Off the Hook seafood restaurant is aptly named

While watching the Food Network recently, they were featuring a seafood shack on the coast of Maine that had me craving clam chowder and fresh seafood. Something about a low-frills seafood joint does it for me and it immediately made me crave a good bowl of chowder and a fish sandwich.
As it turns out, I’m at the Target shopping center in Encinitas the next day, on a mission to get in and out as quickly as possible, and what do I come across but the answer to my craving from the night before — Off the Hook Seafood Grill. Trips to that shopping center in Encinitas have always been about getting in and out quickly, but not so much anymore with the addition of Off the Hook.
Talk about filling a much-needed niche on the Encinitas dining scene. I popped in and liked what I saw immediately, a low-frills seafood grill with a really nice selection of fresh fish. I immediately added it to the top of my “Lick the Plate” list.
I was curious as to who was behind this operation and was very pleased to find out it was seafood industry veteran Wayne Mascotti, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who went on to become vice president of operations at the Rusty Pelican chain of upscale seafood restaurants.
During his time at Rusty Pelican, Wayne opened 18 restaurants and managed 31 total in seven states. He spent the past 15 years in Seattle where his family owned three restaurants. After moving to Encinitas, he jumped at the chance to locate Off the Hook in the busy Target center.
When I asked him if he had any inspirations for the menu, Wayne’s response was, “No, fish is what I know and fresh seafood, simply grilled and served in a friendly environment I knew would be a hit … and because no one else is doing it.” 
He added, “My wife Shirley, daughter Kristen, son Anthony and son-in-law Steven now are all involved and wanted to serve the highest quality seafood we could buy at affordable prices. We buy exclusively from Chesapeake Fish Company and serve the same fish for much less than upscale restaurants in the area.”
I like that Wayne is a seafood guy with a seafood family who filled a need with a simple, solid concept. It is their intention to duplicate the concept and open five to 10 more restaurants.
We started with the deep fried calamari, which was part of a decent looking appetizer selection that included steamed clams and shrimp and crab cocktail. The calamari was not to heavily breaded, which I enjoyed as it gave the freshness of the squid a chance to come through. A sure sign of quality in a good seafood place is their clam chowder. Off the Hook nails that one with their hearty, slightly smoky New England style that has loads of potatoes and clams. The appetizers, sides and soup range in price from $1.99 to $10.50 with the high end representing the crab cocktail.
There is also a nice selection of fried offerings including fish and chips, which were light and crunchy on the outside with flaky surrounding flaky, moist cod. Halibut is also an option for fish and chips. The chips (fries) were perfect and the slaw was very good. Fryer selections range from $8.99 to $14.99.
The fish selection at Off the Hook is extensive with 15 options served on a sandwich, salad, bowl of rice or plate. The flavor options include lemon butter, garlic butter, or Cajun. Again, keeping it simple. Being a big fan of premium fish on a sandwich, I went with the halibut sandwich with lemon butter sauce that came with two nice size pieces of fish on a Kaiser roll with their special sauce and fries. It’s local halibut which is thinner than northern and better suited to a sandwich. I was very happy with my selection. 
My dining companion expressed what he described as “sandwich envy” when he saw the hearty portion and nice looking roll. He ordered the Mahi Cajun style with brown rice, which was a tasty treat itself. The kids at the table did fish and chips and ended up with clean plates, which is a good sign. Fish prices range from $7.99 to $17.99, a great value considering the quality.
They also offer fresh chicken four ways as well, but really, who is ordering chicken here? A gluten-free menu has also been added. 
Off the Hook is a solid choice for high quality, reasonably priced seafood. They are open for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. They are located in the Target center at 1042 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas. Call (760) 632-8553 for more information.

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