If there’s one thing we can’t get enough of, it’s calamari. It’s the perfectly shareable, utterly delectable appetizer (or if you’re feeling a little crazy, your full entree) that St. Augustine does really well. Not all calamari is created equal, though, and no two preparations are exactly the same. Chefs all over the city use the fried calamari as a base for wonderful garnishes and additions that add spice, flair, and all sorts of culinary interest to the plate. So we rounded up two delicious calamari dishes to try and compare. And both were just this side of heavenly.
BANANA PEPPER CALAMARI
The Conch House
When we decided to feature calamari in this column, it didn’t take much research to figure out that The Conch House is a local favorite for the dish. Just browse Instagram a little and you’ll find it everywhere. #NoFilter. And one bite told us why there’s so much local love given. The uber-fresh, hand-cut calamari hardly needs anything on it, but since The Conch House chefs are generous, they coat and fry it in a spicy seasoned flour – a little onion, garlic, and blackening spice knock it up a notch. Alongside the calamari is a bowl of sautéed banana peppers and roasted red peppers in a key lime butter wine sauce. Take note: the peppers could be a meal of their own. The calamari is simple but perfectly seasoned and perfectly breaded for a classic take on a classic appetizer.
The cult following of the dish is no surprise to us and we’re pretty sure we count ourselves new loyal fans. You may just find it on our Instagram.
Cap’s on the Water
We’re a town that knows its seafood and there are a few marine staples that you can find on nearly any menu in the city. Calamari is one of them. Few things can beat just a simple calamari dish, but all calamari dishes are not created equal. Sometimes chefs take it above and beyond. One such chef is Chip Richard of Cap’s on the Water. Chef Chip’s Calamari Vilano is first breaded in rice flour and deep-fried. After the frier, the calamari is drizzled with the restaurant’s signature Vilano sauce (a slightly sweet, definitely delicious Thai chili concoction) and a spicy chili garlic sauce that gives it some heat. After the sauces, the calamari is topped with black olives and placed on a bed of spinach that has itself been introduced to the deep fryer. After a sprinkling of Asiago, you won’t want to share.
The Calamari Vilano may not be what you’d expect when ordering the dish, but it will be a welcome jaunt off the beaten culinary path.
The Conch House is located at 57 Comares Avenue. Cap’s on the Water is located at 4325 Myrtle Street. Photography by Brian Miller.