Passion on a Plate at Harbor Fish Market

Harbor Fish Market chefs push boundaries with pop-up dinners

Tell Harbor Fish Market & Grille chef and kitchen manager Dan Karpinski that one of the most interesting things you’ve ever eaten is haggis, and he might look at you thoughtfully and wonder whether it might have a place on the menu – at least during the off-season.

That’s when the restaurant is offering monthly pop-up dinners that allow Karpinski and executive chef Curtis Massad to flex their creative muscles by featuring items not found on the regular menu.

“It’s extremely exciting to break the monotony of your everyday menu, which is, of course, fabulous, and you created it, so you love it,” Massad said. “But we get bored with our own creations. We have to push our own boundaries.”

(From left) Harbor Fish Market & Grille owners Sarah and Scott Bennett. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

When Scott and Sarah Bennett purchased Harbor Fish Market & Grille in 2022, their goal was to remain open year-round. Because the restaurant hadn’t been open during the winter for several years, they wanted to create awareness that their business is now open year-round and offer something special to draw people in. 

Scott’s background in the wine and spirits industry includes attending more than 200 wine dinners, and he felt that creating similar events would be a good idea for Harbor Fish Market & Grille. Discussions among the Bennetts, Karpinski and Massad shaped the idea for their restaurant and gave the chefs an additional opportunity to explore and get creative. 

“Their passion really comes out on the plate,” Scott said.

Executive chef Curtis Massad. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

The process of creating a menu takes more than a month and lots of research as Karpinski and Massad pull from their own experiences and travels. They have different culinary styles, which they said are complementary: Massad likes to bring in more modern and avant-garde styles, and Karpinski uses his experience to decide what works and what doesn’t. 

The kimchi-marinated Fuji apple salad. Photo by Suzanne Metzel.

This symbiotic energy is primarily what’s driving the themes for the monthly pop-up dinners. Dishes such as maple-bacon cake and crispy prosciutto bruschetta were part of the five-course Pigs & Pinot dinner served in November 2022, and in January, they produced a seven-course dinner for Asian Fusion Night. One of Massad’s favorite dishes that evening was a kimchi-marinated Fuji apple salad. The next dinner, set for Feb. 28, will be Hawaiian Night, for which Karpinski is looking forward to making a pork terrine – in other words, handmade Spam.

Scott said this first year of pop-up dinners involves trial and error as they figure out what works and gather diners’ feedback. For example, previous dinners have included a set drink pairing for each course, but the Hawaiian Night dinner will have suggested cocktails for those who don’t drink wine or alcohol at all. They’re also adjusting the number of courses and price points.

One of the hardest parts about pulling together each pop-up dinner – the details of which the owners and both chefs agree on – is creating a menu that is feasible and practical. 

“We get crazy with our ideas,” Karpinski said. If they could, Scott said, “the chefs would make a 100-plate dinner.”

Chef and kitchen manager Dan Karpinski. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

The off-season pop-up dinners will be offered at Harbor Fish Market & Grille, 8080 Hwy 57 in Baileys Harbor, in February, April and May. (They’re skipping March because of spring break.) 

Massad has friendly advice for those who plan to attend: “Come hungry, walk in the door with an open mind, and be ready for anything.”

The bar will open at 5 pm for the Feb. 28 Hawaiian Night event, and dinner will be served at 6:30 pm. Space for the pop-dinners is limited, so reservations are required. Call 920.839.9999 to reserve your spot.

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