Spike Africa's Fresh Fish Grill & Bar | Recently Raising Its Sails For A Long and Prosperous Voyage

February 10, 2013

Almost two decades ago, Forest Gump stole our hearts.  A year later, Paramount Pictures approached the team from the touristy Rusty Pelican’s with the idea of opening a chain of family-style shrimp restaurants; and soon after, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants began popping up everywhere.  In 2010, partners Rob and Gordon sold their interest in the Bubba Gump restaurants in a failed effort to retire.  Just a couple years later, their creative minds were itching to do something new, and since was born downtown’s newest fish eatery - Spike Africa's Fresh Fish Grill & Bar.

The man, the myth, the legend - Spike Africa
Spike Africa - the man - was the self-proclaimed “President of the Pacific Ocean,” and sailed the waters from Alaska to Tahiti for most of the 20th century, freighting lumber, working glamorous passenger ships, fighting for the U.S. Navy, and working as first-mate aboard Sterling Hayden’s famed schooner, “Wanderer.”  An expert rigger, schooner captain, international boat racer, writer, actor, inventor, and surprisingly a master of macramé, everyone from roughneck sail boaters to members of high society found Spike to be a true “Renaissance Man.”

Fueled by the same wanderlust that guided Spike’s inspiring adventures, Spike Africa’s co-founders Rob and Gordon ensure that the legend lives on through their food and the dining experience they provide.  Warm country farm house meets rustic ship boat -  the very same dichotomy between rugged, casual, and classy exuded by Spike-the-man is reflected in the decor of the eatery.  Reclaimed wood lines the booths and walls, a Captain’s Room is set apart from the main dining room for large parties, an exhibit ‘galley’ kitchen is on full display, long plank tables are peppered about perfect for after-work happy hour groups, and grayish blue hues warm up this cozy and casual, yet stylish, space, illustrating the fact that the art is in the details.

While there are more than enough choices for land-lovers, Spike Africa's menu is certainly focused on seafood - from oysters from the cold bar, to invigorating appetizers like ahi mango poke and fresh ceviche, to quintessential dishes like the soft shell crab sandwich, fish and chips and lobster roll, to fresh fish dinners, proudly sourced from Santa Monica Seafood.  To get into the groove, from the long list of hand crafted cocktails, I sipped on Gordon’s Cup ($8): an amazingly refreshing mix of gin, fresh lime, crushed cucumber, honey, syrup, and...wait for it, salt and pepper.  It may sound odd, but do not be afraid to crunch into the random chunks of peppercorns for a peppery burst of flavor that will blow your mind.

Starting our voyage, we cheers’d two adorable and delicious Kumamoto oysters ($2.50 each) served on ice with lemon and a spicy horseradish cocktail sauce.  We then ordered the ceviche ($10) with mahi as well as the beer steamed peel and eat shrimp ($8).   The ceviche was fresh and clean, just drizzled with lime and sprinkled with pico de gallo - untainted almost to the point of being bland - but when paired with the generous heaping of thick and creamy guacamole, it all made sense.  The peel and eat shrimp were literally finger-licking good: served up in a baby cast-iron skillet, the half-pound of shrimp makes for a fun first-date or happy hour activity, the salty old bay building in flavor with each bite pairs perfectly with an ice-y IPA.  Our only wish, if any, was that greater leniency with spice was taken.  While we understand the reluctance to spice-up a dish (all of those spice wimps out there ruining it for the rest of us), we crave it, and would have loved a bit more kick in those suckers.

With the diverse menu, we were hard-pressed to choose our entrees.  Being from the northeast, my heart belongs to Maine lobsters…well since moving to the west coast, a spiny lobster will do, but I really love Maine (the claws happen to be my favorite part!).  So I really had no choice but to order the stuffed Maine lobster ($22): the lobster is de-shelled, chopped, tossed with cream and mushrooms, topped with panko bread crumbs, and re-stuffed back into a half shell, atop a bed of roasted peppers, spinach and fingerling potatoes.  At first bite, I was yearning for more.  I really wanted to fall in love with my crustaceous dinner, but, as with the appetizers, something was slightly awry, whether it be salt or spice.  Then, I discovered the brown butter on my plate, and though I realize that this guilty pleasure would elevate any dish, the nutty sweetness really did work to meld the flavors of the lobster with its underlying accompaniments, culminating in perfectly sweet and savory bites.

And though we usually shy away from salmon (I know, I know, get with the program!), based upon the fervent recommendations of both the manager and server, my partner opted for the mustard glazed salmon ($23): a huge cut of bright pink salmon, sat atop a piling of roasted peppers, green beans, garlic and fingerling potatoes.  His only complaint was that the mustard glaze wasn’t falling from the sky in buckets.  The elements of the dish came together in a creamy, mustardy, brown buttery sauce as the vegetables stewed together…and a salmon-love was born.  He cleaned the plate.

If you know us at all, you know where we stand on desserts; but even after indulging in all of that deliciousness, we found ourselves invigorated as opposed to weighed down by heavy doses of carbs and meats, and so we succumbed to ordering the already-famed butterscotch pudding, homemade with dark rum, and topped with sea salted caramel ($5) and have zero regrets.  After all, as the menu states, “You only live once!”  The rich, yet light and smooth pudding, accented by the sweet and salty caramel was the perfect ending to any meal, and though the serving is fairly unassuming by American dessert standards, just a couple of spoonfuls will send you to heaven and back.

The pride Spike Africa’s takes with every detail is evident in every bite, and simply knowing that what these guys touch turns to gold makes me excited to return and to experience what they have in store for us next!  With a great happy hour and value oriented pricing, Spike Africa's is certain to become a downtown destination worth exploring over and over again.  Ahoy!

Spike Africa's is located at 411 Broadway on the corner of 4th and Broadway in downtown San Diego.  For more information, call (619) 795-3800 or visit Spike Africa's online at www.spikeafricas.com.  The restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. – close with happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday offering weary workers and early diners specials on cocktails and bites like $3 tangerine margaritas and $1 fresh-shucked oysters. The happy hour menu also includes $5 craft beer and wine selections and an extensive list of appetizers for half off the regular price.

411 Broadway, Downtown
(619) 795-3800

Spike Africa's Fresh Fish Grill and Bar on Urbanspoon