Surrounded by water on three sides, Florida has no shortage of fresh fish options. And when it comes to a great fish sandwich, grouper is my fish of choice.
With large, white-flaked flesh, grouper is firm and flavorful. It is the perfect bun-filler whether it’s fried, grilled, broiled, baked, or blackened. April through October is peak grouper season, but the delicious fish is available year-round. I consider it the state’s “unofficial” mascot, since the grouper sandwich has become iconic in these parts.
There are hundreds of great seafood restaurants in Orlando and surrounding cities that feature grouper on their menus. There also are dozens of different ways to prepare grouper, and more side dishes to accompany it than you have digits on which to count. Whether you visit Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or somewhere else, the food is reason enough to head to grouper country.
You can’t get much fresher than catching the fish yourself. Fish on Fire has Orlando’s only “Cook Your Catch” special, where the motto is “You hook ‘em, we cook ‘em.” In other words: Bring in your cleaned, fresh catch, and the chefs will prepare it to your liking.
For US$15, the cooks will plate up your grouper family style with sides and condiments. With dozens of charter fishing excursions in driving distance on either side of the state and a plethora of grouper just waiting to be caught, what could be more fun than sitting down and sharing fish tales over a grouper sandwich that you just reeled in yourself?
Frenchy’s might be the most well-known place to get a grouper sandwich in all of Florida. There are four locations on Clearwater Beach, all within one mile of each other. All four of the locations always are packed to the gills (see what we did there?) with patrons. Each location has its own personality, décor, and menu selection.
Frenchy’s works with a fleet of fishing crews that catch and deliver fresh fish to each of its locations daily. The restaurant offers all of the typical preparations (from char-grilled to deep-fried), but my personal favorite is the grouper Rueben. Grilled on fresh marbled rye, smothered in Swiss cheese, and topped with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, grouper never has tasted as good as it does on this sandwich.
Viewfinder Tip: To make sure your grouper is local, ask your server where the fish is from before ordering.
The Snook Inn is located on Marco Island, the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. Here, you can arrive by boat or car, enjoy live music seven days a week, watch dolphins frolic, and see pelicans at play. Of course the star of the show is the Snook Inn’s famous grouper sandwich, dipped and coated in a beer batter, and deep-fried to a golden perfection. No wonder it is the most requested item on the menu.
You’ll find The Square Grouper Bar and Grill at mile-marker No. 22.5 in Cudjoe Key. It is 111 miles southwest of Miami and 19 miles north of Key West. This grill’s grouper sandwich is pan sautéed, topped with house-made onion rings and zesty key lime tartar sauce, then served with fries and slaw. The restaurant has a generous wine list and a selection of some of the area’s best craft beers as well.
Tarks’ of Dania Beach is a Northeastern-style clam shack; if you’re looking for fancy, this isn’t it. There are only about 20 seats inside, everyone’s lively and raucous, and they all are there for the grouper. The fish is fresh, battered, and cooked right in front of you. You can order the fish prepared simply, blackened, grilled, or deep-fried. Tark’s of Dania Beach is exactly what you expect from a hole in the wall local haunt.
Peg Leg Pete’s is located on Fort Pickens Road in front of the LaFitte Cove Marina. This popular, pirate themed eatery is a favorite among locals and there is often a wait to get in. The standard grouper sandwich comes grilled or fried, and topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce. The Grouper Supreme is over the top: lightly blackened grouper with grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms, a dollop of tartar sauce, and lots of Swiss cheese.
The Beachside Seafood and Fresh Market, in Jacksonville Beach, is a family-owned, kid-friendly eatery with a casual beach atmosphere and outdoor deck dining. Located on A1A, the Market specializes in fresh local whole fish, cut to order. A local classic, the grouper sandwich comes grilled, fried, or blackened. Top it off with sides of homemade mango salsa and hush puppies for a truly scrumptious meal.
Whether you’re heading to the Florida Keys for sand and surf or to the Walt Disney World Resort for a family vacation, be sure to experience Florida’s most popular fish, fixed your favorite way.
What’s your favorite regional food?