In 1938, “Crawfish” Eddie Walker, a man famous for crawfish chowder, built a bar on top of stilts to sell beer and bait. The bar, constructed a mile off of Biscayne Bay, became such a favorite place for fishermen that a few other folks decided to build shacks in the same area known as the flats. In its heyday, there were at least twenty-seven dwellings and social clubs constructed on stilts, and by the late fifties, it became a raucous playground.
One establishment that was particularly notable, The Bikini Club, served ladies in two-piece bathing suits free drinks and decks were set aside for topless sun-worshipping. The allure of the unique neighborhood continued until hurricane Donna took down most of the structures in 1960. Only seven of the iconic homes on stilts remain as a part of Biscayne National Park. They serve as a reminder of old Florida and as the inspiration for an eatery in Miami’s South Beach called Stiltsville Fish Bar.
Location: Stiltsville Fish Bar, located at 1787 Purdy Avenue, in Miami’s Sunset Harbor neighborhood, is open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends. They are open for Hemingway Happy Hour on weekdays from 5-7 pm.
Menu: The menu offers sustainably caught local fish, in fact, you can glimpse the day’s catch residing atop ice in two claw foot tubs adjacent to the bar. Appetizers include the house specialty – smoked fish dip served with butter toasted saltines; buffalo fish wings served in a chili lime hot sauce and green deviled eggs, topped with crispy country ham and house-made pickles, (a riff on Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham). The menu is all about the bounty of the sea and highlights include ceviche’s, wood-grilled oysters, whole crispy snapper, fresh fish Po Boys, and a surf and turf burger that has a butter poached lobster on top of a grilled beef patty.
Thoughts: Partners and Executive Chefs Janine Booth and Jeff McInnis both grew up around water and fresh seafood. After opening the acclaimed Southern-inspired, Root and Bone in New York, the couple returned to Miami to open Stiltsville Fish Bar. Stiltsville is a casual yet upscale eatery with fantastic views of Biscayne Bay. Once inside, you notice the intricate shell chandeliers, nautical décor and 60’s surfer films playing on the flat-screen TVs above the bar. The walls are decorated with vintage photos of the homes on stilts that define the concept.
The bar crafts Key West inspired drinks; some served in mermaid cups made out of brass, specially commissioned for the restaurant. The chefs also offer Southern specialties like bay leaf & citrus crusted fried chicken with watermelon pickle salad and shrimp and grits with Creole sausage. The dinner menu has additional specials every night called the “Daily Catch.” It is printed separately and highlights the fish that came in just hours earlier. You choose your fish, and side, and a sauce like Meyer lemon butter or cilantro salsa verde. The desserts are decadent and inspired as well. According to the staff, the pastry chef Gail Goetsch makes the best beignets outside of New Orleans as well as tiny blueberry pie, chocolate cobbler topped with passion fruit ice cream, deconstructed banana cream pie, and a tart but sweet Key Lime pie. The servers are well-versed about the menu and were extremely helpful when it came to deciding among all the offerings.
We stopped in for lunch and started with the cobia tiradito, a Peruvian ceviche that sat on top of an aji amarillo, cilantro and lime sauce served with popcorn, avocado, and crispy hominy. The spice of the sauce, and the brightness of the citrus, combined with the creamy slices of avocado and crunch from the seasoned popcorn and hominy was delicious. The flavors were vibrant and unexpected. The Po Boy sandwich of blackened snapper served with boggy bayou aioli on toasted baguette & green kohlrabi slaw was the perfect mix of spicy, crunchy and creamy. I also ordered the Hammock Salad that combined grapefruit, local hearts of palm, local tomatoes, and buttercrunch lettuce. The server suggested the crab cake as an addition to the salad touting that there was not one bit of filler. I was amazed by the sweetness and crispness of the blue crab cake that topped off the delicate salad perfectly.
Prices: Happy hour bites range from $3.00- $7.00 and crafted cocktails are around $7.00. Lunch plates are $14.00 – $19.00 except the surf and turf burger which is $30.00. Dinner plates range from $27.00 -$40.00 except the whole crispy snapper which is the market price.
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