With the motto "Peace, Love and Hogfish," Chef Michael's in Islamorada is the place to go for fresh hogfish cooked to perfection. A long-time fixture on the Islamorada culinary scene - last at Kaiyo Grill - Chef Michael Ledwith has now created an intimate American bistro with French flair.
"Mixed Nuts" hogfish: pistachio, cashew and macadamia crusted — Photo courtesy of Chef Michael's
Located in the small building that formerly housed the famed Chanticleer South Restaurant, the cozy 40-seat eatery offers indoor and outdoor seating. With upscale Keysy decor, the inside dining room is a soothing cream and chocolate palette, highlighted with soft warm lighting. The walls are full of paintings and wood sculptures by local artists.
On the romantic deck, candlelit tables are surrounded by lush greenery. Because it's a small restaurant, they're able to give each detail the attention it deserves. Even the water is infused with different fresh fruit daily.
The staff is impeccable right down to the host. He's so charming that you're left wondering if he could actually be the owner. When the waiters share the daily specials, they do so with such a passionate description that you'll want to order one of everything.
Iconic hogfish sign outside Chef Michael's in Islamorada — Photo courtesy of Claudia Miller
Ledwith has a close relationship with the Florida Keys fishermen and usually knows the source, name of the captain and the way each fish was caught. In addition to hogfish, he offers a daily selection of other varieties you may not see on other menus such as tilefish, tripletail and mutton snapper. There are eight different melt-in-your-mouth preparations on the menu.
With the Ambassador, a generous serving of thick-cut fish is sautéed with blue crab, shiitake mushrooms and capers, served with a Key lime cream sauce. For lighter fare, the Adriatic style is deceptively simple. Grilled and then napped with an olive oil and herb concoction, each bite is bursting with flavor.
Lamb shank braised in Castronovo red, roasted garlic and rosemary — Photo courtesy of Chef Michael's
The menu is not just limited to seafood. In fact, there are several meat entrees served in head-turning portions. You’ll enjoy watching the faces of the diners who are surprised and delighted to see braised lamb shank or prime rib piled high on their plate.
Make sure you save room for dessert. The decadent six-layer spiced carrot cake is not to be missed. Thick slices are topped with rich cream cheese frosting, crunchy pecans, coconut and a drizzle of caramel.
Sunday mornings, Chef Michael's switches gears for a delightful brunch - a huge favorite among the locals for the generous portions at reasonable prices. Start with The Fairytale - a twist on the traditional mimosa made with champagne and strawberry puree - while enjoying mellow live music.
For total indulgence, try the tall stack of "Challa" Brulee french toast, creamy and caramelized. Want heartier fare? Go for the Hogfish Benedict--seared fish, poached eggs and hollandaise.