Lexington has a new welcome addition to downtown dining. Grillfish, located in the former Atomic Cafe location at North Limestone Avenue and Third Street, is an upscale casual restaurant focused on providing the finest grilled seafood in an intimate setting.
Owned by a group of partners that includes Ken and Barbara Pittman, Robby and Jamie Carter and Wayne and Susan Masterman of Portofino, the restaurant is modeled after the Pittman’s Miami Beach restaurant of the same name. The original Grillfish opened in 1993. Atomic Café closed September of 2015 after 23 years.
Carter, a Birmingham native who has lived in Lexington for two decades, explained that they had been traveling to Miami Beach for years to visit Barbara and her late husband Ken (his cousins).
“I had been wanting to open a Grillfish in Lexington for the last ten years, and when (the former Atomic Cafe spot) opened up, I knew the timing was right”
Carter, who initially moved to Lexington to take a job with Wayne and Susan Masterman, has worked in the restaurant industry his whole life, getting his start as a dishwasher in Birmingham and working his way up to management. Aside from his role as the managing member of Grillfish, he is also a consultant for the Mastermans at Portofino and Serafini.
The space has been given a complete renovation, which Carter mentioned was done entirely in-house with the help of a few contractors. Handsome tufted leather banquette seating has been installed along the right side wall, and an attractive wood bar lines the entire left side of the restaurant. The walls are painted a burnt orange using a flocking technique to add texture, and sleek black tables and chairs are dotted throughout the single, open room. The large windows offer great views of Limestone and Third Street and allow for plenty of natural light. A set of striking antique stained glass and iron chandeliers bring the whole design scheme together. One of the biggest changes to the interior is the addition of an open kitchen, so customers can watch and smell the fish cooking and see the flames of the charbroil grill. “That’s all part of the Grillfish experience,” said Carter.
He also mentioned that the covered patio area will be ready for use in time for warmer weather. The space, which features another bar and plenty of additional tables, is currently undergoing a renovation, but the plan is to have it open by Spring. In the Atomic Cafe days, another patio in the back was previously used as a nightclub, but that space will be renovated at a later date. A schedule of live music is in the works as well.
Carter says that Grillfish offers some of the “freshest fish in town”, with seafood delivered six days a week. The fish comes from a variety of places and they check their suppliers daily to procure the very best selections. The kitchen team includes David Dunaway and Nat Tate, formerly of Portofino. Kristen Richardson, also from Portofino, will manage the restaurant. All of Grillfish’s recipes were developed by Barbara Pittman. “She’s the genius behind that,” said Carter.
The menu features a large variety of seafood including shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, and whole Maine lobster. Fish selections include tuna, swordfish, red snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper, salmon, tilapia, halibut, and whole branzino (European seabass). Meats include New Zealand rack of lamb, Angus ribeye, filet mignon, and New York strip. Carter said that currently, their most popular entrees include the red snapper and the grouper, and the ginger calamari is an often ordered appetizer. The decadent dessert menu features a brownie sundae with caramel pecan sauce, bananas with caramel cream, mango key lime pie, cheesecake brûlée with butterscotch-caramel crust, and molten chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. Like the entrees, all desserts are made fresh in-house.
The extensive drink menu has some definite Miami Beach influences and includes tropical rum martinis and mojitos that are muddled with fresh fruit purees and fresh mint, that can evoke the sun, sand, and relaxation. Martini selections include the Sunkissed (premium orange vodka, orange Curaco, and orange and cranberry juice with a sugared rim), the Grillfish Cosmopolitan (premium vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice, finished with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime) and the Frescatini (vodka, with fresh cucumber and mint).
In addition, several dessert cocktails are also available, like the chocolate martini, which is made from vodka, dark chocolate liqueur, light and dark crème de cacao, and Irish cream liqueur in a fudge-swirled glass, and the key lime pie martini –vodka, key lime liqueur, and fresh cream with a graham cracker rim.
The price range for entrees is competitive with other local restaurants. Prices range from about $10-12 each for most appetizers, $25-50 each for most entrees, and $7 each for a la carte sides.
A happy hour program is currently in the works. At the time of this writing, Carter mentioned that an appetizer menu with special pricing is being developed, but in the meantime, bottles of wine are half price on Mondays, and half priced drinks from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. Grillfish opens at 4pm Friday and Saturday.
One of the most unique things about the ambiance at Grillfish is that it can suit a variety of moods and occasions. Some might see the candles and white tablecloths and consider it upscale. But really, it’s more of a mid-tier, casual-but-refined type of place — nice enough for a romantic dinner date, but relaxed enough for a fun meal out with friends or family.
Q&A with Grillfish Managing Member Robby Carter
Tell us about your family.
I have a wife and two daughters, and both of them work part time here at the restaurant. One is a fulltime dietitian and the other is going to be a school teacher.
Last thing you cooked for yourself at home?
I roasted a beef tenderloin for my Super bowl party.
Favorite food from your childhood?
A Scramble Dog (hot dog split in half on a bun with chili, sauerkraut, chopped onions, crumbled saltine crackers, extra sharp cheddar cheese, sweet relish, ketchup & mustard).
How would you describe working in your restaurant?
Hard but fun.
What’s your favorite weekend road trip?
Going back to Birmingham to see good friends and enjoy some great BBQ.
Any tips for at-home fish grillers?
Keep a close eye on it, baste it often, and do not overcook it.
What person do you admire?
My father, the late Rev William H. Carter & my cousin, the late Ken Pittman. Without them, I would not be the person I am today. They each influenced my life in different ways and will always be remembered.
Something in your fridge or freezer that would surprise people?
Frozen cookie dough, nothing too crazy.
If someone wanted to own a restaurant, what 3 things would you tell them?
1. What are you thinking?
2. Are you crazy?
Quote you live by?
“A lack of planning on your part does not make it an emergency on my part.”
Favorite fish & way to prepare it?
Red Snapper grilled over an open wood fire.
265 North Limestone
Monday - Thursday: 5 - 10pm
Friday & Saturday: 5 - 11pm
Sunday: 5 - 9pm