Hogfish Grill: Wayne's Work in Progress

Hogfish Bar & Grill brings Florida seafood and a Key West vibe to the Main Line, but leaves us wanting more.

Hogfish Bar & Grill

Location: 372 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne.
Contact: (610) 688-9300, hogfishwayne.com.
Cuisine: Florida seafood with some meat options; vegetarian dishes by request.
Cost: Appetizers $6-$13, entrées $10-$29.
Attire: Casual.
Atmosphere: An aesthetic homage to Key West. Ample weekend crowds keep the dining room more energized.
Hours: Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m., Saturday-Sunday from 4 p.m. Doors close when the last customer leaves.
Extras: Happy hour Monday-Friday 5-7 p.m.

Grilled hogfish with tropical salsa, vegetable du jour, Key West tropical rice and passion-fruit vinaigrette. See more photos below. (Photo by Steve Legato)If you married the neighborhood conviviality of a small town with the beachy easiness of a tropical island, Hogfish Bar & Grill would be the end result—or so hope longtime friends and co-owners Mike Scartozzi and Ed O’Neill. “We wanted to find a blend of South Florida and Wayne,” says Scartozzi.

A Key West theme is undoubtedly the idea here. A Florida sunset mural covers an entire wall; a Captain Morgan-guzzling parrot statuette is perched behind the wraparound bar, and myriad fish photos line Hogfish’s perimeter. Truth be told, though, the vibe is more touristy Florida than anything else.

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Both owners are Jupiter, Fla., regulars, so they know that coastal area and its food well. O’Neill introduced Scartozzi to the native hogfish, later convincing him to create a restaurant around it in the old Osaka space on Lancaster Avenue. “The idea intrigued me,” says Scartozzi, remarking on the overabundance of Italian and Asian eateries in the area.

Once the owner of Paoli’s Willistown Grill and former president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, Scartozzi has worked in the industry for 25 years. O’Neill has made his living in the auto body business. “Ed wanted a restaurant, but he didn’t know how to get there,” says Scartozzi of his friend, who owned the restaurant space. “I was the vehicle.”

The duo envisioned a restaurant with a warm, relaxing, modern feel—and a menu that follows suit. As it is now, there’s nothing particularly relaxing about paying close to $100 for dinner for two in a casual eatery, especially when the food has yet to reach a level that warrants such steep prices.

When done right, crab cakes require only a few simple ingredients to complement the delicate meat. Our appetizer version arrived laden with creamy filler. A heaping plate of fried calamari curls was batter-heavy and bland, the squid rubbery. Seems we should’ve opted for the tacos made with the signature hogfish.

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Entrées are generally $22-$24 for a modest piece of fish and rather uninspired sides like white rice and a zucchini-and-carrot medley. At Hogfish, almost 400 pounds of fish are flown in from Florida three times a week. That explains a menu that’s largely seafood, with some meat options and a vegetarian-by-request policy.

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Not surprisingly, the hogfish is the best bet. Light and flaky with an almost sweet flavor, it outshines anything that comes near it—save for the tangy passion-fruit vinaigrette underneath. As for the Floridian yellowtail snapper, its best qualities were lost beneath a too-creamy mass that tasted like the same shellfish mixture used for the crab cakes.

Among the desserts made in-house, the coconut crème brûlée was a little too heavy on the cream of coconut. A better option was the key lime pie.

On the plus side, the menu reflects the healthier inclinations of many Main Liners. Benefits come from the simply prepared fish, light sides, mostly fruit-based vinaigrettes, and sauces made without butter. Scartozzi and chef Bob Donovan collaborated on the menu, revising it several times. And when the hogfish is the star, Donovan succeeds. The place could use a few more of these moments.

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THE SKINNY: Key West Wayne is not—though Hogfish’s owners have done a serviceable job capturing one version of what a South Florida restaurant might look like if it relocated to the Main Line. Unfortunately, fantasy and reality don’t always mix, leaving us with overpriced dishes that failed to knock our socks (or sandals) off.

Still, there are moments of inspiration when it comes to the signature hogfish. And the large bar is a comfortable place to grab a drink. As for the convivial coastal atmosphere to which this place aspires, weekends are the time to soak it up. Otherwise, it’s as much a work in progress as the food.

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