If Macca’s Florida Seafood Grill & Bar, with its clean, corporate, angular design and requisite marine-centric décor, looks like it could be part of a chain, that’s probably more than coincidental — this sleek, family-friendly restaurant was originally going to be an R.J. Gator’s franchise, but corporate expansion plans by the Florida-based restaurant chain got put on the back burner, reportedly for economic reasons.
The similarities are striking, as a quick glance at both menus reveals a number of parallels, from the restaurant tag lines to the selections, right down to the photography. The “South Beach Bucket” at Macca’s bears strong resemblance to the “Gulf Coast Bucket” at Gator’s, even in the way it is presented on the menu. But I digress.
What developers Todd Darland, Marc King, Chris Wolfe and Ed Lacefield came up with fits its new space nicely; Macca’s holds down a prime spot in the Westport Village center at Herr Lane and Westport Road — co-existing with restaurants such as hiko-A-mon Sushi Bar and Indigo Joe’s, with Napa River Grill opening in June — that should be a prime attraction for shoppers once the new complex really gets moving. (A grand opening celebration is set at the shopping center for June 20-21.)
Outside seating, clean restrooms and a full bar, with plenty of scurrying employees wearing matching attire, put Macca’s squarely in the upscale-casual realm. Generally that’s not my favorite scene, but most diners no doubt will enjoy it, and the restaurant is quite adept at fulfilling its goal. It comes as no surprise that Lacefield has more than two decades of experience with T.G.I. Friday’s, because clearly this outfit knows what it is doing.
Chain-like surroundings notwithstanding, the food at Macca’s turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
When I walked in on a recent weeknight during dinnertime, Macca’s was already buzzing. The patio was full, or nearly so, with guests, and the main dining room was a little more than half full. I decided to sit at the bar to watch the Chicago Cubs game, and quickly after I took my place, a friendly bartender named Lori got me a cold beer and a menu.
It wasn’t easy to decide on an entrée, although it didn’t take me long to locate seared sesame tuna ($8.99) as an appetizer, which just edged out the fried alligator tail. I was hoping for oysters on the half shell, but Macca’s isn’t quite that hardcore seafood-wise — be forewarned, brineheads.
The menu is reasonably varied, with everything from seafood pasta dishes to pork medallions to a number of grilled seafood options, as well as the aforementioned South Beach Bucket, which literally is a bucket of fried seafood including coconut shrimp, clams and whitefish, plus sides. Entrees run from $10.99 (fish and chips) to $26.99 (twin lobster tails), and a number of sandwiches and a kids’ menu are also available.
A dish that caught my eye was the “Untamed Plantain,” a choice of several grilled entrees (from chicken to mahi mahi) atop Caribbean rice and black bean sauce, and served with fried plantains ($12.99). Ultimately, knowing I would be filling valuable stomach space with the tuna, I took another route by ordering “Shrimp in the Sand” ($9.49) from the “lite” fare menu. This selection featured two grilled shrimp skewers over the same rice/bean combo, and I simply requested plantains instead of the standard steamed broccoli as my side.
Shortly after I made my choice, my appetizer arrived, and I was not disappointed. Six thick slices of ultra-rare tuna, rolled in sesame seeds and lightly seared, sat atop mixed greens, garnished with plum sauce and dollops of mild wasabi cream. The presentation was enough to make anyone hungry, and the tuna itself was fresh and delicious, even if I found the plum sauce a tad too sweet for my buds. My only complaint is that on the menu, the photo shows an order of eight tuna slices, not six; perhaps the differentiator is thickness.
My main course didn’t disappoint either. I was served two skewers of 10 (note: the menu photo shows 12) large, plump shrimp, grilled perfectly in a sweet and spicy jerk sauce atop a healthy portion of yellow rice (mixed with small chunks of red pepper, carrots and onions) and the accompanying bean “sauce,” which was actually a tasty serving of tender and mildly seasoned black beans.
I should note that while rice and beans typically can be throwaways, both of these had enough individual distinctiveness to nicely accentuate the meal. The black beans in particular tasted fresh and flavorful.
The plantains were thick and sweet, and fried to the point of being crisp at the edges — just delicious. I was served about eight large slices, and I could have eaten an entire plate of them if I’d had the bandwidth. However, I did not, and I finally filled up just a few bites shy of my goal.
To make the experience even better, bartender Lori was attentive throughout and continuously called me by name. When I requested that one of the large flat screen TVs be changed to a different channel for the Cubs-Dodgers game, the manager on duty was all too happy to grant my request and make sure I got the viewing I wanted.
Interestingly, just that afternoon I’d had a dining experience at a different establishment in the city in which the food was similarly satisfying, but the service was atrocious — the contrast was enlightening. In addition, I encountered a number of people at the bar who seemed to be regulars, visitors whom Lori greeted quickly and familiarly when they took their usual place. It was like being in Cheers.
OK, perhaps Macca’s isn’t quite that kind of a mainstay yet, having been open only since February or so. But for the food and service, it’s certainly off to a good start.
Macca’s Florida Seafood Grill & Bar
1315 Herr Lane
Make mine migas
Looking for a tasty Tex-Mex breakfast? One of my favorites comes from North End Café, a popular eatery renowned for its breakfast but not often counted among the city’s destinations for Border Country cuisine.
North End’s expansive breakfast menu features more than two-dozen goodies, including such traditional items as biscuits and gravy ($4.75), steak and eggs ($11.99), or even a warm bowl of oatmeal ($4.79). Some dishes add creative touches — you can get your biscuits, for example, with the option of vegetarian mushroom gravy; and French toast ($5.49) gets a subtle touch from the addition of orange spice flavors.
Down at the bottom of the menu you’ll find a tasty Tex-Mex snack: a small breakfast taco ($2.69), loaded with scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, cheese and zippy salsa.
My Tex-Mex treat of preference, though, are the migas ($5.99). Pronounced “Mee-yas,” these are a hearty breakfast indeed: Two fluffy scrambled eggs are loaded up with bits of crunchy fried blue-corn tortilla, mild yellow cheddar and piquant jalapeños, topped with a dollop of homemade salsa and an order of North End’s old-fashioned home fries.
In the casual, arty setting of North End’s renovated Clifton shotgun and attentive service, migas are the Tex-Mex breakfast of champions. —Robin Garr
North End Café
1722 Frankfort Ave.
Kevin Gibson is a guest writer of this column. Contact the writers at [email protected]