After nearly 40 years operating their popular Seafood World, it was Hugh and Joy Ganter's son, Troy, who first suggested they needed a bar. It helped that the spot next door had just been vacated by a Thai/sushi joint.
Troy's idea grew into what's best described as a combination of a Key West-style tavern and a hip gastropub. The 10-month-old Papa's Raw Bar is tiny (and loud), but there's room for overflow in the adjoining catering facility they call the Bimini Room. The patio features live music a few nights a week.
At Seafood World, which opened in 1976, customers can buy fresh fish to cook at home, or sit in the wood-paneled, 67-seat dining room and order such traditional fare as surf and turf and snapper Francaise.
Papa's skews younger. It's a shorts-and-jeans kind of place, with something from the sea for everyone. It all starts with some of the freshest seafood in South Florida. The Ganters have fishing boats in the Bahamas, guaranteeing a steady supply of fresh conch, among other delicacies.
From the big sushi menu, a holdover from the previous tenant, we ordered a Yogi roll ($25), shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber topped with honey sea bass, eel sauce and spicy mayonnaise. It's not the neatest roll we've been served, but the contents were incredibly fresh without too much reliance on rice. A simple himachi hand roll ($7) took the freshness to an even higher level.
From the cooked-on-the-shell section of the menu are some of the best green-curried mussels ($10) around, their key ingredient another throwback to the previous tenant. Char-grilled oysters ($14) took me back to New Orleans. Drizzle a bit of Papa's hot sauce on those oysters. The restaurant's four sauces get progressively hotter, starting with Gringo jalapeño sauce on up to Tank Commander X 5 hot sauce, which is made with scorpion peppers. Take-home bottles cost from $5 to $7.
Soft-shell crabs ($10 each) are perfectly fried, crispy and virtually greaseless. Papa's also fries lobster bites ($25), in which generous cubes of lobsters are panko- or beer-battered. They're good, but lobster tacos ($7 each) are the better deal. They're stuffed into tortillas with shredded cabbage, chipotle mayo and peach salsa. The tacos cost just $5 each when you order them with blackened mahi. They're also available with shrimp or conch.
Verona's shrimp burger over arugula salad ($17) was among the most flavorful dishes we ordered. It could have been a bland mistake, but hand-chopped shrimp is mixed with garlic-panko breadcrumbs, kimchi sauce and scallions before being turned into an incredible burger. It makes for a fine meal.
Colossal stone-crab claws (market price) were off-putting, served warm instead of ice cold. But conch in all forms is excellent here, whether it be simply cracked ($14) or in fritters ($7).
Papa's serves a great slice of Key lime pie ($7) that's closer to cheesecake than Key lime. It doesn't have the distinctive sour taste of the traditional pie, but somehow works. Less successful is the banana cheesecake chonga ($10). Cheesecake is wrapped in an egg roll wrapper before being deep-fried and served with not-so-great ice cream, fake whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Stick with the Key lime.
Between Papa's, Seafood World and the Ganters' online operation, BestStoneCrabs.com Troy Ganter says they sell 3,000 pounds of seafood every week. And I have to think they sell plenty of beer. There are 110 different varieties with a dozen on draft, many of them locally produced craft brews. During happy hour — 4-7 p.m. and 9 p.m.-close — draft beer is $2 off and bottles and cans are discounted $1.
On weekends, it's not unusual for the restaurant to close at 1 a.m., or as the menu reads: "We close when the conch shell blows."
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.
Papa's Raw Bar
4610 N. Federal Highway, Main Street Plaza, Lighthouse Point
Hours: 4 p.m.-close weekdays, noon-close Saturday-Sunday
Reservations: Only for parties of six or more
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Very loud when full
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot and valet