By: Jason Perlow
As the cliche goes, one should not judge a book by its cover. But should we judge restaurants by their curb appeal? If my visits to the Crooked Hook Bar and Grill is any guide, the answer is a resounding “no.”
The shopping plaza at 11471 West Sample Road has seen better days. It appears to be a forlorn relic from the 1970s. It hosts a few medical offices as well as a nail salon, a florist, a trophy shop and a day spa. The building is set back from the road and lacks signage and street-facing businesses. You could very quickly drive right past it, believing the plaza was abandoned.
In other words, it is harder to find this restaurant than your average modern “speakeasy.”
If you were to do that, as many people do — then that would be a mistake. Because set into the rear of that shopping plaza is The Crooked Hook, probably the best no-nonsense seafood eatery to hit Coral Springs in a very long time.
Crooked Hook is owned by Steve Lyons and John Cobey, who has enlisted his brother and sister, Tracey and Brett (a veteran cook from west coast fish restaurants in Naples and Fort Meyers) to run the kitchen. The staff hails mainly from Johnny O’Brian’s Irish Pub in Coconut Creek, which shuttered in the summer of 2018.
Walking into the place, you cannot help but notice the eclectic decorations: antique fishing reels and various other nautical knick-knacks. You get the sense that scruffy old sea dogs could walk into the place and find themselves right at home, a place to have a few beers, a bowl of chowder and talk about their nautical adventures. It’s got that kitschy local seafood joint vibe that you typically find near the ocean in working fishing communities, such as in the panhandle, the Keys, or the shores of New England and Pacific Northwest.
The menu itself runs the gamut of fried, grilled, and broiled fish and seafood, a few things for landlubbers such as steaks, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and cheesesteak, as well as the restaurant’s signature chowders. The restaurant currently has a small selection of beer and wine and is working on obtaining a full liquor license, and on weekday mornings, they serve typical breakfast fare as well.
The chowders alone were worth the effort to find this hidden gem. The clam chowder is of the creamy New England variety, but it is not overly thickened with flour. It’s got a robust natural clam flavor and is packed with tender clam meat. The ample amount of bacon adds the requisite smokiness and salinity, augmented by additional salt and white pepper. The soup is topped with just a small amount of chopped parsley which adds that extra herbal oomph. It’s the best-darned clam chowder in Coral Springs, period.
If you are not a clam chowder fan, there’s a very excellent conch chowder, made with a Manhattan-style spicy red tomato base. Just like the clam counterpart, it’s chock full of conch meat, although it is considerably chewier.
The soup of the day was an excellent tomato basil bisque, which was practically begging for a grilled cheese sandwich. Tracey makes all the soups, and she’s quite proud of them.
On my first visit, I chose not to go with a seafood dish — I was in a mood for a burger. I ordered it medium rare, and it came out perfect and juicy with a nice thick 8-ounce patty. It arrived topped with fried onions, bacon, crispy lettuce, melted cheddar, and BBQ sauce, with a side of well-done french fries as requested. The tomato was off-season, but that’s not something I’m going to issue a demerit for a seafood place in Florida in early June.
A perfectly executed medium-rare hamburger is a tough thing to find in Coral Springs, let alone most of Broward County — so this is a massive win for the Hook, and they will be reeling me in more often than not when I want my simple burger fix and some chowder.
In terms of appetizers, we liked the Baked Stuffed Clams, which were a plate of twelve littlenecks on the half shell filled with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture containing celery, onions and a few other things — it’s hard to tell what else, but it’s a closely guarded secret. My 75-year-old parents, who are now very finicky eaters, utterly inhaled them.
We also enjoyed the Buffalo Fried Shrimp appetizer, which comes with homemade blue cheese dressing. These are jumbo shrimp that have been dredged in Buffalo-style wing sauce and then lightly floured and fried. They aren’t overwhelmingly seasoned, barely flavoring the shrimp, and they don’t have an unusually thick coating either. Just fantastic.
The blackened Mahi fingers were still juicy despite being cut into strips. The teenager at our table devoured them.
When it comes to seasoning, everything from the kitchen is done with a light touch, striking a perfect balance to showcase the natural flavor of fish and seafood and not overpower it with aggressive spiciness. Brother Brett, if anything, is a master of less-is-more in his fish seasoning technique.
The most powerfully flavored appetizer is the Smoked Fish Dip, which is made from fresh-caught kingfish, smoked by the restaurant on site, and served with “bagel spice” crispbread crackers, sliced tomatoes, and pickled jalapeno peppers. It’s salty, smoky, and it tastes fishier than other Marlin-based versions, which is more commonly found in South Florida. While I am personally not a fan of this type of dip, my wife and parents enjoyed it.
For main courses, the main fish proteins that the restaurant has to offer are Mahi, cod, jumbo shrimp, and dry-pack sea scallops. While they can be ordered in different presentations (sandwich or platter) and combinations, all of these can be prepared in three primary ways — grilled, blackened, or fried. Hopefully, they’ll be offering other varieties of fish as specials in the future. The restaurant also has pasta dishes that feature clams, shrimps and scallops, in either a garlic scampi or traditional marinara sauce.
We ordered several traditionally grilled dishes, seasoned Old Bay style. As with other dishes, the spice blend is used sparingly to prevent overpowering the seafood. It was great with shrimp, Mahi, and scallops, which are large U10 specimens and come four on a plate as an entree. As with everything else that comes out of the kitchen, Brother Brett cooks them perfectly. We also liked their blackened preparation, which is a tad spicier than the Old Bay treatment, but not overwhelmingly so, which is a good thing.
All of these grilled proteins can be served over their fresh-made coleslaw, which even slaw skeptics like myself found to be one of the best we’ve ever had. It is less of a traditional slaw than a cabbage salad with a light dressing, and it’s a perfect bed for any of the sea creatures Crooked Hook has to offer.
Another side we liked was the scalloped potatoes, which are very cheesy and creamy. The macaroni salad is also delicious, but if you must choose two side dishes, I think the coleslaw and the potatoes are the real winners here. The steamed vegetable choice we had available to us was broccoli. It was steamed perfectly, but broccoli is broccoli. The regular fries are the standard frozen variety, so instead, I recommend the sweet potato fries, which are superior.
If you decide to go with a fried fish preparation, I would strongly suggest getting it with the beer-batter versus the also-available breadcrumb treatment. My mother ordered the second version with shrimp, and while they were nice and crispy, they didn’t have the lightness that the beer-batter imparted to them.
Coral Springs — the western Broward town with the marine-inspired name — has needed a hole-in-the-wall, locals-oriented seafood restaurant for a long time. With the Crooked Hook, it appears we have gotten our wish. So never mind the spooky old shopping plaza, order a big bowl of chowder, and prepare your shark adventure monologue.
CROOKED HOOK BAR AND GRILL
11471 W Sample Rd, Coral Springs, FL 33065
Hours: Monday-Fri 8 a.m. -10 p.m., Sat-Sun 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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