Fish Bun ($8.95)
O'Leary's Tiki Bar and Grill
5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota
As the only waterfront tiki bar in the City of Sarasota, you would think the place would have the decency to serve a capable fish sandwich. Customers, especially the many visitors who largely fuel our economy, deserve something fresh and delicious, plucked straight from the Gulf. Instead, O'Leary's patrons get to enjoy the gorgeous vistas of Sarasota Bay while dining on a cheap species of catfish native to the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam.
The “Galley Sandwiches” section of O'Leary's only offers a single seafood selection. It simply reads: “Fish Bun (fish filet grilled, fried or blackened).” I asked the woman behind the counter – she appeared to be a manager by the way she directed the other workers – which, exactly, kind of fish she she puts on the bun.
The woman stink-eyed me and muttered about it being a fresh, tasty white fish called “basa.” Well, let me tell you about “basa.” It’s a prettier name for Pangasius bocourti, a fish the Vietnamese would sell in the U.S. as catfish until Congress passed a law in 2003 preventing the imported fish from being labeled as such. In the U.K., they call it "Vietnamese river cobbler" or just "river cobbler."
The big, blackened basa filet I had at O'Leary's was mushy and teemed with a nauseating sweetness slightly masked by the hardly potent enough pepper and other seasonings of the pedestrian blackening blend. If you don't want to use fresh fish from the Gulf -- because of price or convenience -- there are much better choices. Cod works, or even cheap old tilapia.
Hungry, I slathered on the store-bought tartar sauce and tried a second bite. No more. Even the curly fires were pretty crummy and, really, how do you screw up curly fries?