Down the Hatch
4894 Front St.
Ponce Inlet, FL
“No shoes, no shirt, no problem.”
It’s the classic beach bar cliché.
But how many places would you actually roll up to wearing nothing but your board shorts?
Well, I’m here to tell you, feel free to do just that at Down the Hatch in Ponce Inlet, Florida.
From the heavily tattooed to the blondes in bikini tops, to the boaters pulling right up to the dock, you’ll feel right at home at this quintessential Florida fish camp no matter what you’re wearing.
Ponce Inlet – named after Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon who first sailed into this notch of the Florida coast 498 years ago – has been home to pirates, smugglers and rebels ever since.
And hungry sun-lovers savvy enough to know that the best conch fritters, onion rings, and fish sandwiches are always found tucked away in the mangroves far from the tourist throngs.
For decades now, folks have driven to the end of this two lane road under a canopy of centuries-old oaks and palmettos to enjoy the coldest beer and freshest seafood here at Down the Hatch.
Look, there are two types of people who move to Florida.
Those who sit inside with their air conditioning on and the blinds drawn from Presidents Day to Halloween, and those who know that hot summer days are the reason why God invented ice cold beer and the ocean breeze.
Guess which ones are more fun to hang out with?
The outdoor deck at Down the Hatch was full of fun-loving folks wiling away this lazy summer afternoon, listening to the band, drinking beer and frozen margaritas as the shrimp boats motored by on the Intercoastal.
But what sets Down the Hatch apart from the other rustic fish camps scattered along the Florida coast is the quality of the food.
My conch fritters were fried to perfection. Crispy on the outside, doughy soft on the inside with tender bits of conch, onion, and pepper, they were made even better with a quick dip in the tangy remoulade sauce.
But if you’re going to experience a barefoot and laidback Florida fish camp, order a fish sandwich.
At Down the Hatch, you don’t even have to ask if it’s fresh.
And that makes all the difference.
My blackened mahi sandwich came drizzled in butter and Old Bay, grilled to a perfect flakiness and placed on a toasted bun with lettuce and tomato. A little slather of tarter sauce and I was in fish sandwich heaven.
As good as my classic Florida fish sandwich was, it couldn’t compare to the highlight of the meal.
No. Not the pitcher of Miller Lite.
Although, I like the way you think!
I’m talking onion rings of the Gods.
Of course, for nearly ten bucks, they BETTER be spectacular.
And they were.
Thick and juicy with an exquisite crunch and seasoned batter, these onion rings belong in the fish camp Hall of Fame.
But come on. Nearly ten bucks??
And that’s really my only knock on Down the Hatch.
Everything on the menu, from the beer to the onion rings, to the conch fritters and the sandwiches, were all at least a few dollars more than any of the other fish camps found along the road into Ponce Inlet.
Of course the folks at Down the Hatch would argue that’s because they’re better than the competition.
And you know what?
With the afternoon breeze coming off the Intercoastal, my plastic cup of ice cold beer, and a group of happy boaters pulling up to the dock in their bathing suits, I can’t help but agree.
No shirt. No shoes. And definitely, no problem.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.