Bill Boggs Corner Table: Verandah on Amelia Island, Florida
Here is a restaurant that will make both your cartographer and your cardiologist happy.
Your doctor will be delighted that you've found a seafood restaurant that offers dishes that sing with fresh flavor and are not drenched with butter and heavy sauces. The map maker in your life will cheer the location of Amelia Island, at the northern most tip of Florida, about an hour from the Jacksonville airport. Very convenient, and the splendid Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers the best the area has to offer — pools, golf, tennis and beautiful beaches. It is much closer by jet than Miami.
The Verandah takes its seafood so seriously that the menu lists six area fishing boats that supply a majority of their line-caught seafood including grouper, tuna, pink snapper, catfish and other Floridian favorites. The listing of suppliers, be they farmers, cheese makers, fiddlehead fern growers, or whatever, is a growing trend in restaurants, but this is the first time I have seen fishing boats noted on a menu.
Of particular interest on that menu is the pink snapper creation, which is baked with Cohen Farm pecans and local strawberries. My girlfriend liked it so much that we returned to the restaurant to have it again two nights after our first visit. Fish and fruit — yes, it worked! She did not have to drag me back. We just took the shuttle from our room at the resort. The crab cake was very good — just a notch below the best I've ever had, which I mentioned in my last article on Gallaghers Steakhouse.
I suggest starting with the Verandah Sampler — two crab cakes, four barbecue shrimp, and two fried green tomatoes. The food comes from the kitchen fast, so of course with my usual gluttonous impatience, I seared my tongue on the fried tomato. The sweet corn soup with barbecue shrimp is a savory creation, as is the Low Country oyster chowder. I would avoid the wedge salad — even though it has smoked bacon, blue cheese and buttermilk dressing — if you have seen one wedge, you have pretty much seen them all. I loved the southern cole slaw which was made with shredded Brussels sprouts. Try that as a side.
My entrees were both from the ‘Simply Grilled’ section — mahi mahi the first time and ahi tuna next. Both very good pieces of fish, and cooked just right.
You have a choice of sauces — tartar sauce, Florida lemon butter sauce, Zatarain's cocktail sauce and Cajun spice. By the way, always order sauces on the side and apply the amount I want, every colleague I had at Food Network agreed that most preparations are 'over sauced.' We did not have dessert. When you have to wriggle into your bathing suit the next morning, somehow mud pie, peach cobbler, and cheesecake are less appealing.
Verandah has a major flaw that could affect your enjoyment of the meal. The lighting is dreadful. Way too bright. Maybe if this were an airport lounge it would be okay, but not in a good restaurant like this that could be romantic. We spoke to Rick Williams, the general manager, who agreed and told us that "there have been meetings." (All they need to do is dim the lights 30 percent and put candles on the tables and the job is done. Meeting over.) So go, and see if they have. I know you will enjoy the food.