BITE-SIZED

Seafood in the Sun

Grab a seat on the deck at this Vilano Beach gem

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With spring in the air and summer close behind, now is the prime time to roll down the windows and head down picture-perfect Highway A1A to this casual hideaway on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Cap’s doesn’t take reservations and — like most amazing beachfront spots — the nicer the weather, the longer you may wait for a seat. Unarguably, the biggest selling point is the sprawling wooden deck under a canopy of shady trees. (The outside oyster bar’s a close second.) The deck provides views of breathtaking sunsets, flocks of seagulls and tranquil waters.

The menu is lengthy, so go with a group so you can share and experiment. It’s also kid-friendly.

Of the more than 25 appetizers, I have some recommendations. If you’re into soups, Cap’s creamy signature she-crab soup or spicy roux-based gumbo, with freshly made cornbread, will fill you up. The generously portioned, tenderized fried gator tail with a light citrus sauce is a staple. A platter with hot smoked salmon, caper cream cheese, chopped egg and diced onion is simple but nicely done. For creative presentation and texture, I recommend the flaky phyllo dough cups filled with chopped sesame soy tuna tartare. The Belgian fries are fried twice — thick, golden and beyond crisp. The best parts are the dipping sauces: curry mayo, datil and peanut sauces get my vote.

The vanilla grouper, with sweet vanilla rum sauce, is flaky, horseradish-crusted, flash-fried grouper atop mashed potatoes and fried crisp spinach. Your taste buds will dance. And you can’t go wrong with Cap’s jambalaya — shrimp, crawfish, sausage, chicken, onions and peppers meet jasmine rice.

There’s plenty of other fresh seafood, and I made a dozen oysters my entrée (I ordered an extra half-dozen). You can go raw or steamed and select from East, West or Gulf coasts. Snow crab legs, peel-and-eat Mayport shrimp and steamed clams round out the “surf” options.
If you’re not into seafood, the “turf” options include short rib sliders, filet mignon, dry-rubbed New York strip steak and braised roasted Berkshire pork belly.

The lunch menu touts several tacos, including spicy fried calamari, seared fish with avocado sour cream, and sesame tuna with wasabi sour cream coleslaw and soy ginger teriyaki sauce. Each is served on a flour tortilla; a side dish is included.

Most side items are a la carte — while perusing the menu’s 20 selections, you’ll be wishing for more stomach capacity. Roasted Brussels sprouts, hushpuppies, sweet ’n’ sour cucumbers, grilled asparagus, potato strudel and parsnip puree round out some of the top items.

Cap’s has several salads. They’re dinner-sized portions, but you can order a smaller version as an appetizer. The roasted squid salad, with slices of pear, chickpeas, roasted red peppers, creamy avocado, tart pomegranate arils and crispy pita chips, with a miso ginger dressing, has a lot of colors, textures and flavors.

Open daily for dinner at 4:30 p.m., Cap’s also serves lunch 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. If you can’t get a spot on the deck, there’s a nice dining room with windows, and a bar area with a few high-top tables. And with more than 400 wines from which to choose, you’ll hardly remember having to wait for a coveted deck seat.

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