We'd been considering the "world-famous" Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant (7974 East 49th Avenue) for an Institute night, but it didn't seem quite right for my birthday dinner. Islamorada is attached to one of my all-time favorite stores -- but would I really want to eat there? That would be like Victoria's Secret putting a sushi bar on the premises. Besides, the Redneck Liaison and his angelic wife had recently eaten at Islamorada and had been very disappointed, reporting back that the signature appetizer dip was nothing to write home about and that the server had even skimped on chips. And when they asked for more chips, crackers, anything, she couldn't be bothered to take the Club-brand crackers out of their cellophane packaging before serving them up.
Still, we kept with our plan, because otherwise the Mormon family would have had a riot on their hands, since their young daughter likes to look at the stuffed animals at the adjacent Bass Pro Shop. Plus, the Scottish Representative's wife was already en route, and as a driver in a strange land, she might have gotten confused. So I just kept hoping that the Rednecks had caught Islamorada on an off night. After all, the premise of the place seems right: A guy's primitive hunter-gatherer instinct responds to all those dead fish hanging everywhere, and he feels mighty manly, because 90 percent of these fish could easily kill you, yet here they're dead and mounted on the wall, watching over you as you eat some of their relatives.
We settled in at a large table and immediately noticed that Islamorada does at least one thing right: It serves big airport beers. Presents are fine, but holding to a vestige of your youth by drinking way more than you should is what birthdays are really about as you get older. How many big beers can you put away before you fall asleep at the table? How many times will you need to go to the bathroom? Will it take exponentially longer to relieve yourself? Will you be able to function at a human level the next day? And just how long is it before you have to schedule that first, thorough, middle-aged medical exam?
Islamorada Fish Company
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The other important part of a birthday is enjoying it with family and friends. When you're younger, birthdays are fraught with danger even if you're out with "friends" you trust. How many of you had to be told what you did on your 21st birthday? You couldn't remember on your own, because you were served 21 shots by your "friends" -- and before you knew it, you were listening to Bill Gallagher tell you how you peed on your TV, and how when he told you to stop, you just took a swing at him and shouted that he needed to get the hell out of the bathroom. And if you were the one funneling drinks down your "friend," then you were rewarded for your generosity by having to run him down as he streaked up and down the hallway wearing one dirty sock. As a result of such experiences, the Institute recommends that the entire group participate in shot rituals equally so that the birthday boy doesn't do all the shots himself.
Overall, I had a good birthday -- but no thanks to Islamorada. I did enjoy the beers, but you can get big airport beers in a lot of places. And the food really missed the boat. Since the restaurant is connected to an outdoor shop, it should focus on fish that people actually catch -- walleye, rainbows, crappies (if only because that's fun to say) -- and not the sort of stuff you can get at an expensive French restaurant or Applebee's. Besides, when it came time to do that flaming birthday shot, I had to pass it up for fear that I might torch the wooden decor.
That's when the waitress gave all of us some good advice. If you want to have fun, do what the Islamorada staff does: Go to the T.G.I. Friday's down the street.