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Marco Island; Naples

Mrs. M and I will be traveling to Marco Island, Florida soon and are planning to enjoy one special meal. In past visits, my experience with dining in the Marco Island/Naples area has not been great. Indeed, the only exception to this is when we stumble upon real dives -- these have been, thus far, the culinary high (and this is certainly relative) points of our trips.

So, I thought I'd throw it out to this esteemed bunch: does anyone have any dining recommendations in the Marco Island/Naples area? Say $75 to $125 a head?

Thus far, I've come up with one contender that seems promising, but I have yet to find anyone whose ever been to Sale e Pepe. The menu intrigues me, and the chef's background (Turin native, Galileo sous chef, and part of the crew that was there at the opening of Laboratorio de Galileo) really piques my interest.

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Captiva; Naples; Sanibel

Naples...Sanibel....Captiva...I am seriously jealous. The Mad Hatter is a decent (at best) restaurant in Sanibel; but on the beach, after dark, with only scattered lights off of the water and the occasional beach bonfire nearby this is the stuff of memories. The Bubble Room's food isn't really memorable, either. But the ambience (or weird lack thereof) is. In Naples the best restauant is in the Ritz Carlton but this doesn't really count. Probably Maxwell's on the Bay is what you're looking for but just don't go expecting good food. Decent with a great view and you'll be fine. (Didn't Channel Nine's former weatherman, Gordon Barnes, retire here by the way? And, I think he's still on television...in Naples in February, too!) Probably I'd stick with the Lab heritage for dinner and walk near the water with a beachside nightcap later. If you're near Captiva there's a place that you have to take a boat to (serious) that has a great hamburger. Something like the Cabbage Key Inn but it's claim to fame is that Jimmy Buffet used this as his inspiration for "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

Still, even mediocre food, even BAD to mediocre food on the beach in southwest Florida in late February or early March is wonderful and to be lusted for. Seriously, intensely jealous-isn't it suppose to snow here tonight?

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Mrs. M and I will be traveling to Marco Island, Florida soon and are planning to enjoy one special meal.  In past visits, my experience with dining in the Marco Island/Naples area has not been great.  Indeed, the only exception to this is when we stumble upon real dives -- these have been, thus far, the culinary high (and this is certainly relative) points of our trips.

So, I thought I'd throw it out to this esteemed bunch: does anyone have any dining recommendations in the Marco Island/Naples area?  Say $75 to $125 a head? 

Thus far, I've come up with one contender that seems promising, but I have yet to find anyone whose ever been to Sale e Pepe.  The menu intrigues me, and the chef's background (Turin native, Galileo sous chef, and part of the crew that was there at the opening of Laboratorio de Galileo) really piques my interest.

Roberto said tonight that he will be cooking at Sale e Pepe at the end of March. We should put together a contingent to welcome him to Naples!!

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Naples

Our favorite Naples place is USS Nemo (3745 N. Tamiami Trail; 239-261-6366). Great seafood, funky submarine atmosphere (not cheesy), plenty of locals. I can't find a web site, but here is a newspaper review and here are a couple of user reviews. The sea bass is particularly good.

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Fort Myers Beach

We're headed down to Ft Myers Beach for a couple days post-Xmas for an event. Any tips on the area? We are staying on Estero Blvd on the southern end of the island itself. Walking to places would be a good option, but I have no knowledge of that part of FLA at all. Is there a food "scene" down there, or are we confined to chaindom?

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Sarastoa; Venice

We're headed down to Ft Myers Beach for a couple days post-Xmas for an event. Any tips on the area? We are staying on Estero Blvd on the southern end of the island itself. Walking to places would be a good option, but I have no knowledge of that part of FLA at all. Is there a food "scene" down there, or are we confined to chaindom?
Starting tomorrow, I will be sunning my bunz in that area as well (Venice to be exact).

I've always enjoyed the crows nest - http://www.crowsnest-venice.com/

My grandmother likes cafe baci in Sarasota.
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Starting tomorrow, I will be sunning my bunz in that area as well (Venice to be exact).

