Heather McPherson's The Dish

Lake's JJ Fin's reels in a winning concept

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Sushi at JJ Fin’s Dockside in Tavares (Tom Benitez/Orlando Sentinel)

Sushi at JJ Fin’s Dockside in Tavares (Tom Benitez/Orlando Sentinel) (Tom Benitez, Orlando Sentinel / July 7, 2009)

TAVARES

When you walk inside JJ Fin's there are few reminders of its former incarnations as Dead River Vic's or Harborside. The space that once had the interior ambience of a badly lit Denny's is now welcoming and fun.

The inside bar has been moved to provide a view of the riverside deck, giving the room better flow. Customers walk by an inviting and icy fresh-fish station that signals the chef running this kitchen is interested in top-quality ingredients.

Come to think of it, the menus and food at Dead River Vic's or Harborside, rarely brought to mind that a certified chef was in the kitchen.

The JJ Fin's menu is extremely broad in scope with everything from sushi to Blue Moon beer battered fish and chips, with lots of pasta and steaks and fillets in between. And the kitchen is managing to do most things extremely well.

What will appeal to many is the extensive "Small Plates" section of the menu, a collection of light nibbles and noshes. We started with the grilled Wing-K-Bobs ($4.99 for 6, $7.99 for 12) with Thai chili sauce, a flavorful baste that had a pleasant, restrained peppery kick. These are not kebabs per se. But instead of just dumping the wings onto a plate, the flats and drummies are skewered together.

The yummy fried green tomatoes ($4.99) were hand breaded with noticeable but indiscernible fresh herbs in the batter and served with straightforward chipotle ranch sauce.

The light blue corn fish tacos ($7.99) are stuffed large pieces of blackened sweet white fish dressed with slaw and mandarin oranges. One quibble: too many sweet orange sections overpower the fish.

Smoked wahoo fish dip ($6.99) comes in a raddicchio cup with yellow and blue corn chips. The dip is ample for sharing and thankfully not drenched in liquid smoke.

The rock shrimp and lobster fritters ($5.99) were the most anticipated and most disappointing. More like beignets than fritters, with little shellfish flavor in the soft rumpled pillows. The accompanying pineapple-habanero sauce was excellent.

The hand-tossed, thin crust pizzas were a big surprise. The Meat Lover's Pie ($10.99) rose from a thick creamy bed of provolone and mozzarella and was piled with sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, bacon and basil.

The big and juicy "classic" burger ($6.99) was topped with American cheese and strips of applewood smoked bacon (choose from pretzel roll or wheat or kaiser bun) and came with so-so seasoned fries and slaw.

The open-faced prime rib ($7.99) was assembled with blackened beef, nutty gruyere cheese, deeply flavored caramelized onions with a cabernet au jus and horseradish cream.

This is no longer your run-of-the-mill boater bar. The riverside deck area has been spiffed up quite nicely, with more bar seating and a better layout of tables. Host stands inside and out make sure servers get to tables promptly.

JJ Fin's specializes in casual fare crafted with care and thought for the flip-flop and deck-shoe crowd as well as landlubbers looking for good food.

See for yourself: JJ Fin's Dockside

Where: 3351 W. Burleigh Blvd. (U.S. Highway 441 at the Dead River connecting lakes Eustis and Harris)

When: 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Alcohol: Full bar.

Price range: $4.99-$21.99.

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