Off The Hook Surf Turf Smokery Review

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Hook partially set

We’re not the kind of people to get too hyped up about new restaurants opening. We’ve seen so many over the years open, get massive hype, and then close only a year or two after, once the “ohhh shiny!” crowd has moved on. What’s interesting to us is visiting after the dust has settled and the hype cloud dispersed so we can see what the place is like under a normal customer load. We want to find out if it has what it takes to survive or even thrive for the long term in Nanaimo.

So, we’ve been watching Off the Hook from a distance since they opened up a little over a year ago. Finally the time came on a warm spring night for us to visit for dinner.

Here it is. The patio isn’t spectacular-looking from the outside, but quite cool from inside.

The restaurant occupies the bones of the old Windward Pub (RIP) on Boundary Crescent. The Windward was our old watering hole in our college days so we were happy to see that while the restaurant has had some contemporary updates, the décor still has that vaguely nautical sense about it. They still even have the old marine map above the bar, yellowed by years of cigarette smoke (from when that was a thing). For us, it was instant coziness.

Unlike the in the Windward days though, we had to wait to be seated. The gorgeous (and shady!) patio was full so we were happy to be seated inside. The problem was it took a long while (four or five minutes) before we were even acknowledged, despite servers zipping back and forth by us to deliver meals. When someone did finally stop, they essentially told us to sit anywhere we liked anyway. What was the point of that?

Nice big beers. A must for this kind of food.

Anyway, the menu at Off the Hook was a pleasant surprise. They are both a fish and chip joint and a smokehouse. The menu items you’d expect are there, but they’ve added just enough inspiration with the dishes to be interesting to foodies but without scaring off grampy and grammy. You can have a traditional BBQ half-chicken, but instead of BBQ sauce, it’s gochujang. You can get a salmon burger, but its going to have pickled jalapenos on it. The fish and chips are tempura style rather than a beer or bread batter. There’s nothing outright weird on the menu, but instead a selection of many standards each with just a tiny twist.

We really liked what we saw on offer and it was fun to agonize over what to order. We ultimately decided to share the cauliflower bites to start, followed by the smoked brisket dinner for him and the wild salmon bowl for her. Oh and a couple of frosty brews of course – we were eating fried food tonight after all! We love Hoyne and were happy to see a couple of their taps available.

Deep frying is a great way to eat healthy.

The crispy cauliflower arrived in a (plastic?) skillet on a bed of quick-fried kale and topped with crispy tortillas and chipotle aioli. While it didn’t look all that special, just a few bites in we knew we had a winner. The cauliflower was breaded nicely and had a perfect balance of crispy outside and soft veg on the inside. The aioli was not overapplied so there was just enough to add creaminess to each bite without it feeling like a mouth full of mayonnaise. The kale was fun to eat, if a touch oily, and the tortillas added plenty of texture. We really like this simple dish and would order it again.

The brisket came on a mound of french fries, along with some cajun-spiced corn, coleslaw, and gravy. (Picture above.) This was a proper smokehouse dinner and we were here for it. The meat was well cooked and the smoke flavour was just right, although the meat was not trimmed close enough for our taste. We like something like 1/4 inch of fat, but this was closer to 3/4, so the slices were almost 50/50 meat and fat. This lead to great flavour, but a sort of mushy texture to the meat. The fries were excellent and would make for great fish and chips fries or poutine (although we didn’t see the latter on the menu). We would have like more corn, only because it was quite delicious. There were only a couple of forkfuls served.

The wild salmon bowl was an interesting mish mash of salmon, pineapple curry, pickled bean sprouts, roasted brussels sprouts, tortilla crisps, and more of that fried kale. Each of those things were quite tasty on their own, but we found the combination to be a bit jarring. The curry was super mild and sweet and had little heat, which would normally be fine. It paired well with the salmon but was not a great combo with the naturally bitter brussels sprouts or the pickle-y bean sprouts. A more savoury and less sweet curry might have worked better. We don’t know, we’re not chefs. All we know is that each of these foods were good, but just weren’t awesome in a bowl together.

So a metal drummer, a jazz pianist, a classical guitarist, and a rapper start a band…

Both of the meals were so filling that we skipped any desert, despite some interesting dessert specials being available.

Our meal, including taxes and a modest tip came to $110. We consider this fair value.

Conclusion

Off the Hook is fine. We had a few gripes here and there but overall we had a good experience. There are plenty of things on the menu that are intriguing and most diners should be totally comfortable there. The value was ok too with prices that were neither steep nor steals. The restaurant was busy but not full, and that’s a good sign for its future. For us, it was just a case of not completely vibing with it (as the kids say). When we next visit, rather than “dine”, we would probably rather just sit out on that patio and have fish and chips, perhaps with a nice cocktail. That’s likely the restaurant’s best use. We can mostly recommend Off the Hook as in imperfect but welcome addition to the Nanaimo food scene.

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