Just when you thought you had a handle on the Cruz Bay restaurant scene, an old favorite changed things up this season.
The Fish Trap, traditionally known as the place to go for fresh fish, is now the place to go for lobster, king crab legs, oysters, clams and incredible and authentic Thai dishes.
While a number of new dishes have been added to the menu, the old favorites like fish and chips and the popular conch chowder are still available, explained Lonnie Willis, who along with her husband has owned and operated the Fish Trap for about 20 years.
Time To Make A Change
“It was time to make a change,” said Willis. “We wanted to not get old and not get stale. And also, Christopher Gagnon, my general manager, took over management of the Fish Trap and brought his expertise with him.”
Gagnon, who along with wife Sabaprai “Nun,” welcomed baby Alicia on November 29, has been involved with the Willis’ enterprises, which include Stone Terrace and St. John Car Rental, for the past six years.
“I think it was time to give ourselves a kick in the pants,” said Gagnon. “One of the things we’re trying to do is focus on the local needs. I took what I heard from people about what they wanted to see available here and I listened.”
While Gagnon brings 30 years of hospitality business with him, he also brings a love for Asian food and cooking.
“Asian cuisine is something I’ve always enjoyed and then I was having a mid-life crisis about six years ago and decided to take a trip to Thailand,” said Gagnon. “The next thing I knew I was travelling back there six weeks later — I was just captivated by the place. In order to be with the local folks there I needed to learn their ways and understand their habits, so I decided to learn the Thai language.”
When Gagnon showed up at his new language school he realized he was at an English language school for Thai-natives, which is where he met his future wife.
After months of expensive phone calls and long emails, Gagnon tied the knot and now Sabaprai has navigated the bureaucratic red tape and is living on St. John — and ensuring the Fish Trap’s Thai dishes are authentic.
“I talked to locals here and realized we have a large group in our population who go to Asia regularly,” said Gagnon. “I thought it would be great to offer some great Thai dishes here as well as more raw selections, while keeping our old favorites.”
Although the menu looks different this year, the restaurant has not veered from serving only the freshest ingredients. Since the Fish Market at the Fish Trap opened almost three years ago, Gagnon has a perfect flow of merchandise.
Freshest Fish Available
“We always have the freshest fish and shell fish possible,” said Gagnon. “The market allows us to move things along and keep everything fresh.”
One of the most popular dishes on the new menu is the N.Y. strip steak and lobster tail entree, which Gagnon said is flying out the door.
Since the demand for lobster has risen, Gagnon is expanding the lobster possibilities, and is expecting a double tank, to hold both live cold-water and warm-water lobsters, in the mail anytime now.
The kitchen is also new at the Cruz Bay establishment, Gagnon explained.
“When we closed this summer we closed for two months instead of the one month we usually close for,” said Gagnon. “We completely redid the kitchen, added a wok station, a new pantry and made the space more open and airy. We had wanted to make some of these dishes before but didn’t have the equipment — now we have the equipment and the space.”
There are a few more welcome additions to the Fish Trap, but they aren’t on the menu. The kitchen staff welcomed chef de cuisine Michael Cavins and veteran bartender “Pauley” welcomed renown-ed mixologist “Boo” to the comfortable air conditioned bar.
Happy Hour Specials
With half-price happy hour specials, including half-price blender treats, three televisions and satellite service, the bar area at the Fish Trap should not be missed.
With all the new changes at the Fish Trap, some things have remained the same. There are still a number of fresh fish speicals nightly and the restaurant is still family-friendly.
The menu is extensive, and it might take a few trips to try out all the great finds, so don’t be shy.
The Tradewinds crew stopped by on a recent night and couldn’t resist ordering a pound of wok-cooked and salted peel-and-eat shrimp, served with drawn butter and zesty cocktail sauce for an appetizer, which we happily devoured while selecting our main dishes.
Other hot appetizers, which range from $8 to $17, include mussels in a variety of sauces and spring rolls. Cold appetizers, ranging from $2.50 to $25, include oysters, top neck clams and a lobster tail cocktail.
Soups And Salads
While the traditional house and caesar salads are available, the Fish Trap also offers a green papaya salad, called Sum Tom, which is served either vegetarian or with shrimp.
The restaurant has been known for its delicious soups and both the seafood and conch chowders are still available as well as a Caribbean pumpkin soup.
For those who lean towards the Thai flavor, choose from Tom Yum Goon, a rich lemon grass-infused seafood broth loaded with gangala root, kaffir leaves, Thai chili peppers, a variety of Asian mushrooms and tamarind and chili paste; bowls of noodens, delectable broth served with seasonal vegetables, topped with Thai basil, locally-grown bean sprouts and available either vegetarian or with chicken; or a spicy coconut milk and green curry soup available with either shrimp, chicken or tofu.
After consulting with Gagnon, our group opted for the Tom Yum Goon, which did not disappoint and delivered a complex flavor and a variety of fresh vegetables.
While the kitchen can somewhat alter the heat of the dishes, Thai food is notably spicy and not for those with weak taste buds.
Crab Legs and Hearty Steaks
The Fish Trap menu also includes steaks, fish dishes, pasta, burgers, jumbo shrimp, king crab legs, lobster tails, scallops and a variety of combination dishes.
Our group chose the king crab legs, a large portion of fresh crab served with vegetables and a choice of starches, and a N.Y. strip steak that was perfectly cooked and served with fresh-cut french fries — some of the best around.
Other highlights are the all you can eat shrimp for a mere $21, and a whole fish of the day, which can be steamed or fried.
The Fish Trap also serves fresh vegetables and fresh-baked bread lightly spiced and served with parmesan cheese. A number of different chef’s specials are available nightly as well.
Something for Everyone
So, whether in the mood for fresh fish, satisfying steaks, a selection of raw oysters and clams, or a tangy Thai dish, there is something for everyone on the menu. Be ready to be pleasantly surprised at the Fish Trap this season.
The restaurant, located at the Rain Tree Court in Cruz Bay, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 4:30 until 10 p.m., and reservations for parties of six or more are welcome. The Fish Market is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. Call 693-9994 for reservations.