There are time-honored restaurant institutions in this city that haven't changed much since the day they opened (see last week's review of Nikki's Place), and then there are those that roll with the times and aren't afraid of jumping on trends or tinkering with the formula in an effort to stay relevant. Places like Lombardi's Seafood. The fishmonger has been serving Winter Park and surrounding areas for the last six decades, but since 2015, it has been reinventing itself in various ways – moving to a new location on Fairbanks Avenue; launching a seafood café in a corner space of the market; and, most recently, bringing on a couple of name chefs to boost food operations.
Mike Lombardi, third-generation owner of Lombardi's Seafood, has piloted most of the initiatives, but his decision to bring Austin Boyd, who once served as executive chef for Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, Osprey Tavern and Reyes Mezcaleria, and Yoshio Pintar, chef at the once-famed Sushiman restaurant in Dr. Phillips, is what the local foodie contingent is buzzing about. Offering sushi from the selection of fresh fish at Lombardi's disposal seems like a total no-brainer.
"We've been wanting to do sushi for a while since it is such a good fit," says Lombardi, "and Austin has sushi experience, leadership experience and is a talented chef." Boyd was brought on to oversee the café, but to help out with retail operations as well. "We're looking to offer salads, ceviches, boil kits, heat-and-eat items, meats and cheeses, as well as some new café experiences with happy hour specials and an expanded raw bar oyster selection."
Hey, works for me.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
- Lombardi's Cafe
Pintar, or "Chef Yoshi," as he's known, came to Lombardi as a result of the COVID layoffs. "I've respected his sushi skills for a long time," Lombardi gushes. "He came to me when I wasn't necessarily looking for another sushi expert, but I couldn't possibly turn away the opportunity to work with him."
Clearly Lombardi made the right call. Pintar's poke bowls ($12) are masterworks of artfully arranged cucumber and avocado slivers and wispy strands of carrot surrounding cubes of sesame-flecked hamachi (or tuna or salmon, should you prefer). An origami carrot crane gave the assemblage the "Sushiman" touch. One was also perched atop a ball of wasabi served alongside an order of hamachi sashimi ($4) and spicy tuna rolls ($10) head-dressed with scallions. That the attractive composition was served on an aluminum tray lined with checkerboard sandwich paper made it all the more alluring.
From Boyd's expanded café menu, two sandwiches stood out for me – the Caribbean mahi ($15) served with a roasted corn salsa and citrus barbecue sauce, and the Nashville hot catfish ($10), the latter being, without a doubt, one of the best new sammies in the city. The wet rub's afterburn isn't anything to get alarmed about – certainly nothing a side of cole slaw or sweet corn fritters can't douse. And if it's a Tuesday, the $2 fish tacos with a mix of blackened mahi and grouper, citrus slaw, red onions, carrots and cilantro are an absolute must. Of course, mainstay faves like the grouper and snapper baskets (both fish are caught from Lombardi's own boat in St. Pete), clam strips, peel-and-eat shrimp and seasonal stone crab are still offered, as is their house-made Key lime pie ($4), which I find irresistibly difficult to pass up.
Oh, pecan pie and peach cobbler are on the menu too, but I fall for that Key lime pie every time – hook, line and sinker.