Tarpon Bend is a tale of 2 venues; on weekend evenings it's the hub for Downtown partying, but at other times, it's a sleepy restaurant and casual bar. The first thing I ever had to eat at Tarpon Bend was the Seafood Kettle, and I'd thought I'd found a real hidden gem. jump-->Subsequent visits convinced me that the place was a one-dish wonder; but that's still one dish more than most places have in this town.
This place is owned by the same people who own YOLO, S3 and soon to open Meatball Kitchen (in the old M-Bar space). The model here is the same; it's club first, restaurant second. Menus on their websites with no prices. Mediocre, often forced recipes. They even allow smoking after 11, although I've never quite figured out how that law works down here.
Tarpon Bend is the polar opposite of YOLO; it's a totally laid back flip-flops kinda scene, and they actually have a lot of tarpons hanging around as decorations.
Tarpon Bend Tarpon on the Wall
During the day the employees here seem in purgatory; they make their money at night. I took a quick look at the menu to make sure that they still had the Seafood Kettle, and I ordered it with an iced tea.
The place is very quiet; for a place that has bands and big crowds on weekends, it's very subdued during the day.
Tarpon Bend Bar
The kettle comes out in about 10 minutes. The plate is a hot iron; my server ladles a portion onto the plate.
Tarpon Bend Seafood Kettle
It's kind of a show; it bubbles up on the plate and she puts the top back on the kettle. This is where the Fort Lauderdale experience bites you if you're not paying attention. Overcooked seafood is bad news; if you leave the top on the kettle while you eat, by the time you get to it the shrimp and calamari will be like rubber. Remove the top so you don't get 10 minutes more of cooking than you want.
Tarpon Bend Seafood Kettle
I load up the plate; it's a lot of fish. I want to eat it while it's hot. The big chunks of whitefish need a bit of salt, but that's about it. I have to ask for an oyster fork; Petrillo run restaurants don't give you one unless you ask.
Tarpon Bend Seafood Kettle
There's some wonky stuff in it like zucchini and red onion chunks, as well as red potatoes, but the broth is great. They could use some better bread; something more absorbent to sop up the sauce; the toasted white bread doesn't do such a good job. And you will want to sop up this sauce.
Tarpon Bend's seafood kettle; proof that even mediocre chefs get it right once in a while. One of the best dishes in Fort Lauderdale.
In many ways, Tarpon Bend epitomizes all that is Fort Lauderdale. It's a casual eatery with live music, a bar scene and outdoor dining in the heart of the downtown entertainment district.
Owned by the people who also own YOLO and Vibe, if you just went to the Tarpon Bend website you'd get a completely wrong impression of the place, which seems counterproductive to me. They have staged pictures of fancy food, tables and chairs perfectly positioned with nice roll ups. You'd think it was a fancy restaurant. But it's really not like that at all.
Tarpon Bend can be described as "laid-back" anytime except on Friday and Saturday nights, when it resembles a club much more than a restaurant. The food and atmosphere are very casual, and there is music nightly. Groups of young people gather here in early evening for an economical dinner before a night of partying. Wednesday is ladies night, and they start rolling in about 9pm. Fridays are the busiest night, with happy hour starting right after work, 2 fers until 9pm and the crowd begins building after 7. After 11 Tarpon Bend transforms into more of a club for younger people.>
Tarpon Bend View from Upstairs
It is, in fact, a better restaurant than you might expect. The menu has some interesting items; my favorite choice is the Seafood Kettle, which is seafood stew in a tomato broth. On a recent visit, we ordered the clams, which were quite good. They were in a tasty, garlicky broth and they gave us about 16 clams.
Tarpon Bend Clams
The key to clams is to not overcook them; and these weren't.
My "date" had the yellowfin tuna salad; the tuna didn't look too fresh to me.
Tarpon Bend Yellowfin Tuna Salad
She said she liked it, but I don't have a handle of her culinary prowess, or maybe she was just being polite since I was paying.
The yellowfin tuna salad is overloaded with stuff; most girls I take here seem to order it however, and just eat the tuna. I wanted to try the jambalaya, which is only available as a special on Tuesdays.
Tarpon Bend Jambalaya
It's always a bad sign when the rice is separated from the rest of the "stew". It means that they have a big pot in the back and it's the mass produced kind; so the rice won't have a chance to absorb any of the flavors. It didn't have the celery/pepper/onion "trilogy" that adds a nice crunch to the dish, and it was too soupy. It wasn't nearly as good as the version I had last week at Mango's; the sausage seemed more like chorizo and the chicken was grilled and tossed in. It also wasn't very spicy; a faux version for sure. I'd take the seafood kettle over this any day of the week.
They've gotten rid of all of the old tube TVs and replaced them with flat screens, but it's still not the best sports bar in town. The TVs are positioned in odd places and getting them to change a channel is difficult, even when it's not busy.
The long-time bartenders that have manned this place seemingly forever are gone, and there are a bunch of kids working here how. I haven't been to happy hour here in a long time. On this Saturday night in September, the place was dead at 11:30pm and not much better at 12:30am.