The Florida Keys & Key West

Florida Keys News

Austin Klein Showcases Culinary Talents in Lower Keys

Austin Klein, the 27-year-old executive chef at Fish — celebrating its one-year anniversary as a popular "locals' favorite" dining spot in the Lower Keys — says he was born to work in the kitchen.

"I love cooking and all the excitement; I'm in a career that I've wanted to be in since I was a child," Klein said.

Fish Waterfront Restaurant & Bar, located at mile marker 14.5, is gaining an avid following among Lower Keys residents who live in Bay Point and on Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Big Coppitt keys.

"We offer quality food at a moderate price point," said Klein, who enjoys the camaraderie of mingling with patrons to recommend specials. "We have something great going here."

The 2,500-square-foot, 150-seat Fish opened in October 2015 and is co-owned by local restaurateurs Jason Gwynne and Brandon Ziegler. Klein began cooking there in August 2016.

"Austin is young and driven," Gwynne said. "His talent is unbelievable."

Specialties include the fresh catch of the day prepared grilled, seared, blackened or Panko fried and served with a signature sauce: blood orange pomegranate, spicy green pepper or mango honey jalapeno. Patrons can bring their own fish.

Happy hour is 3-7 p.m. with small plates and beer or well liquor priced from $3. Dinner entrees too are priced moderately, with fare such as parchment-wrapped fish and a "moo and quack" 10-ounce burger topped with seared foie gras, bacon and caramelized onions on a pretzel bun drizzled with truffle butter. A "minnow's menu" is available for children.

Klein offers a new special every day, but he doesn't devise the daily specials until local captains, fishing from nearby Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island, report their best catch. It might be black grouper, yellowtail, hogfish or tripletail, for example.

"We try to be different — we don't want to have yellowtail four days in a row," Klein said. "We never serve anything frozen."

To celebrate its first anniversary, Fish is introducing a new seasonal menu and monthly events such as a recent four-course rum dinner held for 50. "It all excites me," Klein said. "I have the freedom to take what I've learned and cook. I was born to work in the kitchen."

Klein discovered his love of cooking at age 7 or 8 when he prepared family breakfasts. The Indianapolis native first moved to the Keys in 2010, encouraged by an uncle who lived in Islamorada.

"I'm not a big fan of winter and I always had wanted to be near the water," he said.

Before packing up his car, Klein had landed a job to open the former Café Moka in Key West. He later worked at Alonzo's Oyster Bar for two years as sous and executive sous chef.

In May 2013, Klein met his future wife Jessica at the Green Parrot Bar. A resident of Flint, Michigan, she and a girlfriend were celebrating their birthdays on a vacation in Key West.

Klein and Jessica spent eight fun-filled days before she returned home to young son Tyler and her job at an Irish pub and grill. After just two months, the distance proved unbearable.

Jessica moved to Indianapolis. Klein moved back to Indianapolis, working as sous chef at Georgia Reese's Southern Table & Bar owned by former National Football League player Gary Brackett.

In May 2014, one year to the day after meeting at the Green Parrot, the couple married on Boca Grande Key off Key West.

Klein's subsequent job as executive sous chef at Ocean Key Resort's Hot Tin Roof enabled the couple to live in the Keys.

Jessica — a bartender at Fish, waitress at Key West's Blue Heaven and artist — is fiercely proud of her husband.

"He is really one of the happiest people I have ever met," Jessica said. "Tyler and I are two very lucky people to have this life with Austin here in paradise."

During leisure time, Klein enjoys cooking for friends and family. Also high on his list are boating, fishing and relaxing on the water.

"We have chosen a place to live and work that we don't have to vacation from," Klein said. "We try to take advantage of the life we've been given as much as possible."

In May 2013, Klein met his future wife Jessica at the Green Parrot Bar. A resident of Flint, Michigan, she and a girlfriend were celebrating their birthdays on a vacation in Key West.

In May 2013, Klein met his future wife Jessica at the Green Parrot Bar. A resident of Flint, Michigan, she and a girlfriend were celebrating their birthdays on a vacation in Key West.

Klein's experience includes opening the former Café Moka in Key West, later working at Alonzo's Oyster Bar for two years as sous and executive sous chef, and executive sous chef at Ocean Key Resort's Hot Tin Roof. He joined Fish in August 2016.

Klein's experience includes opening the former Café Moka in Key West, later working at Alonzo's Oyster Bar for two years as sous and executive sous chef, and executive sous chef at Ocean Key Resort's Hot Tin Roof. He joined Fish in August 2016.

During leisure time, Klein enjoys cooking for friends and family. Also high on his list are boating, fishing and relaxing on the water.

During leisure time, Klein enjoys cooking for friends and family. Also high on his list are boating, fishing and relaxing on the water.

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