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Review: The Blue Fish Restaurant & Oyster Bar

written by 29 December 2009 12 Comments

I do not enjoy writing bad reviews, so I try to avoid it at all costs. Unlike many publications, EatJax gives me a lot of autonomy over my restaurant choices so, for the most part, I hear great things about a place before checking it out myself. I hear about bad restaurants all the time, but I don’t see the point in spending the money and time on a place just to confirm that the restaurant is horrible. I don’t want to tell you where NOT to go – I want to recommend good places to go.

That is why The Blue Fish Restaurant & Oyster Bar was a very big disappointment to me. Its recent opening in the former Sterling’s location commanded attention. Avondale prides itself on being a center for fine shopping, fine art and fine dining. When a person living in Jacksonville goes to a restaurant in the heart of Avondale, they expect excellence. Unfortunately, The Blue Fish is not yet up to that tall order.

I arrived for lunch on a chilly Monday just before noon. My lunch companion had fallen ill, so I went alone. One of the things which was always mentioned about Sterling’s was the lovely patio area, so I decided to brave the chill and sit outside. I was pleased to see as I was seated that there was a patio heater located just beside the table. I have experienced the convenience of these heaters at restaurants like The Brick, so I was sure I would be comfortable. One of my hard and fast rules when reviewing a restaurant is to never ask for anything special. I take dishes as they are normally prepared and service as it is given – without requests. I did not mention the heater and it was not offered to me - so I sat in the fifty-degree cold.

A hostess came to fill my water glass, take away the unused dishes and let me know about the specials. I had plenty of time before my next waitperson came to observe the state of the patio area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have been cared for well since The Blue Fish opened. The fountain was dirty, with a hose and net left out on the ground near my table. Lattice work was broken and leaning, umbrellas and chairs were not clean. Worst of all, the white tablecloth at my table was dirty and stained. Perhaps the restaurant wasn’t prepared for lunch customers to dine on the patio on such a cold day, but the tables had been set with dishes and silverware and seventy degree temperatures had been experienced just two days before, with more to come in the following week.

My waiter greeted me kindly. His name was Brad and he was the one pleasant spot in the ordeal. I gave him my order and was brought my first course in a speedy manner. I ordered the cup-sized Seafood Gumbo ($4.95 cup, $9 bowl). It was rather good, though I have had much better in town. The seafood was well-cooked, other than a few unfortunate bits of overcooked fish. I was surprised to find the gumbo completely without okra. This could simply be that I didn’t happen to get any in my cup, but overall, it was a decent starter.

gumbo
I would have liked to have seen the cup itself a bit cleaner. The gumbo was slopped down the sides and dribbled onto the doily below.

There was an extended wait for my entree. I’m not sure exactly how long it was, but I was half-finished with the Folio Weekly crossword by the time it arrived. I thanked my server and began to eat. I ordered the Fried Shrimp Po’Boy Sandwich ($11). Unfortunately, I received a Fried Oyster Po’Boy Sandwich.

oyster

Before I realized the mistake, I tried the coleslaw and the sweet potato fries. The coleslaw was awful. It was mushy and definitely not fresh tasting. The addition of raisins only highlighted the tastelessness of the tiny pile of wilted cabbage – not pretty and not good. The fries were no better. Of course, for all I know, they hand-cut their fries, but they tasted mushy and stale. Even worse, mine were cold and unseasoned – very disappointing.

It’s my habit to try each element of a dish before eating it as a whole, so I can properly describe each bit. First I tried the bread of the sandwich. This was excellent - the baguette was outstanding. What was inside was a crime against that beautiful, perfect bread. The tomatoes were tasteless and soft and the lettuce was wilted and sparse. The “remoulade” was bland and resembled nothing more than mayonnaise with ketchup mixed into it. This was about the time I noticed the shrimp were actually oysters. This isn’t the biggest deal in the world. Wrong orders happen, especially in newly-opened restaurants. I figured I would chalk it up to a happy accident – after all, the place is a “restaurant and oyster bar” – so maybe the oysters would be a better choice. I tasted the oyster and was very, very disappointed.

Most importantly, the oyster was stone cold. The restaurant fries in a cornmeal breading. It was moist and mushy with no crunch and no taste. The oyster was so tiny that I had a hard time tasting it at all in the mass of breading. The sogginess of that breading combined with the temperature of the oyster inside set off every warning siren in my head. I had to break my own rules about service because I wasn’t going to eat it. I was afraid that it had sat at an unsafe temperature for too long. I resolved to wait for my waiter to return. He didn’t.

