Dee Dee's Conch and Barbecue Shack and Nemo's Fish & Chicken are both small establishments located off Atlantic Avenue, places we're betting most familiar with the area may have never noticed. And it's a shame, because both serve some pretty amazing food, minus the hefty price tag.
Although both Dee Dee's and Nemo's have been in Delray for close to five years -- Dee Dee's recently moved to a large red brick building on the south side of the street while Nemo's sits in a small space next door to a beauty supply shop just east of I-95 -- they aren't your typical Atlantic Avenue haunts. In fact, you'd pass right by them on your way downtown if you didn't know any better. Now, maybe you won't.
Why? Because both spots dish out a house specialty that's hard to find done well now matter how high the price tag: conch. Conch fritters, fried conch and conch salad, to be specific. And despite being close to one another, their recipes are not.
Dee Dee's is named for its Bahamian-born owner, Dee Dee Miller, who opened the conch and barbecue shack just over four years ago on a nearby side street off Atlantic Ave. behind fast food burger spot, Checkers. Coming from the corporate world, Dee Dee told Clean Plate Charlie she left her job to pursue a career doing something she loved: making her father's conch and mother's Southern barbecue. She started with nothing but a tent and folding table making $25 a day outside a Boynton Beach church. Soon, the demand grew, forcing her to move locations to a larger space in Delray Beach -- and eventually open a storefront in town.
Today, Dee Dee uses several varieties of conch to make different dishes, from the fritters and conch salad to her own fried "crack" conch recipe. Fresh-caught Bahamian conch is used to make the house specialty "conch lady" -- flat, doughy, pancake-like fritters that are a pleasant departure from the fried balls of flavorless dough you'll find at most establishments. Dee Dee's island relatives bring the conch frequently, which is torn from the shell hours before delivery and pounded to tenderness and mixed with her special batter, a family recipe that includes a number of spices and ingredients, and is sold at the restaurant separately for those who want to replicate Dee Dee's cooking at home using their own choice of meat.
A softer conch meat -- using a different species than the Bahamian variety -- is used to make the conch salad and crack conch, both served with Dee Dee's own house made dipping sauce and "yella," or seasoned, fries. The crack conch here is served in large strips fried with a crispy breading, light enough to allow the flavor of the conch meat to truly shine.
At Nemo's there's plenty of fried food and fish to go around, but the favorite according to the chef is still the conch platters. Nemo's may not use fresh-caught conch -- instead they buy from a Miami-based retailer that specializes in fresh (not frozen) conch -- their fritters taste like it, made to order for each customer. The small, round and steaming-hot fritters are bite-size with the just the right amount of crisp on the outside, just slightly doughy on the inside. There's a strong taste of conch, and plenty of meat, and they aren't so greasy that they leave a mess behind despite being brought straight from the fryer. You'll wait 15-20 minutes for your order, but it's worth it.
The crack conch is equally fresh, a melt-in-your mouth tender served as a super-sized order complete with fries and dipping sauce. The batter here is what sets the fried conch apart: it's made from scratch daily, and heavily seasoned. While each strip comes out fried to perfection, less crisp than the fritters and less greasy, it's almost too much seasoning for the delicate flavor of the conch. Even so, the meat is so tender, you'd swear it's anything but. And -- on the weekends -- a special ceviche-style conch salad is also available, here served only on Friday and Saturday due to the labor-intensive job of pounding and tenderizing the conch meat to a buttery soft state. Go early: it sells out quickly and is made fresh in the morning both days.
Nemo's Fish and Chicken is located at 943 W. Atlantic Ave. in Delray Beach. Call 561-865-5094.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.