I've always enjoyed the crows nest - http://www.crowsnest-venice.com/

My grandmother likes cafe baci in Sarasota.

I think we're going to try to stay more local than that; we're only there for 3 days and a wedding will take up one of those, but if the food options are dim I'll probably travel. I'll take the lay of the land and report back.

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Fort Myers Beach

Verdict: go for the sun, not for the food. We ate at a few different places. The Beached Whale at the north end of Ft Myers Beach was your typical florida bar. Nice roof deck and bar food. The blackened grouper sandwich was probably the single best food item at a restaurant I had. That is not saying much as the competition was pretty weak, and I've had way better in the keys and Miami. Down at the south end of the island where we were staying we had dinner at Flippers at the Lovers Key Resort. Terribly overpriced, bland food. I can honestly say I don't remember what I had. There was another expensive seafood place on the canal that I can't recall (sense a theme here?) whose only saving grace was that they had stone crabs at $19/pound, the same price we could get them ourselves at the store. Contrast that with another place in Sanibel (Timber's) that was charging $32. In a sports bar.

The best food I had was probably the ceviche we prepared from the fresh snapper we caught on Saturday morning. I would have suggested we stay in and cook for ourselves more had the kitchen in the condo been adequately stocked.

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Anyone have any additional recommendations? I will be staying at the Ritz Carlton in Naples Florida third week of March with my in-laws and will be renting a car...my preference is to not venture too far, but will drive for good food despite Crazeeboy's no sense of direction.

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St. Petersburg

Had a wonderful night at Ceviche on the corner of Central and Beach on Thursday. We had about a dozen people so we went into the downstairs lounge area. Dark wood, low light, interesting lanterns and absolutely wonderful guitar trio made for excellent atmosphere at this tapas bar-- masking the smoke from area wildfires plaguing much of the state (55 counties with fires! and a ton of smoke pouring down from Georgia).

The only disappointing dish I tried was the gazpacho. It was bland, but that could have been smoke-dulled tastebuds. The albondigas were served with a rich red wine sauce. A mixed grill plate had juicy, well-seasoned chicken and beef with a hint of rosemary. The asparagus were tender-crisp with a judicious drizzle of saffron aioli. Gambas romesco had fresh jumbo Gulf shrimp with one of the best romesco sauces I've ever tasted -- it was somehow both rich and light and let the shrimp dominate the overall taste. There was both a standing menu and seasonal specials. With so many interesting choices, I may go back next week when work brings me back to the area.

If nothing else, go for the guitars. They were absolutely amazing. If you want to talk to your dinner companions though, go before the guitars crank up because any conversation once they start is impossible.

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Marco Island-Naples area

Had a very tasty dinner last week at Pelican Bend halfway between Naples and Marco Island. The place is nothing much to look at but one of my local staff brought a few of us there for their very fresh seafood. Meals come with either a wedge salad or coleslaw. We all opted for the wedge with the housemade creamy garlic dressing. The dressing was excellent, if too plentiful. While wedge salads are being resurrected these days I have a feeling they just never went out of style at this place. All three of my dining companions got the house specialty grilled grouper. I went for the sauteed shrimp. These were fresh Gulf shrimp brought into the dock that morning. I was surprised that they were breaded, actually sort of battered, so that they had a very light but crispy crust. They had a light kick of cayenne. The rice was kind of gloppy so stick to the fries, baked, or sweet potato. We split a very tart slice of key lime pie that they serve really cold. I was put off by the temperature at first because the flavor didn't come through the cold. But then I just let the bite melt on my tongue and enjoy the tart ride. Entrees were $15. The service was friendly. A nice end to a fantastic day in the field.

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Marco Island

Almost forgot to say that after my long drive across the Everglades, I stopped in to Sweet Annie's Ice Cream on Marco Island for a treat. They serve Ice Cream Club ice cream. Twenty years ago I used to go to one of their stores in Manalapan every night when visiting friends. We all loved the stuff. Turns out they've franchised and have a ton of stores in the Southeast. I plan to find one in each town I visit in Florida. Seems like a noble goal.

