October 11, 2017 Pola Bunster

In true coastal Florida fashion, living off the grid while bonding with mother nature and the ocean is the stuff of sun-kissed dreams. And no other place personifies this feeling of freedom like collection of wooden houses gingerly placed on sand banks one mile from Cape Florida: Stiltsville. Any true Miamian knows the place, caravan-ing on boats with friends during regatta weekends or just out of curiosity. But now, this sort of old school vibe has been caught and filleted fresh from ocean to plate at the brand new Sunset Harbor seafood joint aptly named Stiltsville Fish Bar.

And the one-week old restaurant truly does it justice. Words can’t describe just how solid this place is, from decor to dish, but this Prism Tastes spotlight will be our attempt. From the outside, the place is simple with an inviting “it is what it is” sort of approach. An all-white facade is sharply contrasted by the gorgeous, artisanal interior–nautical themed from the exposed wooden banisters to the mussel centerpieces sprinkled throughout. Tubs of fresh lobster tails and bright lemons greet you, displayed among the vintage basins filled with packages of their fresh fish dip (more on that later).

Just like its namesake, Stiltsville is eclectic and full of light. Everyone here whether guest or staff is happy, as if collectively enjoying the simple (and finer) things in life. Swordfish bills tower above the bar, serving as tap handles for their impressive mix of local and national beers on draft–all from port towns no less. Everything about this place has a human touch behind it, like antiquity’s praising of craftsmanship. It might be a new restaurant but it definitely has soul.

Sitting down, your eyes immediately wander around the space like the first time you visit a friend’s house and search for common threads. Fresh herbs hang from the walls next to vintage beach-themed photos, nestled under the wooden rafters on the ceilings. You feel like you’re dining inside one of the houses that gave this fish bar its name. Our server, Nick, was incredibly attentive. You know those people who are great at their jobs because you can tell that they love them? That was him. He’s a former commercial fisherman and aside from knowing how to perfectly fillet a fish, he was filled with valuable suggestions and anecdotes to ensure our experience was memorable.

We started with a trio of their refreshing cocktails: the Melon of Troy, Hurricane Betsy, and the Bikini Club–all crisp and delicious. Moving on to their smoked fish dip with cobia and snapper, I have to say I was immediately floored. This is hands-down one of the best fish dips I’ve ever tried which explains why they’re confidently selling it at the entrance. Then came their coconut shrimp which was as exceptionally light as the kataifi that wraps it.

Rounding off the appetizers with their oysters, as flavorful as they were, and their scallop, we couldn’t believe there was still much more to come. The Hammock Salad surprised us with its all-local ingredients and perfectly crisp butter lettuce, followed by the cool and refreshing watermelon ceviche. Can we talk about their Gnudi for a second? In case you don’t know what that is (we didn’t either) it’s basically a ricotta dumpling from heaven. Theirs are so simple yet so comforting, they taste like what waking up heartbroken on a cold New York morning while your 80-year old Italian grandmother whips up an old family recipe to warm your soul feels like.

Our minds still in a haze of cheese and fresh tomato, we weren’t prepared for what was about to make its way out of the kitchen: the whole snapper. Perfectly crispy and curled on the platter, the head might be the first thing that intimidates you but it’s the combination of foreign smells that reel you in (see what I did there?). It was a perfect finale to the whirlwind of flavors. Then came the encore of the gooey chocolate cobbler and the buttermilk vanilla bean panna cotta. We left all-smiles and with a feeling of deep-felt satisfaction only a full day in the sun surrounded by your closest friends can give you. Cheers.

Photos by FujiFilm Girl.

Pat Nunnari