TERRY’S PICKY PALATE /A seafood smorgasbord at The Thirsty Mermaid

BY TERRY SCHMIDA
So, here’s a neighborhood bistro-type place that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while now. And was the wait ever worth it!
The Thirsty Mermaid Raw Bar Restaurant opened in February at 521 Fleming St., and has quickly become a local hotspot for locals and tourists alike. It’s the brainchild of restaurateur Tommy Quartararo and his wife Kristen Onderdonk, who also owns the Little Pearl Fish House & Wine Bar, and Antonia’s Restaurant. It’s usually packed when I walk by, and now I know why.
On my visit, the staff pulled out all the stops, and served me a memorable meal that was imaginative, filling, and quite delicious.
Thirsty Mermaid offers a selection of raw oysters that changes daily, and so Tito Ivanov started me off with a raw oyster sampler, including selections from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Duxbury, Mass. All three were ambrosial, but, as Ivanov agreed, the Malpeques, from P.EI. really can’t be beat.
“Everybody loves them,” he said.
To drink with the bivalves, Ivanov suggests a 2016 Nortico Alvarinho, from Portugal.
Next up, was the Crackling Calamari, with a chili Key Lime Miso-dressed frisee. I’ve had calamari hundreds of times, but this was by far the best I’ve ever tasted. The breading was light, the squid not too chewy, and the complex flavors of the dressing, out of this world.
Then came the Sautéed Bahamian Conch, with marinated artichokes. Once again, chef/co-owner Ryan Shapiro has concocted a winner. The conch was tender, and worked perfectly with the artichokes, and olive oil.
On the side, Ivanov brought me some Mac & Cheese Croquettes, drizzled with a truffle aioli, which transformed this kid-friendly American staple into something sublime.
For these dishes, he suggested pairing with a 2015 Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Gruner Veltliner, from Austria.
And last, but not least, I sampled the eatery’s house-made Key Lime pie. This was delightful, and the perfect way to end my meal.
The Thirsty Mermaid is officially one of my favorite smaller Key West’s restaurants, and well worth a visit.
Swim on in and enjoy some of the freshest, most delectable seafood in the Southernmost City!
The Thirsty Mermaid Raw Bar Restaurant serves lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily. Credit cards are accepted.
For a reservation, or more information, call 305-204-4828, or visit https://www.thirstymermaidkeywest.com/