Finally, after about ten minutes, I went inside and flagged him down. He was extremely apologetic. After yet another long wait, my sandwich came out. This time, the coleslaw was exactly the same, but the fries were hot and seasoned – though I can’t say that it improved them much. The sandwich was hot, but the cornmeal breading was, again, not crispy.

shrimp

As you can see from the photo, the lettuce and tomato were virtually non-existent. The shrimp themselves were okay, but nothing to write home about. They were covered in so much breading that what you see in the photo is only six medium shrimp. There was very little remoulade with no discernable vegetables in the sauce. As a whole it was a sad failure for such a lovely piece of bread.

In Avondale - for $11 – for what is considered half of a po’boy in the south, this should have been an outstanding sandwich. Instead, I got something that would be more at home in the food court of a shopping mall than on St. Johns Avenue at a new restaurant. The owners have been quoted in the press as saying that they are trying for an affordable establishment, which is great, but bad food is bad at any price. My total bill came to $17, certainly not much for lunch in Avondale. Unfortunately, and I am not exaggerating, it took me an hour and twenty minutes to spend that $17 on one of the worst table service lunches I’ve had in Jacksonville.

Richard Grenamyer is the chef/owner of The Blue Fish. He actually opened Sterling’s originally back in the 1980s, so I’m sure he is aware of what is expected in that area of the city. There is a new generation of foodies ready to experience greatness from the finest concept restaurants right down to the tiniest hot dog cart. It doesn’t have to be expensive food, it just has to be good food. I don’t have any secret inside information on why places like Sterling’s close, but I can tell you without a doubt that what replaces them will need to be smart, clean, fresh and delicious to survive.

I’m willing to believe that the newness of the restaurant, combined with unintended accidents, cost-cutting, oversights or even just a bad day, may have contributed to my negative experience. I am willing to try The Blue Fish again – but I won’t be sitting on the porch.

The Blue Fish is located at 3551 St. Johns Avenue in Avondale. You can reach them at (904) 387-0700 or check out their website at bluefishjax.com.

Please let me know what you think! Comment below or click “Contact Us” in the menu bar to share your experiences.

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12 Comments »

  • avatar
    moma t said:

    I just want everyone to know that I have dined there quite a few times. Great atmosphere, great food, and great service. I believe that if you were there in the first week you should definetly give it another try. My favorites; the mussles and the shrimp & grits! If you are an oyster lover check out the variety. Avondale’s new hot spot!

  • avatar
    jodikasten (author) said:

    @fwright – I do believe I may have to venture back in to try out those Lobster Sliders. Thanks for your impressions of the place. It does seem that the reviews and comments I’m seeing are getting better. Hopefully they’ve found their stride and are improving! YAY!

  • avatar
    Marleyisdead said:

    Thanks for the comprehensive review. Hopefully these folks will get it together.

  • avatar
    mdbarrettruns said:

    I was not surprised at the review. My son and several friends went there for lunch very recently. We were seated right away; however, it took about 10 minutes for the server to come to our table. I then ordered a glass of wine, which took at least another 10 minutes to get. We then waited quite a long time for the server to come back and take our order. Again, a very long time passed before we received our food. I ordered the Grilled Seafood Salad which was to have
    shrimp, scallop and salmon, grilled and served on greens. WhileI did get one scallop, the other fish atop the salad greens was definitely not shrimp or salmon. Additionally, the fish was cold.

    I ordered another glass of wine during lunch, a different red than my first glass. Again, a minimum of 10 minutes to get. The server then started to pour the different red into the same glass as the first wine.

    I do understand that this restaurant in new; however,one would expect much better from the individual who opened the original Sterlings.

    It will be a long while before I go back.

  • avatar
    jodikasten (author) said:

    Marley – I hope so too. It’s sad to have such a promising location and concept, then drop the ball. Hopefully it’s just a bump in the road.

    mdbarrettruns – I am very relieved to hear that I’m not the only one! I really hate writing bad reviews, because you never know if maybe they are just having a staffing problem or a fryer is on the fritz or something. I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

  • avatar
    broncgirl said:

    I’m sorry that you had such a terrible experience there for lunch.

