Chowder Down

Although living on the Beach is fun, it's a relief to get away occasionally during high season, especially the part of season that coincides with South Florida's annual two weeks of cold weather. When we shivering goose-down-bundled Beach dwellers are even further chilled to the bone by the sight of tourists in T-shirts. Are they nuts? It couldn't be much more than 70 degrees out there!

Fortunately I've been commuting for computer-repair reasons to the mainland suburbs, populated not by tourists but by locals who understand the cold. For instance as I was passing one repair hour by reading a menu in the window of a Kendall mall seafood market called Jay's Market & Eatery, I couldn't help but notice a grinning guy inside who looked just like an elf, only bigger, gesticulating madly for me to come in.

Naturally I ignored him.

The big elf rushed outside, looked around as though he were about to offer illegal drugs, and whispered, "We have chowder -- two kinds, white clam and tomato-based seafood. Homemade. Hot. Just the thing for this weather."

Naturally I went in, immediately.

The red chowder was indeed both steaming and slightly hot in its spicing. Additionally, though a server had described it as "mostly vegetables" (carrots, celery, potatoes, and scallions), it was packed with big chunks of fresh fish -- basic, but a nice change from fancy-schmancy SoBe stuff. As was the rest of Jay's, a family-run place whose proprietors are Jay and Patty Scher. It's part fish store -- featuring exotica such as $25-per-pound Pacific rock lobster, plus local fish bargains like a pound of medium stone-crab claws for $12.95 -- and part casual country café with booths, a homey hideaway partitioned off from the market with checkered tablecloths and accommodating service.

There actually is some fancy food here, like Française-style fish fillets, but the rustic atmosphere almost commands concentrating on old-fashioned fish-house classics. A fisherman's platter featured two pieces of mahi-mahi, five bright red shrimp, and eight sea scallops, all dusted with a cayenne coating and broiled just till done but not dried out, plus pleasantly sweet cornmeal hush puppies dotted with whole corn kernels. A fried sampler included three jumbo shrimp, half-a-dozen conch fritters containing both sweet red and hot green peppers and sizeable pieces of conch, and a heap of breaded clams -- strips, sadly, not the superior Ipswitch whole "belly clams" craved by fried-clam fanatics but tender nonetheless. This plate also cried out for something crunchy to cut the starch and oil; a small side of Jay's caraway-flecked coleslaw would've been perfect.

An especially good meal deal, served Sunday through Thursday, is the $29.88 sweetheart for two: chowder or salad and cornbread plus choice of entrée, side, sauce, and full bottle of wine. I'd recommend choosing broiled rock-lobster tails with wonderful nutmeg-spiked creamed spinach as the side, delectably tart tarragon-spiced citrus butter as the sauce, and, unless you're childhood sweethearts, anything but white Zin as the wine. (For couples past their Kool-Aid years, merlot, chardonnay, and pinot grigio are available.)

A dessert of homemade key lime pie was far too sweet for me. But the bouquet of three roses that the elf -- whom I assume was Jay -- handed me with a flourish (and for no reason I could think of) on my way out was a spectacular ending to a delightfully down-home dinner.


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