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
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