My last visit to Julie's Waterfront didn't exactly blow me out of Lake Jennie Jewel, but ever since a dedicated group of new owners took over the restaurant and stripped Julie off the marquee, things have improved dramatically. Executive chef Matt Wall left North Quarter Tavern and made the trek down Orange Avenue to help out with menu development, and help out he did. Fret not, "The Waterfront," as it's now called, is still rooted in all its fish-camp glory, but, unlike in the Julie's era, there's now a subtle refinement to the dishes being served here.
Like seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna ($14) stacked atop lively seaweed salad, cukes and ponzu, for example. Or "Korean" Duroc pork belly ($9) draped with pickled onions and served over house kimchi with a sticky soy glaze. There's on-trend tuna poké ($15) too. No, this is certainly not your father's fish camp, though I'd be lying if I said it weren't a bit odd to sit in this unassuming and moderately divey space eating creatively plated, Asian-influenced dishes – good ones. But when it came to choosing our mains, we knew they had to be as classic as the rock playing overhead.
Up for consideration: the French dip ($13). Or perhaps a spicy fried chicken sandwich ($10). Three appealing burgers also beckoned. "I'd go with the Waterfront Burger," suggested our swift and solicitous server, "and the fish and chips are great." Done! What can I say? The dude was persuasive, plus he appeared to have a good handle on the menu.
In the meantime, we sipped our cold brews and stared out onto the lake, noting the Adirondack chairs lining the narrow strip of beachfront – spectator seating for the various watersport activities taking place on the lake, we assumed. On Saturdays, adults grab their floats and head into the water to enjoy $3 beers and $5 slushie drinks in the comfort of their own swim trunks. Florida enough for ya?
We considered the blackened catfish, but heartily indulged in a gorgeous piece of crackling beer-battered haddock ($14). The addicting caper tartar sauce necessitated a re-up, and the fries – browned and a wee bit crisp – also pleased.
That Waterfront Burger ($13), by the way, was an absolute knockout, with house-ground chuck cooked to a perfect medium, Swiss and blue cheeses, caramelized onion, bacon and arugula. A side of broccoli ($4) sautéed with Calabrian chilies and lemon also proved worthy.
The final round comprised a first-rate chocolate peanut butter pie ($5) with fresh whipped cream that had us on the proverbial ropes, followed by oh-so-sweet churros ($5) with vanilla ice cream drizzled with a caramel apple compote that rightly finished us off.
Talk at the conclusion of our meal centered on the downside of gluttony and choosing dates for a future visit to this gem on Lake Jennie Jewel. For us, and for a new generation of restaurantgoers, there's a new contender, and it's right on the waterfront.