Lee County: Best grouper sandwiches

Grouper sandwich a la Lazy Flamingo.

Grouper sandwich a la Lazy Flamingo.

With grouper fishing season just reopened as of April 1, the time is right to get it fresh at local restaurants. The iconic grouper sandwich is to Southwest Florida what hot dogs are to Coney Island. Nearly every local menu lists one, and each restaurant claims to make the best.

“Best” may be in the mouth of the beholder. It depends upon if you go for the classic grouper sandwich — breaded and deep-fried to a golden brown then smeared with creamy tartar sauce – or something creative and lighter. With the onset of health consciousness, many restaurants offer the delicacy grilled, blackened, or broiled between a bun.

It starts with one of the world’s meatiest, sweetest-tasting fish — a saltwater catch in the sea bass family that swims deep waters. The most common, red grouper, can grow to a beefy 32 inches and 25 pounds.

So grab your appetite and let’s get started. Here, in no particular order, are 10 grouper sandwiches that I recommend wrapping your palate around.

  1. Lazy Flamingo, Bokeelia (239-283-5959) You’ll find Lazy Flamingo restaurants throughout the county, but I like Bokeelia’s best the best for its view of marina and boats. Seafood always tastes better seaside. Its fried grouper sandwich is textbook classic with the exception of its overachieving caper tartar sauce. Lazy Flamingo adds the healthy touch of a whole wheat bun. Healthier still? Order the mesquite-grilled version and opt for Caesar salad instead of fries.
  2. Gramma Dot’s Seaside Saloon, Sanibel Island (239-472-8138) Another salty marina view, another noteworthy tartar sauce: Dill sparks the mayo and sour cream, cornmeal forms the coating, and Swiss cheese tops it all off. You can also order the fish broiled, mesquite-grilled, or blackened.
  3. University Grill, Fort Myers (239-437-4377) Some restaurants add serious crunch to their fried sandwiches by rolling the grouper in cornflakes. The one they serve here could fairly break an ear drum.
  4. Rumrunner’s, Cape Coral (239-542-0200) Here’s another one that talks back at you when you bite it, with an outspoken crunch that counterpoints its chewy, soft Kaiser roll.
  5. Mucky Duck (239-472-3434) and Green Flash (239-472-3337), Captiva Island. Same owner, same recipe, different water views. The secret here to the cornflake-crusted grouper sandwich? Tartar sauce blended with house-made mayo.
  6. Coconut Jack’s Bonita Beach (239-676-7777) Crowd-pleasing Coconut Jack’s also coats its fried grouper with cornflakes, but gives diners options including beer-battered, blackened, and grilled. Diners often order the grilled version with the special homemade BBQ sauce; otherwise the sandwiches come with house remoulade on a brioche bun.
  7. Pincher’s Crab Shack (239-415-8973) Its Great Grouper Sandwich too gives you a choice of preparation: broiled, blackened, or lightly breaded. With several locations, its most properly fish-eating venue resides bayside at Fort Myers Beach.
  8. Fresh Catch, Fort Myers Beach (239-463-2600) A seafood market on premises is a good sign that the grouper is super-fresh – the most important part of any
    Sanibel Grill

    Sanibel Grill

    recipe. Here they grill the filet and serve it on a rustic roll.

  9. Sanibel Grill, Sanibel Island (239-472-4453) Cousin to University Grill, it too adds cornflake crunch to the grouper. Try it in the Grouper Reuben grilled with Swiss cheese and slaw.
  10. South Beach Bar & Grille, Boca Grande (941-964-0765) Its Ultimate Grouper Sandwich is the ultimate in gourmet – pan-seared and served with garlic butter glaze, oven-roasted tomatoes, and complex homemade tartar. It’s enough to make me lose my prejudice for classic fried grouper .  So, if forced, I would deem it my favorite to date. However, I’m nowhere near finished researching the topic.