Off-season best time to hit Doc’s Beach House
“Where’s a good place to eat on the beach?”
It’s one of the most frequently asked questions when company comes to town. And it’s one of the hardest to answer because, despite our generous coastline, there are so few places to eat that are just steps away from sand and surf. And finding one with decent food is about as uncommon as stumbling across a perfectly intact junonia washed up on the beach.
One of Southwest Florida’s oldest sandscoured institutions, Doc’s Beach House in Bonita Springs isn’t likely to win any culinary contests or rave reviews. Its food can be hit and miss and its menu may vary depending on the vagaries of supply or the competency of the pantry keeper.
But it does have several things in its favor: convenience for beachgoers who can bop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner without bothering to get cleaned up; a terrific view of the Gulf of Mexico from upstairs; and relatively inexpensive food considering its prized real estate.
A perfectly broiled grouper sandwich comes with french fries and cole slaw.
DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLY Considering all that, this modest, casual restaurant established in 1987 is good enough for a daytime beach break or sunset drink and nosh. And summer is a good time for locals to go because the place is mobbed in season (I know from past experience).
Like many such touristy spots, Doc’s does things its own way and doesn’t apologize for it. No reservations, no credit cards and no parking — well, it’s strictly valet because the attached lot is tiny and tight. (You can park next door at the public beach lot, but it’s not free.)
We arrived fairly early on a weeknight and had no trouble getting a table right away. The ground floor has a low-ceilinged cottage feel with plenty of windows, but the view is better upstairs in the sports bar and the menu’s the same there. The décor up there is mostly sports and beer paraphernalia, and the music is totally ‘80s. The high-top tables closest to the gulf-facing windows are packed in pretty closely, naturally, but our server didn’t seem to have any trouble maneuvering through the maze.
The Key lime pie is better than average. Cold beers seemed to be in order on this hot day. We had Sam Adams drafts served in small plastic cups; the pour size was chintzy for $5.75 a cup — about 10 ounces. Wines by the glass are house brand ($5.75) or Kendall-Jackson ($9); a separate bottle list is available, but we didn’t see it.
While we were considering appetizer options, our friendly, efficient server mentioned that they were out of clams and crabs. After renegotiating, we settled on conch fritters ($8.49) and fried calamari ($7.49). Most of the options are typical fried bar food — mushrooms, zucchini, jalapeno poppers, mozzarella. Presumably, many people come here and have a pitcher of beer and a couple of apps and call it a day.
Conch fritters are mostly breading. The tennis-ball-sized fritters were a poor representation of this tropical staple, consisting mostly of breading flecked with flavorless bits of red
and green pepper and very little conch. If they had been rolled smaller, the ratio wouldn’t have seemed so out of proportion. As it was, it was like eating huge mouthfuls of fried breading.
Comparatively, the calamari was better. The rings were tender, not rubbery, and the breading light and crisp. I also liked the garlic-laced marinara that came with them for dipping.
The foam plates and plastic forks may turn off some folks. One dish did come with actual silverware; apparently if you order a “plate” as opposed to a “basket” you don’t get plastic.
The menu is very family oriented, with everything from grilled cheese and fried egg sandwiches to half-pound burgers and a New York strip steak. Doc’s “Chicago-style” pizza apparently is a big enough draw that the owners opened a separate pizzeria down the road a while back. At the Beach House, it’s only served after 4 p.m. and takes a minimum of 40 minutes, so you’d better not be starving when you order.
We stuck with seafood, which makes up a large portion of the menu.
The grouper sandwich basket ($12.49) was a good deal for the price. The fillet was larger than the bun, and it was fresh tasting and perfectly broiled (also available grilled, fried, blackened or lemon-garlic seasoned). It came with plentiful hot, crisp french fries and cole slaw with mushy cabbage (mine was off-puttingly warm, but my companion’s was chilled).
The grilled mahi-mahi plate ($15.49) also contained an impeccably cooked, generous fillet. Moist and flaky, the fish was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, which let the natural flavor shine. The steamed beans and carrots he chose as a side were tender-crisp – not overcooked at all (no small feat in a casual beachfront shack).
Another surprise was the Key lime pie ($5.49), which our server said came from Sysco; it was better than most prefab desserts. The thick filling struck the appropriate tart note, and the graham-cracker crust tasted buttery. A slice of cheesecake ($5.49), on the other hand, was run of the mill.
The bottom line: Visitors may not patronize Doc’s for the food, but it’s a decent choice when you’re determined to dine on the beach. ¦
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