My first visit was everything I expected and a few things I did not. And that just made the place all the more enjoyable. There's a system in place here. Don't worry about fumbling through on your first visit — everyone does. You order and pay at the counter and receive your beverages and a tall table marker with your name on a white card. Grab a seat anywhere you can, but do embrace the spirit of community and share space if you are a small group eyeing the extra-large table inside.
Diners are in good hands. In the kitchen is Chef George Vogelbacher, a name locals know from the glory days of Winter Park's Le Cordon Blue/Harper's Tavern and Nicole St. Pierre. And the owner is Craig Tremblay, who honed Winter Park's Bonefish Billy's before hopping to Disney to open restaurants such as Citricos. A while back, Tremblay began selling seafood at the Winter Park Farmers Market and from that the restaurant evolved.
We started with the golden lobster bisque ($6) resplendent with shellfish flavor and a nice balance of creaminess and meaty chunks. The lobster cake ($10) is easily sharable and worth every rich and tender bite. The "cones" on the menu are wraps. For the jumbo shrimp cone ($9.50), the plump shellfish was coated in a corn flake and sesame seed breading then packaged with light and slightly sweet mango cole slaw.
Grouper cheeks in parchment ($12) with sauteed vegetables (not green beans as on the menu) and small pearls of buttery Israeli couscous was a bargain. (The cheek is the pocket of tender meat just below the eye of the fish.) You don't see cheeks a lot in retail, so when it's on a menu, go for it. Jumbo shrimp, mussels, clams and chunks of fish rumpled the surface of the full-flavored, subtlely herbal tomato broth of the cioppino seafood stew ($11).
I like the Fish Co. for all the things that it is and isn't. It is a dining and shopping source for some of the best fish and seafood you can buy. It is a funky setting that reels in the nautical theme without falling overboard. And it melds elements of fine dining with Florida fish camp casual. Bringing all of that together, the restaurant manages to elude pretentiousness, a fast-food mentality and a cookie-cutter style of service.
Food Editor Heather McPherson can be reached at hmcpherson@OrlandoSentinel.com or 407-420-5498.
The dish on dining
Winter Park Fish Co.
Where: 761 Orange Ave., Winter Park (across from the Rollins College baseball field)
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday- Saturday
How much: $4-$22
Beverages: Beer (including Orlando Brewing pale ale), wine and soft drinks
Extras: Outdoor dining, seafood for purchase, take-out, some prepared items such as salmon quiches on occasion
Wheelchair: Very tight maneuvering inside; outdoor tables are all high-top tables.
Web: Winterparkfish.com and Facebook
Dining on a budget
There are plenty of options in the $9.50-$14 range. And the bisque ($6) and chowder ($4) are hearty and filling. Paired with salads ($6), these soups can get you in and out for less than $15 a person.