Finz Bar & Grill
440 Coleman Blvd.
Entrée Prices: Moderate ($7 - $15)
Serving: Lunch & Dinner (Mon. – Sun.)
Over in Mt. Pleasant, the little butterscotch-colored building with red-and-black trim is eye-catching. It's an old gas station that was long ago converted to a restaurant space and most recently housed the short-lived Ray's BBQ. Now, Finz has set up shop, bringing brews and seafood to Coleman Boulevard.
Finz calls itself a bar and grill, and that's an apt categorization. The small room is dominated by a big square bar with high stools, and a half dozen booths and tables line the walls.
There's a Golden Tee golf game in one corner. The aquarium on one wall and big mounted fish hanging from the others bring a definite nautical theme to the place.
Outside the big bay door (a leftover from the building's gas station days) is a small deck covered by a retractable green-and-white striped awning with three tables overlooking the traffic on Coleman Boulevard. Palmetto trees surround the deck, Jimmy Buffett's on the stereo, and Lagerhead beer paraphernalia is scattered about. If you squint your eyes and imagine the rushing sounds of traffic on Coleman are actually crashing waves, you might convince yourself you're hanging out in a cool oceanfront bar.
Finz has all the trappings of a classic bar and grill, but it takes its food up a level. The menu has a small slate of salads, burgers, and sandwiches, but, as the restaurant's name implies, the real focus is on seafood. The grilled or fried seafood combo baskets offer a choice of shrimp, scallops, mahi, and/or oysters (ranging from $7.99 for a single up to $14.99 for a quadruple combo). You can get tuna or mahi mahi fish tacos, too ($7.99 for two, $10.99 for three). These come wrapped in grilled flour tortillas and topped with a jicama mango slaw that's studded with toasted white and black sesame seeds.
Of the two, the mahi variety are better. While the chunks of seared tuna taste fine on their own, they are too mild to stand up against the sweet, tangy slaw. The mahi is firmer and more flavorful, and, unlike the tuna, it's coated in a brown glaze that adds a little extra kick to the mix.
The heart of the menu, though, is the tapas section, which offers 16 different selections that run the gamut from ordinary bar food — like hot wings in a variety of flavors (8 for $5.99) and a basket of homemade chips with blue cheese crumbles ($3.99) — to items that are more novel and unexpected.
Some of the combinations work better than others, and with the higher-end items topping out in the $8 to $10 range, you should choose carefully. The buffalo shrimp ($8.99) are deep fried then coated with an orange hot sauce with crumbles of blue cheese sprinkled over the top. It sounds good on paper, but the spicy sauce overwhelms the shrimp and makes the batter mushy, convincing me, at least, that this is a preparation best reserved for the humble chicken wing.
The pepper-seared sea scallops ($8.99) are the diameter of 50-cent pieces. Their texture is firm and pleasing, and, while they are a bit salty, they do go well with the accompanying citrus chutney. The pork medallions ($6.99) are really more like pork strips — rectangular rather than round — but they're tasty. They're served with a chutney, too: a savory mango variety that blends nicely with the spicy blackening spice that dusts the pork.
Of the more unusual choices are the smoked salmon potato cakes ($8.99), which are pan-fried and served with a lemon caper cream sauce. I was a bit skeptical at first about the sauce, since there's a lot of it and it's easy to gum things up with too much floury white sauce. But it grew on me. The salmon and potato are blended into a soft cake with a subtle smoky flavor, and while the patty is so soft it's almost mushy, the texture and flavor combinations still manage to work. Within no time my plate was scraped clean.
The best tapas selection, though, is the mahi mahi slider plate ($6.99, and also available with beef or chicken). The small buns are soft and squishy. The mahi is seared to a great crispy, brown crust with just the right hint of char. They're topped with melted swiss cheese and, most important of all, a couple of dill pickle chips that add just the right little crunch and sour tang. In my mind, these are perfect little bar snacks — compact, easy to eat with your fingers, and not something you find just anywhere.
As I was finishing my last tapas plate at the big bar, I couldn't help thinking that Finz Bar & Grill is a symbol of how far dining in America has come in recent years. Finz isn't trying to be an upscale joint, and its cooking in no way rivals that of a serious fine-dining restaurant. It's just a regular neighborhood bar with $2 happy hour beer specials that happens to serve smoked salmon potato cakes, sun-dried tomato and mascarpone ravioli, and jicama mango slaw on fish tacos. We've come a long way from deep-fried previously-frozen cheese sticks and canned marinara sauce.
All told, Finz is a fine place to wash up in for a few happy hour drinks and some better-than-average bar fare. Perhaps best of all, the air conditioning has plenty of horsepower, and even on the hottest August afternoon it's icy cold inside. Although the outside patio may not quite overlook Shem Creek, you're close enough to see the bridge. And that's definitely a good start.