Nestled amongst the shops and eateries on the east side of Middle Street on Sullivan’s, Pier 22 is the latest in Chef Brannon Florie’s burgeoning restaurant dynasty. Sharing the upper level and some outdoor dining space with the adjacent High Thyme, Pier 22 focuses on the same mix of raw bar, seafood, and pan-Asian influences that have made Florie’s other restaurants — Pier 41 and On Forty-One, both in Mt. Pleasant — a success.
Although the space is small and seating relatively limited, the menu is notably ambitious, with a smattering of rotating raw bar options. Selections include bold moves like escolar crudo ($14), plus familiar favorites like peel and eat shrimp ($9/$16), and Bulls Bay oysters ($3/ea.).
The overarching emphasis on seafood coupled with the hype that the crab dip ($8) is “totally awesome,” was irresistible. Served hot in a round ceramic dish, it arrives topped with a dozen fried wonton triangles. The menu mentions blue crab, cream cheese, and Parmesan, and boy howdy, they’re not playing around when it comes to the schmear. So chockablock with the stuff that large, unadulterated chunks are found throughout, I’d be just fine with the same amount of crab and half the cream cheese — an admittedly minor complaint.
The shrimp ceviche ($12) seems misnamed, although my own lack of attention to detail is equally to blame. Described as “pickled shrimp, avocado, tomato, radish, chili vinegar and napa cabbage,” note the emphasis here is on the pickling. Plated in layers and served with fried wonton chips, the bottom of the dish is filled with bitter, shredded cabbage, reminiscent of the plastic grass base of an Easter basket. What at first appears to be a windfall of shellfish turns out to be a half-dozen shrimp, cut into thirds. Along with the pickled onions, the shrimp itself is quite vinegary — if there’s any citrus in there, it’s not discernable — and very acidic, with a tinny, iodine-rich flavor. While the traditional cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and avocado are present, without bright citrus and fresh, hot chili peppers, it’s at most a distant relative of Latin American ceviche.
On that note, it’s impossible not to admire the mind that came up with the tuna tartare burger ($14). The chopped, raw tuna — redolent of poke and with clear notes of sesame oil — is formed into a patty, lightly seared on each side, and served on a soft, fragrant EVO Bakery bun. Topped with shredded green papaya and carrot, as well as fresh mint and bonito mayo, it’s extremely odd — in the best possible way. An atrocious idea that works; you owe it to yourself to get one.
The bowls ($14) are another interesting option. Start with a base — steamed rice, thin wheat noodles (cold or hot), or papaya salad — and then choose your own adventure with salmon poke, tuna poke, or pickled shrimp, plus miso chicken or wagyu beef tataki. Overwhelmed by so many delicious-sounding choices, we leaned on the friendly waitress’ suggestion — poke salmon and cold noodles. Served with edamame, raw bok choy, lightly steamed broccoli, and shredded carrots, it’s a bit of a raw veggie overload, unless that’s what you’re into. Similarly, the poke isn’t really poke so much as raw cubes of fresh salmon, but the bowl itself gains a lot of flavor from a soupy, complex sauce with hints of garlic, citrus, and fish sauce. Topped with cilantro and mint, the noodle-full concoction is light, flavorful, and satisfying. Nonetheless, now that I realize the papaya salad is a play on Thai som tum (including green beans, grape tomatoes, and peanuts, among other things), a return visit is required.
There’s a Japanese-influenced cocktail menu, with sake standing in for tequila and vodka in a mangorita ($9) and Bloody Mary ($6), respectively. Add to that options for a carafe of sake ($6/$10) or a sake bomb ($10), and, well, hope you like sake!
Service is outstanding. Granted, partway into our meal, we realized the sweet, attentive waitress is actually Mrs. Florie. Extremely charming, while as informal as an old friend, she unquestionably adds a little something special to the Pier 22 experience.
Last up in the feeding frenzy, the lobster roll ($22) is serious business. Served on a split-top bun that’s been grilled in garlic butter, the first thing you’ll notice is the generous portion of meat. Lightly dressed in aioli and topped with sliced celery and a sprinkle of chives, everything is perfectly proportioned such that nothing gets in the way of the sweet, luscious lobster. Served with a large handful of kettle chips, this is Maine’s proud tradition at its finest.
With its eclectic ‘Asian beach seafood’ offerings, stellar location, and charismatic service, Pier 22 is a welcome addition to Middle Street. And whether you like it raw, pickled, or loaded into a buttery roll, no doubt there’s something in the mix that will speak to the seafood lover in you.