[Sidebar] July 6 - 13, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Hammerhead Grill

Seafood as good as the ocean view

by Bill Rodriguez

1230 Ocean Road, Narragansett, 789-6159
Open Sun-Thurs, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
No handicapped access (Restaurant is on second floor)

In a state that claims license plate bragging rights to the Atlantic Ocean, there are surprisingly few South County restaurants with a sea view. Sure, you can crane your neck at some restaurant windows and see gulls drifting in the distance or get a whiff of salt air on the deck, but sometimes it's nice to watch the moon on the water. The Hammerhead Grill, in Narragansett, is the latest dining room with a view, and the food looks as good as the scenery.

The place is above the Bon Vue Inn, the local beach bar institution way down Ocean Road. It's an informal, paper napkin sort of restaurant, but the decor is sleek, with sand-colored walls, and potted palms and dangling ivy above the entry. Surrounding the bar against the back wall are window tables, with the 3-D seascape at the bay end. The Point Judith Lighthouse is on the curving spit in mid-distance, and close by is a marshy salt pond, with water fowl drifting amid the cattails. On the early evening we were there, cygnets were trailing a proud pair of swans in picturesque overkill.

The menu prices are remarkably low, as though most of the choices are loss-leaders to build a faithful clientele (The Hammerhead Grill opened in March). We weren't given a wine list, but the house brand is from Italy; the pinot grigio is appealingly fruity ($4 a glass). As the grill's name makes clear, seafood is serious business here. Meat-eaters are bought off with five token items. At $18.95, a one-pound sirloin is about the most expensive choice on the menu, apart from the market-price lobster. A signature fettuccini ($10.95) contains Italian sausage, with an unusual combination of tomatoes and peas in a cream sauce. Also popping out is marinated jerk-style chicken ($12.95), its description boasting that the recipe came "straight from Jamaica."

That's a touch by chef Mike Sweeney, who last worked at restaurants in the Florida keys. On the daily menu, he offers his favorite Cajun blackened recipe for red snapper ($12.95). Learning of his keys connection helped me understand why there was marlin, of all things, in the fish chowder, as our waitress informed us. The exact piscine component of this chowder ($3.95) changes daily, and I must admit that I've never had better. There's a little tomato in the cream base and a light hand behind the herbs, all letting the fish -- of which there's a heap in every spoonful -- come through with the vegetables. Don't pass this up.

We chose another specialty for a first course, broiled oysters ($7.95), which competes on the menu with oysters Rockefeller ($8.95). Served on the half-shell, the half-dozen briny beasties were drowning in a slurry of buttery bread crumbs, with roasted garlic also pumping up the volume. They melt in your mouth.

Six seafood dishes, from sea scallops ($14.95) to striped bass ($12.95), are all prepared in white wine and butter, topped lightly with bread crumbs and broiled. Johnnie had the "Grand Banks halibut" ($14.95) done this simple way, which conflicts the least with delicate flavor of the fish, and was well pleased. The inch-plus-thick steak was juicy and flavorful. The accompanying sautéed julienned vegetables, and especially the rice pilaf, were improved nicely by the butter and wine sauce.

I was in the mood for plain ol' fish and chips, and figured that the yellowtail flounder version ($10.95), instead of the usual cod, would be a treat. It was -- three delicious filets. However, since they were batter-coated, they were greasier than I prefer; the delicate fish might profit better from a lightly floured version. (Chef Sweeney worked at George's of Galilee 15 years ago, and old techniques die hard.) The French fries were standard-issue.

The Florida keys influence extends to the desserts, so we had a formidable Key lime pie ($3.95): tasty crumb shell, extra citrusy filling, extra-thick whipped cream topping. Surprisingly, it was made at Ginger's Café bakery in next-door Wakefield and only scouted out by the chef. But hey, I'll take good food any way I can get it. And at the Hammerhead Grill, I got it.

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