Boston’s Fish House and I both made our Orlando debuts in the same year, 1988. The restaurant opened in February and I rode in to town in May. We didn’t meet each other until that November, but it was instant love, at least for me.
As someone who had moved to Florida from the desert Southwest, I expected that every other restaurant I would be reviewing in my new job at the Orlando Sentinel would specialize in seafood. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It may seem odd now (actually, it seemed odd then) but despite Central Florida’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean their bounties made it into few of its restaurants. Instead, fish offloaded onto local docks were immediately boxed and sent flying to other parts of the country to restaurateurs who appreciated fresh seafood.
What made this doubly ironic was that it took a family from Massachusetts to move to town to demonstrate that Central Floridians do indeed appreciate good seafood. Want triple irony? The family was flying in its seafood from New England.
That family was the Greseks, Stephan and Sharon and their son, Adam. They originally opened Boston’s Fish House (please don’t confuse it with Boston Lobster Feast) in the little structure at 7325 Aloma Ave. in Winter Park but found the facility too small to accommodate the crowds that were lining up outside. They moved down the road to a strip mall and a more spacious corner storefront. (The original location has been home to a rotating roster of other restaurants, including Big Belly’s Hawaiian Grindz, Cheddar Jack’s, Dontello’s Ristorante, New Orleans Cajun Seafood, and its current tenant, Kombu Sushi & Ramen.)
It wasn’t just the quality of the seafood, which to be appreciated correctly had to be ordered breaded (the breading was flown in from Boston, too) and deep fried, it was also the way the Greseks and their staff ran the place. I warned readers of my original review in 1988 that they might have to spend some time responding to greetings from random people in the kitchen before they could place their order. Staff seemed to like working there just as much as customers liked eating there.
So when I heard that the Gresek family sold the restaurant several years ago, I quietly mourned.
I hadn’t been back to Boston’s Fish House for some time, but I found myself in the neighborhood at lunchtime recently and figured it was time to check it out.
I felt like I was back in 1988 but with less hair. (Just kidding, I didn’t have hair back then, either.)
The operation is still pretty much the same. There is a stack of menus on a barrel inside the front door for customers to look over. Once they’ve decided on what they want, they step up to the host stand, order and pay, and then step aside to be greeted by another staffer who will show them to a table. They’ll barely have time to settle in before the food arrives.
I went for the Boston’s Seafood Combo Platter, which got me sea scallops, shrimp, cod and a choice from among fresh oysters, clam strips or Ipswich clams. As far as I know, Boston’s was the first to introduce Ipswich clams, also known as whole belly clams, to the area, and I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve seen them locally. So of course that was my choice. And as I mentioned before, fried, not broiled.
The platter came mounded high with the seafood and onion rings, a golden-brown tower. Squeeze bottles of ketchup, cocktail sauce and tartar sauce were delivered with the food and some malt vinegar was brought on request. (I prefer tartar sauce, and lots of it, with fried seafood.) The bits of fish were tender, the shrimp nicely firm; so, too, the scallops, which were impossible to fork without them shedding their breaded jackets. The clams had the distinction of being both tender in their belly and chewy at the part known as the siphon. My choices of sides, creamy coleslaw and baked beans (it’s Boston, after all), were both good.
I should note that I ordered the matess platter, which is smaller than the captain’s platter, and there was still too much to eat at one sitting. And at $22.99, reasonably priced.
The interior is also stuck in time, decorated in early sea shanty. You’ve got your knotty pine, marine-scape murals, wall-mounted oars and such.
And the staff still seems happy. Why shouldn’t they be? They work in an Orlando classic.