A trip to the beach generally means a grouper sandwich — at least, for me, and when I’m in Florida. May 17 marked my daughter Julia’s first-ever beach trip, which, being a native Floridian, puts her a little behind the curve at 5 months of age. I myself never saw a body of salt water until I was eight. Growing up in Ohio also limited my exposure to seafood in a really tangible way; I thrived on Red Lobster and whatever my mom could cook up at home (which actually was usually pretty tasty, featuring perch, cod, halibut, and the like at various points). Nevertheless…
A grouper sandwich in and of itself is not necessarily a notable item for this author. I try to seek out and comment on the esoteric and the unique, and there have been other Bay-area grouper creations that have received some ink on this blog. But the “world famous” grouper sandwich at the Hurricane in Pass-a-Grille does have some impressive credentials. Also, like I said, was my daughter’s first beach trip, and thus there was some sense of ceremony in her introduction to the usual rituals of an outing to the Florida coast. Gator bites and rum runners were also prominently involved, although she didn’t appear in the mood for either.
The Hurricane boasts what must be one of the most spectacular coastal views from their rooftop bar — one can imagine seeing all the way to Clearwater Beach looking north. They also serve giant sand buckets full of rum-based drinks. Alas, being that there is no food service on the rooftop bar, so we remained grounded, at a very pleasant shaded spot on their outdoor patio, across the street from the beach access. Julia will experience the rooftop bar at some future date.
The gator bites might be the best I’ve had, and they’re served with a very peculiar BBQ-ish sauce that’s really tasty. They are not the focus here. The blackened grouper sandwich doesn’t live up to the grandiose descriptions in the menu (how could it?), but it’s damned good. The bun, the moderate dressings of tomato, red onion, and lettuce don’t overwhelm the star of the show. And the filet was a textbook example to follow for all fish-sandwich chefs — extending beyond the bun, but not enough to be hanging or to make the bun into a sailor’s cap of bread atop the sandwich filling (a flaw that has befallen many a sandwich before it). What more can I say about blackened grouper that I haven’t already? My one complaint here is that the blackening powder in the Hurricane kitchen could use a little less salt. I was deliriously thirsty for more than an hour after eating this sandwich. It’s a minor quibble, but when you’re in the habit of judging seafood places by the quality of their blackened grouper, it could potentially sway opinion. The tartar sauce made for good french-fry dipping, but as we all know, it really isn’t appropriate to spread on the bun of a blackened fish sandwich.
Julia ate nothing at the Hurricane. She seemed very nonplussed to be at the beach, in general. Having her feet in the sand and staring at a huge body of water baffled her, to judge from her demeanor. But growing up here, she’ll have ample opportunities for re-exposure to both the seafood and the seascape. Maybe she’ll glimpse the shores of Lake Erie by the time she turns eight.
Christopher Nank, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of literature at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He resides in Tampa.