs. In both rooms, there’s full table service.
I started with a fillet of smoked kingfish, nine-tenths of a pound. It was smoked so long, the flesh turned black. My waitress said to use the hot sauce, and I did, though I didn’t think the clean-tasting white fish needed anything. There was also kingfish dip, but I couldn’t figure out what to dip in it. There was no bread in sight; so I didn’t order it.
Each combo comes fried or grilled, and when the restaurant’s not busy, blackened. It was busy, and I didn’t think it was ethically right to fry such high-quality seafood, so I chose grilled. There were three Key West large shrimp, a liberal pile of feathery but chewy conch meat, and three small fillets of grouper, all well seasoned, tender and light as could be. The plate came with terrific finely-chopped cole slaw and a choice of side; I selected hush puppies, and I was happy I did. They were slightly sweet, clean-tasting and fluffy inside, some of the best I’ve eaten; and I lived in the South for four years.
Mid-way through my meal, I was still scanning the menu, contemplating my next move, when I saw the option to “Add a half a lobster to any entrée for $7.99.” I did.
At this point, my waitress said, “You want to keep it going?” I took a long look at the stone crab claws in the display case. I contemplated the pound of smoked kingfish and 4-way combo already in my belly. It wasn’t a difficult decision. I love stone crabs and I wanted a photo of my hand next to the giant claw. I said, “Sure.” My waitress was evidently impressed. She said, “You’re like me at Macy’s.” She pulled a prized claw from the front of the pile and threw it on the scale. At $31.99 per pound, my .58 lb. claw cost $19.71. She brought the claw back to the kitchen, I heard a couple loud crunches; swats of the mallet, no doubt.
This claw meat didn’t need any assistance. Even naked, it was completely succulent. And I got my photo. I found the claw to be much larger, much sweeter, and much cheaper than any claw I encountered on October 16 at Joe’s Stone Crab, the vaunted and delicious but exorbitant South Beach restaurant.
Post-claw, I was pleasantly full. As tempted as I was, I didn’t want to overdo it by ordering a slice of Key lime pie. Before I left, I got two more smoked kingfish fillets to go, for Friday’s breakfast. My waitress threw in three half-pound containers of seafood salad: shrimp, spicy conch, and crab (which everyone apparently gets on the way in to the market/restaurant, except me). Of course I had to sample each salad. My favorite was the shrimp, with whole shrimp in a light mayo.
Captain Jim’s supplied me with an epic seafood meal that rivals any I’ve had. There’s no doubt that next time I’m in Miami, I’ll be driving out to Dixie Highway to eat there again. If anything, Captain Jim’s might be enough to get me back to Miami even even sooner than I planned.