Maybe more restaurants should have rich fantasy lives. The namesake icon of Chopmist Charlie's is a crusty old pipe-sprouting codger in a yellow sou'wester, and you can get the impression from the twinkle in his eyes that he's about to come up with a salty joke.
Inside, the visual style looks designed by Ishmael's tchotchke-collecting grandmother in consultation with Queequeg. Greeting you immediately is a row of mariner-themed statuettes (only is Popeye missing), and the general decor puts you in mind of a well-chummed feeding frenzy: on one wall above a row of booths, a small taxidermied sailfish is going bill-to-bill with a large swordfish.
Glass net-floats dangle here and there, and for further verisimilitude there is an aquarium containing very intimidated-looking little fishes. Going an impressive extra step, they also apparently arranged to have a guy at the table next to us brag about the one that got away the other day, to give truth to a plaque on the wall: "Fish Tales Told Here."
Charlie's is not part of a chain, so its decorative flights of fancy are sui generis rather than derived from corporate marketing. More importantly, the place is in the middle of a small island that gets touristy in the summer, so there's plenty of competition with serious sea-food restaurants on its street. Its continuing survival and popularity speaks for itself.
Our affable ponytailed host led us to a well-lit window table and, after perusing the entertaining decor, we checked out what further amusements the menu might provide. Fried seafood is available in appetizer portions as well as entrées. We considered having "Sailor Style" mussels ($8.95) — who knew tars liked them steamed with tomatoes and celery in white wine? — but Johnnie didn't want to fill up right off. So we decided to share chowder and clam cakes ($7.50). We chose the broth rather than cream version. Johnnie, hungry, glommed onto most of the clams in her first few spoonfuls, while I obliviously kept breaking off pieces of the three clam fritters and soaked them to my satisfaction.
As for main dishes, there are pasta choices and a stray steak or two. But not having the broiled or fried sea fare would waste the opportunity, I thought, considering the cedar plank salmon ($22.95) and the multitudinous fisherman's platter ($24.95).
But then we noticed the dinner for two special for $29.95 (with a bottle of wine), available Sunday from noon till 9 pm and Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9. The seven choices looked varied and substantial. Hefty appetites would be taken care of by Yankee style pot roast, pork osso bucco, or steak au poivre. For those who wish they were in an Italian restaurant, there is chicken cacciatore and eggplant Parmigiana. There has to be a fish choice, and it is Guinness-battered tilapia. If you just want a big salad and soup, you can get a Cobb salad and crock of chicken fajita soup. Not bad.