The Conchy’s Seafood Feast has a little bit of everything; it consists of a quarter-pound each of peel and eat shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels and snow crab, six Florida clams, chorizo sausage, sweet corn and red potatoes. ED DRONDOSKI PHOTO
Conchy Joe’s dishes up vacation vibes with the comfort of home
BY ANGEL MCLELLAN
It was the late ’70s and Fred Ayres found himself captivated by the laid-back Bahamian lifestyle. Things like conch, rum, and hermit crab racing were just a few of the things that created a wonderful vacation vibe. Originally from Indianapolis and having relocated to Delray Beach, he thought the combination would be a perfect fit for a restaurant back in South Florida. So in 1979, he opened Conchy Joe’s in downtown West Palm Beach.
“It became the place where people would come to try new things,” said Fritz Ayres, Fred’s son and president of the company. “He brought back things like conch and rum drinks and even got a little more adventurous by being one of the first to serve things like gator tail and frog legs.”
The 1980s brought a high rate of development to the downtown area and Fred quickly realized that it was no longer a place for a seafood shack. “Everybody else wanted to have a high-rise,” Fritz said.
So after a couple of prosperous years and generous offers, Fred decided to move north and find a new location for his restaurant. In 1983, Conchy Joe’s opened once again — this time in Jensen Beach at the former site of Seymour’s Dine
and Dance, which dated back to the 1930s.
The view and ambience are two of the top reasons why Conchy’s is a local hotspot, but one thing that is pertinent to this establishment is the ever-present family aura that truly presents itself to anyone who visits. This carries across management, staff and customers, with multiple long-term employees who have become just like family.
And it was employees who ensured the restaurant made it through Hurricane Irma, according Ayers.
“Thanks to a great staff, Conchy Joe’s was well prepared for the storm, and with only minor damage the team had its doors open within a day of Irma’s departure,” he said.
Right on time to welcome back storm survivors, locals and tourists to the ambience that is all Bahamian.
“It’s a high dose of that vacation feeling and also the comfort of home that keeps our regulars coming back,” Fritz said. “We take just as good of care of the tourists that walk through the door, but overall if you’re into Florida then it’s definitely the place to be — a place of locals for locals.”
SERVES THE REAL DEAL
In addition to these, Conchy’s Bahamian-inspired dishes are another reason for its popularity, as well as being one of the few places in town that serves exclusively fresh fish. This was embedded in the concept when the restaurant was founded, but supply and demand made it increasingly difficult to serve the product consistently at an affordable price. Although frozen products have improved in quality over the years, Fritz said it just doesn’t quite compare to fresh, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked fish. This is something Conchy’s is very passionate about and is proud to be the place where patrons can come and get the real deal.
“If you’re someone like myself who really enjoys eating fish, you can tell the difference,” he explained. “It’s unfortunately not smart for a restaurant to go out of its way to tell guests when it’s serving frozen, so though our product is better than many of our competitors it’s often compared price-wise as the same. It’s challenging for a restaurant like ours to convince our guests that we’re not overcharging them with places down the street selling for less, and it’s not classy to throw the competition under the bus.”
Several dishes truly reflect the diversity and originality of the restaurant’s menu:
The Conchy’s Seafood Feast initially ran as a special, but people just ate it up — figuratively and literally. This dish has a little bit of everything; it consists of a quarter-pound each of peel and eat shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels and snow crab, six Florida clams, chorizo sausage, sweet corn and red potatoes. All tossed in original Old Bay tequila butter.
The sweet potato crusted grouper is a menu item the staff will recommend knowing customers will undoubtedly leave satisfied. Fresh grouper encrusted with shredded sweet potato, Panko breadcrumbs and topped with honey butter is served with spinach and Yukon gold mashed potatoes.
Conch fritters have been a staple of the menu since the start as they were one of the main dishes Fred often experienced
in the Bahamas. Somewhat common today, Conchy’s sets itself apart with an original recipe paired with Harbor Island fritter sauce.
RUM DRINKS POPULAR
The St. Lucia Drunken Monkey is one of the most popular frozen drinks that Conchy’s has to offer; light rum and Kahlúa, blended with piña colada mix and fresh bananas. The Little Conch is an original rum punch that contains a blend of fruit juice, “secret stuff”, four island rums, and topped with Myers’ Rum Floater. This drink is a smaller version of Conchy’s signature Big Conch, which is served in a 45 oz. fishbowl and is only served to two or more people.
There is always something going on at Conchy’s. Every night of the week has its own form of entertainment that intrigues newcomers and regulars alike.
Every Monday night starting at 6 p.m. Dieter Szirnik, a Conchy’s regular, hosts family-style bingo. From 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 7 to 9 p.m., have your wits tested for Trivia Tuesday Twice. Hermit crab racing, a true Bahamian table game, starts at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. Conchy Joe’s house reggae band, Rainfall, plays live music the remaining four nights a week; Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m. Band member Jimmy Graham also plays solo on the steel drums Monday nights from 5 to 8 p.m.
“It’s sort of like Las Vegas in that we continue to have the same act and get away with it,” Fritz said with a laugh. “Although we sometimes bring in new acts to add a little variety, our guests have created a solid following of the band and these guys have become just like any other staff member here.”
Growing up, Fritz always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and knew that he would return home to Conchy’s after moving to Deland, Florida, to further his education. Fred was toying with the idea of retiring right when Fritz graduated from Stetson University, and in 2013, Fritz officially took over as president. His sister Carly Ayres Frohlich, who attended school for graphic design, handles all the design work, marketing and social media for the restaurant. In February 2016, Fred passed away after nearly three years of watching his children carry on the Conchy’s tradition.
The Ayreses also own the Dolphin Bar and Shrimp House, just down the road from Conchy’s. Previously known as the Outrigger Restaurant and Resort, the restaurant was built by actress Frances Langford as an ode to her love of the Polynesian Islands where she frequented during WWII to entertain members of the armed forces. Among them was Cpt. Frederic M. Ayres Jr., Fred’s father who was instantly charmed by the actress. Fred acquired the property in 1998, and today you can dine while learning about the history of Jensen Beach, Langford and much more, as the establishment is loaded with memorabilia from that era.
“I wish that our dad could see us all working together and carrying on his legacy,” Frohlich said. “I can’t help but feel proud — proud of him and proud of us. Family was always a really important thing for us growing up and my dad was very much a family man, so to be able to work with Fritz and have our sister Annie work in the Dolphin Shop is really special.”
If you go …
What: Conchy Joe’s
Where: 3945 NE Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach
Hours: Lunch - 11:30 a.m-4 p.m.; Dinner - 4-10 p.m.; Happy Hour - 3-6 p.m.
Specialties: Bahamian-inspired recipes and fresh fish
For more information: Call 334.1130 or visit www.ConchyJoes.com.