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Blue Marlin owner opens ‘laidback’ seafood restaurant in Lexington

Oak Grove Fish House opens in Lexington with ‘laidback’ seafood

Casual seafood restaurant Oak Grove Fish House opened March 20 in Lexington. The casual spot owned by Blue Marlin's Ryan Dukes offers fried seafood, Southern favorites, homemade key lime pie and more.
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Casual seafood restaurant Oak Grove Fish House opened March 20 in Lexington. The casual spot owned by Blue Marlin's Ryan Dukes offers fried seafood, Southern favorites, homemade key lime pie and more.

Blue Marlin owner Ryan Dukes has rolled the idea of opening a “fish camp” around in his mind for a while. He grew up outside of Charlotte, on Lake Wylie, where he said unpretentious seafood joints were common. As an adult, he traveled doing research and development for Columbia’s Blue Marlin, and he came across similar fried fish restaurants in New Orleans.

This week, he opened his own fish camp — Oak Grove Fish House — at the site of the former Vegetable Medley in Lexington. Two days after the opening, customers flowed in steadily throughout lunch hour, sampling oysters and sweet corn hushpuppies so savory you might think they’re donuts.

Sisters Pat English, 78, and Ellen Suber, 79, drove by Oak Grove on their way to get their nails done and decided to stop in for an early birthday supper for English, who turns 79 on March 25. Suber isn’t much of a seafood person, she said, so she ordered chicken and grits and said she was pleasantly surprised because, “Not everybody can cook grits.”

English got a fried seafood platter, which has already become a favorite, servers said. The sisters shared a slice of homemade key lime pie that is more rich than tart thanks to freshly squeezed key lime juice and a generous dose of sweetened condensed milk. On top, fresh whipped cream and a slice of key lime just in case you want more bite.

“I couldn’t stop,” Suber said.

English and Suber finished their meal and ordered three to-go meals of fried flounder with mashed potatoes and green beans, too.

“My carry-out is in my stomach,” said Suber, who went to eat at Blue Marlin once but said she preferred the atmosphere of the fish house.

Dukes said his goal was to emulate the friendly, embedded-in-the-community feel of traditional fish camps — “Something that was comfortable, laidback and had great food” — in the county where he lives.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a store in Lexington County,” he said, noting many Blue Marlin customers are from the area. But he didn’t want to be on a main drag, in the center of it all, he said, so the homey spot tucked into Oak Drive was perfect.

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Seafood platters at Oak Grove Fish House, a new restaurant open in Lexington. Isabella Cueto icueto@thestate.com

Some of Dukes’ favorite dishes so far are the salt-and-pepper catfish, the salmon Charleston (blackened salmon topped with a shrimp and crab cream sauce), the Calabash shrimp and the chicken liver. He brought over the executive chef from Blue Marlin, as well as some cooks, so the Columbia restaurant’s signature shrimp and grits are on the menu at the fish house.

The vibe at Oak Grove Fish House is notably different from that of the busy Vista restaurant, and that’s part of what Dukes said he loves about it. The restaurant’s interior, which Dukes expanded and totally remodeled, has a nostalgic feel. A soft, pastel blues-and-greens color palette, black-and-white checkered flooring, an old-school wood panel ceiling, industrial lights and comfortable booths are complemented by vintage photos of fishermen and boats, and weathered oars on a back wall. Soon to be added: A large sculpture of a blue marlin Dukes just had delivered.

Dukes said he has spent the past nine months working on Oak Grove Fish House, but he’ll be taking a break on March 26 to take care of something else: His wife, Shannon, is scheduled to give birth to the Dukes’ second child.

Oak Grove Fish House is located at 309 Oak Drive in Lexington. Restaurant hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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