My cone of choice was raspberry truffle -- light raspberry ice cream with a raspberry swirl and dark chocolate truffles. Very good stuff.

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St. Petersburg

Went to Moon Under Water on Beach St the first night. Casual place with an eclectic menu that is part old Florida seafood shack, part British, and part Caribbean. I had the crabcake special which had fresh Apalachicola crab and not much filler but was a little bland. One of my dining companions ordered the crabcake appetizer because he wasn't very hungry and didn't want the starch or veggie. His crabcakes looked straight out the freezer and Mrs. Paul would have been ashamed to claim them. Very weird.

Went back to Ceviche for tapas. This was my third time in the last few months and it continues to impress. Notable items this time were the shrimp romesco, spinach with figs, and the flan with incredibly rich caramel sauce. The red sangria is hands down better then the very sweet sparkling sangria. The outside patio seating was nice after a long day of meetings but be sure to check that there is some sea breeze or you will be swatting flies away throughout your meal.

Lunch at TooJays, a New York-style deli, scratched an itch with a very decent pastrami sandwich. I was tempted to get a black and white cookie for the road but was afraid the icing would melt in the sweltering heat on the walk back to the hotel.

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Naples

Remarkable that no one has mentioned the tradition known as the Dock in Naples. Open air with fans, on the water and with seriously fresh grouper whether fried, broiled or blackened; throw in a few candles and light off of the water and, at nighttime, this is a place to be reckoned with. Bottom line: you're on vacation when you sit by an open window over as well as overlooking the Bay.

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St. Petersburg

Had a great dinner earlier this week at Pacific Wave. It has a very non-descript storefront in a small strip just behind the St. Pete Hilton but once you walk through the door, the environment changes to a delightful Pacific rim atmosphere that matches the food. The focus is on fresh seafood and Pacific rim flavors. I had an absolutely wonderful duck confit/duck breast plate with noodles in a spicy plum glaze and some bok choy. Dining companions had interesting looking dishes as well -- butterfish, scallops, grouper, and Alaska salmon. It was interesting to see so much imported Pacific seafood in this gulfside restaurant but it just kind of worked.

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We're heading down to Marco Island for the in-laws' 60th birthdays. Looking for a couple of places to eat -- mainly somewhere casual and relaxed, but still nice. They'll be 7 of us ranging in age from 0-60. Something on the beach/water would be nice, but it doesn't have to be. Any suggestions?

I've never been to Marco Island, but I think we'd prefer to stay on the island, if possible. If you think our best bet is to eat off the island though, please let me know. Thanks.

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Panacea

Angelo's in Panacea -- On Ochlockonee Bay on US 98 on the east side of the bridge. US 98 is a great coastal drive hitting Apalachicola, Panama City, Destin, and the wonderful Gulf beaches at St. George Island, Santa Rosa, Cape San Blas.

Had a chance to eat here last night. There is a great story to this place. It first opened in the 1940's and was built out over the water because the Wakulla County line stopped at the shore and Wakulla County was dry. By building over the water, enough of the place was technically in Franklin County and they could get a liquor license. The county line has since moved to the middle of the bay and both are now wet. The place was bay level and withstood over fifty years of hurricanes until Dennis claimed it. The pictures are astonishing. Besides waves crashing over the roof, someone was building a marina down the bay and the massive pilings skewered the building. The daughter of a guy who worked for me had married into the owner's family and for two years I'd been hearing tales of the rebuilding. It was totally swamped all last fall and then I somehow forgot about it. I had a good-bye dinner there last night and I'm pissed I didn't get my butt down there sooner.

