Without my quite realizing it until recently, the grouper reuben has become ubiquitous along Florida’s Gulf Coast — or, at least, the relative sliver of it that I frequent. I’ve seen it on menus in Sarasota, in Naples, in Clearwater, in St. Petersburg, in Tampa and now in Tierra Verde, a long isthmus separating St. Pete Beach from Fort Desoto Park, home to many a sprawling community of condos, a few marine supply stores, and Billy’s Stone Crab and Seafood, a little gem of a place tucked alongside an inlet from the Gulf. Continue reading
“If you have a picky eater, they haven’t tried our pork yet.”
The folks behind Snootie’s BBQ are living the dream. From a brief conversation with the man who served me a delicious pulled pork sandwich, I gathered the following about their annual calendar: Halloween is their food truck’s final day of business in Sandusky, Ohio. Following that, the crew pulls up stakes and heads south to Tampa, where they set up shop through April at Bearss Groves near Lake Magdalene. I’ve had made many fruit and vegetable purchases at the Groves, a fairly extensive covered farmer’s market. I’ve also eaten many barbecue sandwiches at Snootie’s, and I further knew that they were native Ohioans, like me, from the hip, industrialized, Lake Erie side of the state. But I’d never really heard their “story,” so to speak, preferring for the last few years to grumble to myself how much I’d like to be living in Ohio during those months when Florida becomes a tropical inferno where the air itself exudes sweat, and to be here in Tampa when Ohio enters its annual ice age. Continue reading
The Hawaiian grouper sandwich at Hula Bay, Tampa.
Is it a good thing when a side order and dipping sauces overshadow the sandwich you’ve ordered at a restaurant you’re eating at for the first time? The glass-half-full answer is of course, that experiencing any sort of gustatory joy is a worthy achievement, even if it’s the consumption of a pile of petal-cut fries and some spicy sweet and sour sauce. Another point of view (roughly) parallels the old saw that one will often return to an eatery with poor service if the food is outstanding, but superb service will not attract return visits if the food is unremarkable. I can’t imagine saying to myself: “Gee, the fries at that place are really good — let’s go there!”
Because the fries at Hula Bay, located deep in South Tampa off Westshore Boulevard near MacDill Air Force Base, are really superb. As you can tell, the analogy with “service” is imperfect, but I hope you get my point. The place has much besides the fries to recommend it for a return visit (not the least of which is a great rum-runner, that staple of waterfront Florida dining and drinking). And the fried grouper nuggets are dipped in beer and crushed cornflakes before their swim in the oil. Outstanding, and accompanied by more of that delicious deep-red sweet and sour sauce. In hindsight, I probably should’ve used that sauce on my sandwich instead of the lime tartar sauce (house-made, according to our server, for what that’s worth; the cole slaw is also “made to order”). Continue reading
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… Continue reading
The Philly Grouper from Crabby Bill’s in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.
There is no occasion too monumental, no milestone too significant to celebrate with a sandwich. The birth of my niece Julia, just before Christmas in Tampa, was no exception. My older brother Chris is Julia’s father and a longtime advocate of the Florida way of life. He and his wife returned to the Sunshine State nearly three years ago after a short stint in the D.C. area, and, in addition to some other semi-professional endeavors, he now authors the Gulf Coasting column that appears regularly on this site. He has settled into the lifestyle of a permanent snowbird with startling ease.
Although Chris’s incessant, years-long guilt trip wasn’t enough to persuade me to visit, having his first kid was. And so as D.C. dodged polar vortices, I basked in an early afternoon sun at one of a multitude of vibrantly colored picnic tables in the large open-air patio of Crabby Bill’s Seafood Co. in Indian Rocks Beach. Although Chris, who had spent the previous weeks praising the joint’s seafood-heavy offerings, had to be practically dragged away from his little one, once seated he eagerly began an energetic recital of the menu highlights. Continue reading