    My fiance and I went there for Sunday brunch just after it opened and we were not disappointed with our choices. We’ve gone there previously when they were Sterling’s and were always happy with our selections and entrees. The brunch is always pretty reasonable (especially on Mother’s Day and Easter when other places charge exorbitant prices for adults and children) and the cost for both of us is usually less than what one adult pays at these places. Sure you get lots of food but who can eat $35 worth of food? The service has always been good and our favorite server, Mark, was there. Yes, the service was a bit slow but they were also quite busy.

    The only time I wasn’t real happy with my food was when we went in the evening time. I can’t remember what I ordered but I was sadly disappointed because it was pricy. He ordered the pasta and it wasn’t real tasty, either and for the price ($26) it wasn’t worth it.

  • avatar
    jodikasten (author) said:

    I’m very glad to see a variety of experiences. I really do hold out hope that this place is going to hit its stride. Consistency is important, but doesn’t always happen right out of the gate.

    I visited on Monday, December 21, 2009 for reference.

  • avatar
    epicurian said:

    I live in the neighborhood, and have eaten there several times. The first week the service was slow, but the food was wonderful. and by the looks of the place Saturday night, with no tables available and standing room only upstairs in the bar, we waited for our table, and again worth the wait. The food and service was wonderful. The prices are so reasonable that we have eaten there twice a week since its opening. GREAT addition to the neighborhood.. We are going again tonight with friends..

  • avatar
    jodikasten (author) said:

    @epicurian – I totally agree that the price point is spot-on for what we needed in the neighborhood. I am glad to hear they are filling the seats, too! I really am pulling for this place.

  • avatar
    V and W said:

    We went to Blue Fish on Saturday night, and we went expecting a fabulous meal because we’d heard great things about Blue Fish. Oh my. Customer service was BAD. We and at least two other parties just waited for at least 5 minutes before we were greeted – and then no apologies for the wait. Our waitress was just ok – again we had to wait at our table several minutes for her, with no apology.
    The gumbo reminded my husband of beef stew. Certainly was not like any gumbo I’ve ever had. The fried green tomatoes were ok – just the presentation was bad; they looked like they were just tossed on a plate. The oysters rockefellar and bienville were ok too, but the oysters were very hard to taste through all of the gunk on top of them. But the crabcakes were the worst. I’m a Maryland girl, and I’ve had my share of amazingly good crabcakes along with some pretty bad ones. These were bad – didn’t even taste like crabmeat and I thought there was cooked brocolli in the mixture. Not a good taste at all. We opted for no desert, and after a wait to get the bill settled, we were glad to leave.
    Since others whose opionions I trust LOVE this place, I’m planning to go back soon for lunch. You will definitely hear if my opinion changes and I hope it does.

  • avatar
    V and W said:

    Ok, so I went back to Blue Fish for lunch on a Tuesday and it was a totally different experience. Our waiter was nice, funny, and a little quirky – but quirky in a nice way. The rolls were amazing – asiago cheese – they were not there on the Saturday evening. My side sald was great – very fresh, pretty basic, but great flavors and a wonderful balsamic dressing. I had the snapper lunch special and, again, it was just delicious. It was served with rice (I thought, oh yuck, rice), but this rice was delicious! The two friends I was with also had fabulous lunches. One had a crab quiche – I was concerned about that after my unhappy crab cake experience – but her quiche was wonderful! And she received a huge portion and was able to take half home!
    So, my husband and I will go back for another evening at Blue Fish. Will let you know!

  • avatar
    fwright said:

    I had read a lot of reviews on this place and weighed the good vs. the bad, but decided to give it try and see for myself. Our experience was fortunately one of the good ones, very very good in fact. Our waiter was smart, friendly, courteous and efficient. We sat outside in the beautifully cleaned up courtyard because the inside was far too noisy, I think I spotted a table of actual Harpies shrieking in delight over a tray of apple-tinis. Everything that we had was excellent but the two standouts were the monk-fish prepared with white wine and capers, and the lobster sliders which (and it pains me to admit this) were better than anything I’ve had after 30 years of visiting the Maine seacoast. Tiny, intense, bite-sized explosions of pure briny-sweet lobstery goodness. Two slight negatives on our visit: the aforementioned noise factor inside, and the lackluster dessert selection. Don’t bother saving room, load up on the lobster sliders and those incredible feather light whole belly fried clams and just forgo dessert!

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