The restaurant is now on stilts and we sat on the deck overlooking the bay enjoying the great bay breeze and cooler temperatures (it was about 10 degrees cooler then Tallahasssee). The chef sent out an appetizer of fried green tomatos smothered in crab meat with a little cream sauce. I could have been very happy with just a platter of this. The tomato was very thick-sliced with a cornmeal batter and not a hint of grease. The crabs came off the boat that morning. After tasting that, I decided I needed an all crab evening. I had broiled soft-shells for my main with sides of hush puppies and crab stuffed summer squash. Yep, crab with a side of crab. The softies were done just right with a little garlic and olive oil. There were some lightly roasted onion on top that I brushed aside as it overwhelmed the crab. I went for the stuffed squash side because one of my dining companions raved about it. It was definitely good but just too rich and made for too much food. It could easily be a main. Good food, good conversation and a great sunset.

As a bonus, we got to walk through the kitchen. The kitchen was easily the same size of the rather large restaurant and clearly designed by kitchen staff tired of working on top of each other. The chef told me that in the summer busy season they'll have about 100 people working there each night. The best part was going into the fish prep room and despite seeing grouper heads on every counter not smelling a hint of fish. The boats pull up and unload and they can hose the room down however frequently they need.

This is a great family place now on its second generation and ready to withstand another 50 years of hurricanes.

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Naples

I just got back from visiting my parents in Naples. When down there, we always go to Steamers, a New England-style lobster shack that was opened by a guy from Brockton, MA. The food is great, with the highlights being the clam chowder, lobster roll and fried scallops. You can get fries, onion rings, or both, and the rings are lightly battered, and remind me of those I'd get on the Cape every summer. They also have things such as steamers (duh) and clams with bellies that you typically don't find outside of NE (iirc).

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Sanibel

I've been visiting my folks on Sanibel Island about once a year for 10+ years now. I used to joke that there were more restaurants per person in Sanibel than anywhere else! There are many good ones, and some bad ones. But, here are my favorites:

Lazy Flamingo - I LOVE the peel and eat shrimp, which are always plump and perfectly seasoned. My mom gets the Clam Chowder, and my dad the fried grouper. The pieces of grouper are big and fleshy, with a minimal crunchy coating. We always get french fries and cold beer too. Great casual spot.

Traders - current favorite sopt for a nice dinner out. Almost everything is always good, from lamb chops to fresh-made ravioli to delicious parmesan crusted fish. They also have good ribs. Not the best ever, but very nice for an island on the gulf coast biggrin.gif There's a trading shop adjacent with jewlrey and other knick knacks.

Island Cow - I'm not sure why I love this place. Maybe the strawberry muffins that come hot before the meal? Or the ample portions that always leave leftovers? The food is definitely good, but not great. I usually get a po-boy or a salad.

Sanibel Bean - Go here for a really great cup of coffee! They also have icecream, and sandwiches (although I've never had a sandwich). I believe there is now one in the Ft. Myers airport.

Doc Ford's - this is the place to watch a game on TV. The food is much better than your average sports bar, but it is a sports bar-type menu. Good fried grouper is what I remember.

West Wind Inn -- good breakfast spot. We like the pecan pancakes and the omlettes that come with fresh-baked biscuits. I think the restaurant is supposed to be for Inn guests only, but we've never been turned away.

Twilight 2??? -- The Twilight Cafe, run by Chef Robby, used to be my absolute favorite restaurant, on the island or off. He closed about 2 years ago, but I heard he might be taking over a new space. I hope so!

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Naples

We were just in Naples for a few days. Two not-to-miss places to mention, both of them fairly new. Fabrizio Aielli and his wife Ingrid, formerly of Teatro Goldoni in DC, have opened Sea Salt, and it seems to have taken over top spot in Naples. High end. Excellent seafood of course. Emphasis on salts, I believe they claim they stock 75 or so different types for tasting. More at http://aninsatiableappetite.blogspot.com/2...ant-review.html

The other place is IM Tapas. Again really good food, including my first taste of jamon Iberico. Not as cheap as some tapas places, but well worth it if you're in town. I was there with a local Chowhound group, including Ivan the above mentioned insatiable appetite blogger and a lovely couple from Maryland (he is a retired professor from UM) who are snowbirds. More info at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/552146

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Sarasota; Siesta Key

Just returned from a week in beautiful Sarasota! Bijou Cafe and Michael's on East are still the best restaurants in town. We were very disappointed with Mattison on 41 and Mattison Grill. Libby's in Southside was overpriced and underwhelming. This restaurant is in the old Fred's venue. Hillview Grill and Morton's Gourmet Market for lunch were great. We also had a tasty lunch at Tommy Bahama at St. Armand Circle. Any recommendations for seafood lovers?

