There aren’t many fresh seafood markets where you’d imagine sitting down for a meal, but it’s easy to forget about the fresh filets nestled on a bed of ice behind the display counter when you step through the door at Fish Tales.
After 23 years of owning and operating the well-known Grassy Key Dairy Bar, George Eigner, his wife Jackie and brother Johnny sold the outpost with their sights set on retirement.
Unsatisfied “doing nothing” the trio purchased the former Island City Fish Market just west of the Vaca Cut Bridge. Two months of remodeling and revamping revealed the new Fish Tales Market & Eatery in late 2002.
George and Jackie moved to the Keys in 1979 from Wisconsin and brought with them a heavy German influence to their menu. Out of college, he went to work with a corporate restaurant company before eventually relocating south. Johnny, who grew up in Florida, said he’s worked in restaurants since he was 14 years old.
Their combined kitchen and restaurant experience shines through in their menu items that focus on fresh local seafood with just enough variety to keep things interesting. Several of their dishes, as well as a host of loyal customers, came from the Grassy Key Dairy Bar to Fish Tales.
Johnny’s Salad sounds innocent enough…romaine lettuce with tomatoes, onions and croutons.
But topped with just the right amount of his top secret sauce and this simple salad are taken to a whole new level. Of course, this Southerner is partial to the Fried Green Tomato and Snapper Sandwich topped with Johnny’s Secret Dressing!
“People have been after him for years, but we’ll never tell what’s in that sauce,” George laughed of his brother’s creation. “Our dream is to retire and sell a cookbook with the recipes that everyone wants.”
Another carryover from the Dairy Bar days is an annual Oktoberfest Celebration when Fish Tales features George’s homemade bratwurst – an item so well-received, they keep it in the market’s regular rotation – plenty of German beer, potato pancakes, spaetzle and nearly any other type of German cuisine imaginable.
Jackie confessed one of George’s favorite television shows is “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives” on Food Network.
“This place is just like those,” he admitted. “Johnny and I have been working in the kitchen together for over 30 years, and we just experiment with things ‘til we find out what works.”
Cognizant of Keys’ visitors changing palettes with the transition from Spring to Summer, the pair explained their tailoring of the specials menu each month.
“Right now, the menu’s pretty simple with the older seasonal crowd,” George said. “In the summertime, we get a lot of Europeans that are accustomed to stronger flavors, more spices. So, we have to change the menu accordingly.”
The geographic influence – Cuban, Caribbean and South American – combined with the German heritage is also evidenced in several menu items. The Tropical Salsa Dolphin Platter combines fresh mango, bananas, raisins, onions, peppers and just a touch of spice to keep diners wondering what’s the extra little oomph in their favorite fish dish. Fish Tacos feature a subtle Mexican Slaw with grilled fish in a soft flour tortilla shell.
On your way out the door, don’t forget to stop in the market to check out the certified angus beef with a selection of choice and prime rib eyes, tenderloins and New York strips. They also offer pork, lamb, homemade sausages and the absolute freshest seafood around. The Eigners and their staff will gladly cook, smoke or ship your own catch of fish, too!
Did we mention they also carry a variety of sauces, rubs, seasonings and cheese?
For a truly local, and truly first-rate seafood (or not!) experience, check out Fish Tales Market and Eatery at 11711 Overseas Hwy., at the foot of the Vaca Cut Bridge next to the Marathon Lady Party Boat, Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 6:30 pm. Check out their menu and market selection at www.floridalobster.com and call ahead for a table or take out at (305) 743-9196 or (888) 662-4822.
Owners George, Johnny and Jackie Eigner are always available at their restaurant and market to answer questions, help out with a recipe or share a “Fish Tale”.
Kyle & Jamie Claudill
Orlando transplants Kyle and Jamie Claudill discovered Fish Tales shortly after they moved to Marathon and is among the long list of “regulars”.
(L-R) Gary Washington, Jim Darlymple and Rich Dorn are among the carry-overs from the days of the Grassy Key Dairy Bar. Jackie said the trio comes in for lunch each and every single day.