By John Cristopher Fine
Sit outside at Old Conch Harbor marina, barefoot if you want. Watch manatees swim in its sheltered lagoon, enjoy color change at sunset, watch people renting kayaks and paddleboards to explore the ocean just along a canal.
Then enjoy wine or beer with executive chef Jonathan Goldstein’s amazing food at Dockside Raw Bar in Tavernier. It is brand new, perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the Keys. Where else can one get a half-dozen fresh oysters for $12.50, ribeye steak garnished with steamed vegetables, mushrooms and potatoes for $28.95, and that’s just part of it. Fine house wines run $8 a glass. All the food is fresh, with fish caught and brought in that morning.
Goldstein hails from Wilmington, Delaware where he cooked for 30 years. He spent a lot of that time in his father’s restaurant called Doc’s Raw Bar. He studied at the University of Virginia and is a graduate physical therapist. That’s not the career path he chose. His father, a medical doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, opened a restaurant where his son began to cook.
“I always loved cooking. I took to it naturally and never went to culinary school,” Goldstein says.
Goldstein stands 6 feet 6 inches tall. He was executive chef at a nursing home in Delaware when he decided to float queries to restaurants in the Keys. He landed a job at Keys Fisheries.
“I had to ask my kids for their blessing. They’re grown up; I still had to ask them,” Goldstein said. “Both said, ‘Dad, that is a dream of yours to be down in the Keys. Go for it.’ I was 51 years old at the time.”
Goldstein and his girlfriend had coffee at the Harbor Cafe 90 at Old Conch Harbor. They wandered around back and met Brian Dougherty, manager of Dockside Raw Bar. They started talking.
“Brian needed a good chef. I could be more flexible here,” Goldstein said. “I have control of the menu which is great. I vary the specials every day. Each day we can have lobster, fresh fish, shrimp and oysters. Everything here is the freshest seafood you can get.
“I make parmesan crusted grouper, we have snapper, mahi mahi, mackerel,” he continued. “We are creative in the kitchen. I am fortunate to have great cooks working with me. Everyone is satisfied. Eating in a wonderful atmosphere makes people feel good. When they tell me they enjoyed their meal, that’s my reward.”
Goldstein lets his staff implement their ideas for daily specials. Stone crab claws are popular in season. Fishermen trap them in local waters and bring them in fresh. Steamed clams, lobster, Gulf Stream oysters made Rockefeller, even soups served at Dockside are made in their kitchen.
“There’s nothing we won’t do to make people happy,” Dockside’s manager, Brian Dougherty, said. A Philadelphia native, Dougherty studied business and hospitality. His experience includes Palm Beach’s Ritz Carlton and the Boca Raton Hotel; he ran Pierre’s Restaurant and Hawks Cay, and was food and beverage manager at Cheeca Lodge in the Keys. His vision for Dockside Raw Bar is not only to build the business as word gets out, but also to make patrons happy so they come back.
When Hurricane Irma raged through the Keys, major flooding swamped Old Conch Harbor. In just a few years, Old Conch Harbor was rebuilt: marina slips, docks, live lobster tanks put back in operation and now Dockside Raw Bar is open.
The atmosphere is Florida the way it used to be. Taking a meal outside or at inside tables, informal dining with the best fresh seafood these dedicated chefs can get. At a time when prices have soared, fare at Dockside is not only fair, it is astounding.
More information is at www.oldconch.com or 305-853-1010; the restaurant is located at 90311 Old Overseas Highway in Tavernier.