Brophy Brothers Restaurant and Clam Bar
1559 Spinnaker Drive
When I made my way to Brophy Brothers Restaurant and Clam Bar, this hip seafood restaurant really surprised me and opened my eyes to a new side of the harbor. Open since 2007, it is the little sister to the original Brophy Brothers in Santa Barbara.
You first enter in a small lobby and then climb the stairs up to the main restaurant. As I climbed, I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement, wondering what I would find at the top. The walls were covered in framed black and white photographs of the harbor, fishermen and fishing boats.
The same ambience continued into the busy bar and main dining room with dark wood floors, a long wooden bar and Billy Holiday coming out of the speakers. We chose to sit out on the heated deck overlooking the marina. The views from our table were spectacular — from the boats down below to the pelicans diving from great heights to catch fish to the mountains in the background.
The restaurant was full, the service was prompt, and the food was well-spaced. Our servers were knowledgeable, attentive, and refilled our drinks at just the right time. The restaurant offers two menus: the clam bar menu and its fresh fish menu, which changes daily. It’s a nice simple arrangement with just the right number of offerings. Quite the opposite of many restaurants that deliver an overwhelming, stress-inducing, six-page spiral-bound menu to your table.
The clam bar menu encompasses such goodies as oysters Rockefeller, peel-and-eat shrimp, cioppino (fish stew), fried seafood, sandwiches and salads. We started with the ceviche. The small pieces of red snapper sang of the lime juice that they marinated in, jolted with a bit of feistiness from some jalapeño and cilantro, and layered with tomato over a bed of crisp lettuce. It came with a lemon wedge, saltines and an incredible cocktail sauce complete with visible chunks of actual peppercorn. When I first tasted it, I thought to myself, “This sauce is good enough to drink.”
And when my oyster shooter arrived, I had just the opportunity. Layered in a hefty shot glass, the oyster shooter consists of a raw oyster, some of the signature cocktail sauce, a splash of Tabasco and a sprinkle of parmesan. Now I’m not much of a raw seafood person, but it was way better than I had imagined, almost like a Bloody Mary — with the perfect amount of spice from the Tabasco and saltiness from the parmesan.
The beer-boiled shrimp were served hot, resting in the cooking broth of beer and pickling spices. I like peel-and-eat shrimp and was excited to have yet another excuse to dip into the house cocktail sauce, but something was missing. The shrimp didn’t have a ton of flavor, and when I tasted the broth on its own as I dipped my bread into it, it fell short. It could have been more intense, more of a presence in the bowl, but instead it tasted a bit watered down.
The New England clam chowder did not disappoint — it is served steaming hot, perfectly creamy, and full of chunks of clam. While many restaurants cut corners and fill their chowder with potatoes, there were numerous chunks of clam in every bite of this soup, and the potatoes were able to take a nice backseat to the seafood.
The fish and chips consist of two beautifully browned pieces of fish, a large pile of crispy fries and a serving of cole slaw. While I usually skim right over the coleslaw on my plate, almost seeing it as an obstacle on my way to eating what I really ordered, this one got my attention: the cabbage was very green, cut in wide strips, and there were poppy seeds in the dressing. The fish was perfectly encased in its crispy batter. I could actually hear the batter crunch every time I took a bite, and could see the steam rising off the fish.
From the nine items on the fresh fish menu, we chose the mahi mahi, but it wasn’t an easy choice. It offers a grilled sea bass served with garlic, lime, parmesan and chipotle pesto, and grilled ahi with a crab and tarragon cream sauce. The mahi mahi was perfectly blackened in its Cajun spices, and it flaked easily with the fork. It was served with a dish of drawn butter for dipping (which I stopped using since I thought it washed out the wonderful flavor of the fish), cole slaw and a very large portion of rice pilaf.
All in all, Brophy’s has won me over — the experience, the atmosphere and the overall scene are just as good as the food. Next time, I’m going back at night to have a cocktail at the bar and enjoy the harbor lights. And I know that as I climb the dark wooden stairs, I’ll feel that same feeling of excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead.