Stiltsville (Fish bar)
The new restaurant, with a name that pays homage to the original place, opened in Miami earlier this year
As chefs Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth see it, their newest dining concept shouldn’t be revolutionary, at least not in Florida. Both McInnis, a Florida native, and the Australian-born Booth longed to celebrate the coastal traditions of fishing and eating responsibly caught fish; they were raised to think this way. What’s more, the two Top Chef alumni wanted to revive the dying art of the independently owned, locally sourced fish market, something McInnis grew up with in Florida’s Panhandle.
“The area has been screaming for a good, locally focused fish house for some time,” McInnis says of Miami Beach. “We have some great seafood places around us, but they tend to serve tuna, hamachi and other flown-in fishes, and they’re done in Japanese style. We wanted to bring back the idea of serving local fish that’s simple but beautifully prepared, whether by us or the consumer.”
The result is Stiltsville Fish Bar, a seafood restaurant and fish market under one roof that opened last September in Miami. The pair named the restaurant after Stiltsville, the iconic village of seven houses built on stilts in Biscayne Bay, because it was the location of their first date and a place that Booth describes as “magical.” The 4,000-square-foot space has a dining room, complete with a bar and lounge, as well as indoor and outdoor seating. (A rooftop expansion is also in the works.) In addition, there’s a fish market where shoppers can drop in to purchase daily catches, along with the same sauces and accoutrements that the chefs use to prepare meals from the restaurant’s menu.McInnis and Booth are no strangers to the chef-driven restaurant concept. Their Southern-inspired Root & Bone restaurant opened in 2014 in New York City’s hip East Village. But this time, instead of their much-lauded fried chicken, the pair are hedging their bets on the fresh catches of the day.
They work with eight different fishing fleets, from Stuart to Key West and the Gulf of Mexico, for the seafood, which is either line-caught or caught with a net smaller than 10 feet by 10 feet. Each night, the menu includes what was hauled in by the fleet that day; sometimes, that involves a species the chefs have never heard of.
“The other day, the fishermen brought in kingklip, which is an eel-like fish that swims thousands of feet under the sea,” McInnis says. “I’ve never worked with it before, but we were able to prepare a beautiful presentation.”
“You will never see salmon or tuna, or anything that comes out of Japan or the Mediterranean, in our restaurant,” Booth adds. “We really want to help the local fishermen that we’re working with. People know their salmons and their tunas, so it’s amazing for us to promote the fish that we love, but aren’t known to locals.”
Booth and McInnis say nothing is ever frozen in their restaurant. Well, except for one thing. They explain that the restaurant only has one freezer, measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet. After all, they have to keep the ice cream somewhere.