Sea change

The fish? Fresh. The staff? Friendly. The entertainers? Funny. It's the new Capt. Brien's

There's a place in town where a lobster caught yesterday in Maine can be on your plate today.

Where a comedian you saw on Comedy Central will appear onstage before you.

Where an executive chef will prepare the fish you caught for your dinner — and you can have the photos of your big catch displayed for all to see.

The place is the new Capt. Brien's Seafood & Raw Bar in the Marco Walk shopping plaza. Outside the restaurant, tables are scattered throughout the courtyard, and business bustles out through the large open window to the bar. You may get a sudden craving for oysters as you walk through the door and pass the icy raw bar filled with many types of fresh seafood.

Some go for dinner, while others choose to just hang out at the bar with the extremely talented bartenders. Wherever you sit, the atmosphere will charm you. The walls are covered with weathered wood and nautical items and antiques.

The décor, combined with the openness of the place, makes you feel that if you look out the bar window, you'll see sailboats swaying in the harbor.

And there is always live entertainment.

Musicians and stand-up comedians occupy the stage during most of Capt. Brien's open hours — the music rolls most nights until 2 a.m.

For those hoping for a quieter conversation, you can always grab a drink and head back out to the courtyard.

The new, improved Capt.

Brien's is a huge step forward for owners Brien Spina, his father, Santo, and his brother-in- law, Brian Laurent. They opened the new restaurant in November, after a four-month hiatus from their original Collier Boulevard location.

"We outgrew our other location and searched high and dry over a period of two years," Brien Spina says. "This was always our first choice, but we were in negotiation the entire time while looking at other options."

Once they signed for the new location, they got busy converting it into a pleasant, fish-inspired atmosphere.

"People come for the experience of relaxing — that's why we created this fish theme," Spina says.

Maybe people come for the atmosphere, or it could be the fresh seafood, flown in daily from the far reaches of the Earth.

"We spent most of the summers in different fish houses around the state looking at the way they carry their seafood, ice it and so on," Spina says.

"We have local Southern fish, along with the Northeast varieties, flown in all the time," Santo Spina says.

If you would rather bring in your own catch, that is always an option. Brien's will even take you out fishing during the day on its Satisfaction Guaranteed fishing charters. If you bring the restaurant your photos, it will display them on the flat- screen monitor in the dining room as you eat your fresh fish — caught by you or an equally qualified fisherman somewhere else in the world.

Off the Hook Comedy
  • Joel Lindley: Feb. 9, to Sunday, Feb. 12 (The Conan O'Brien Show, NBC's Friday Nite Videos and Make Me Laugh)
  • Chris Johnson: Thursday, Feb. 16 to Sunday, Feb. 19 (colleges and universities throughout the U.S.)
  • Dustin Diamond: Thursday, Feb. 23 to Sunday, Feb. 26: (Saved By the Bell, movies, television)
Musical guests
  • Frank Carroll: 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays
  • Ninja: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays
  • Frank Carroll: 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays
  • Bands and live D.J.'s: 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Sunday

"Thanks to Brian, everything is prepared fresh with no pre- seasoning, pre-breading or preservatives," Santo Spina says.

Brian Laurent has been executive chef at Brien's since it opened. He makes sure the food quality and consistency don't change.

"Many of the guys in the kitchen are from the old restaurant, and they work the same 15- to 17-hour days that we do," Laurent says.

The restaurant is packed most of the time, with a staff of 90 making sure everyone is fed, watered and happy. It's a big leap from the 15 staff members at the old restaurant.

"One of the secrets to success is that there is always a family member on duty at the restaurant during business hours," Santo Spina says. "But everyone feels like family. If it wasn't for the staff, we couldn't do it."

All three men's wives work at the restaurant — Karen, Brien Spina's wife; Janice, Santo Spina's wife; and Charlene, Laurent's wife.

The family factor is obvious to all who walk through the door, though you won't be able to tell who is related, since all staff members work as if they own the business. Patrons are greeted, catered to and given a friendly parting word as they leave. The staff seems to have endless energy and smiles.

Just because Brien's is new and improved doesn't mean it's finished yet. On the drawing board are weekly Texas Hold' Em tournaments. The competitions began last summer but stopped during the restaurant's transition. Brien's also is expanding the kitchen to accommodate a soon-to-be-added breakfast menu.

As the restaurant grows, its entertainment schedule will grow as well. It also is getting a new Web site with a live webcam, so you can check out the atmosphere before heading out for the night.

Check out the current entertainment lineup and menu at www.CaptBriens.com.

While you sit at the bar making conversation with the bartender, make sure you ask for a monkey in your drink — trust me, you'll be entertained for hours.

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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