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Longboat Key; Holmes Beach


Just returned from a week in beautiful Sarasota! Bijou Cafe and Michael's on East are still the best restaurants in town. We were very disappointed with Mattison on 41 and Mattison Grill. Libby's in Southside was overpriced and underwhelming. This restaurant is in the old Fred's venue. Hillview Grill and Morton's Gourmet Market for lunch were great. We also had a tasty lunch at Tommy Bahama at St. Armand Circle. Any recommendations for seafood lovers?

Maison Blanche on Longboat Key was considered for a Beard award but didn't make the cut. Still, it's one of only a handful of Gulf Coast restaurants to even be considered. Twenty or so miles north is the incredibly romantic Beach Bistro on Holmes Beach. 28 or so points from Zagat for food. I've never been to it-when it was open (looked in the window one afternoon!) but nex weekt will will find out how good it is. The setting is simply incredible. Among the most special in America.
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St Petersburg

Any recent recs for St Petersburg? We're down there again this weekend for an annual race, and I still haven't found anywhere worth returning to. Looking more for casual places than upscale, walking distance from around the Vinoy/Straub Park area a plus since we won't have a car.

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St. Petersburg


Any recent recs for St Petersburg? We're down there again this weekend for an annual race, and I still haven't found anywhere worth returning to. Looking more for casual places than upscale, walking distance from around the Vinoy/Straub Park area a plus since we won't have a car.

Ack! I just saw this! Click here for my thoughts on Zurritos, Ceviche Tapas Bar, and Z Grille.
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Maison Blanche on Longboat Key was considered for a Beard award but didn't make the cut. Still, it's one of only a handful of Gulf Coast restaurants to even be considered. Twenty or so miles north is the incredibly romantic Beach Bistro on Holmes Beach. 28 or so points from Zagat for food. I've never been to it-when it was open (looked in the window one afternoon!) but nex weekt will will find out how good it is. The setting is simply incredible. Among the most special in America.

Thanks for the recommendations. Both sound great.

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St. Petersburg


Ack! I just saw this! Click here for my thoughts on Zurritos, Ceviche Tapas Bar, and Z Grille.

Thanks, Don, I'll file those away for next year ...

I had meant to hit Ceviche in particular given the buzz, but the weekend was bit too hectic and I couldn't fit it in. Out of convenience's sake I ended up eating a couple times at 400 Beach, a seafood place right by the Vinoy. It was decent if expensive for the quality; the BBQ mahi with cheese grits and braised greens I chose at random from the menu was actually the lone highlight. Don't bother with any sushi item, and forget the raw bar offerings even exist.

Hooker Tea Company is good for breakfast (very limited menu: tea infused oatmeal, yogurt parfaits and a quiche of the day), and they serve a good variety of quality teas if you sort through the preponderance of rooibos and other fruit-flavored crap.
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Cedar Key

We were in Cedar Key not long ago. Interesting place; very "old Florida:" Strikes one as being like Key West must have been 100 years ago. Mainly for fishermen and assorted types. But in addition to Tony's which is famous for its clam chowder, there is a pizzeria called Island Pizzeria that is worthy of note. They have their own style, and the toppings are heavy, but it really is good. We tried twice to get their most famous offering, the Oysters Rockefeller pizza, without success for various reasons. But we did have their white pizza, with anchovies added at our request, and it was really great. Very heavy toppings, very good ingredients, just a superb pizza. Worth a detour if you are in the area.

http://www.islandpizzeria.net/

Mostly carryout. They have a couple of tables on the porch.

Cedar Key is about 60 miles SW of Gainesville. If you're interested in shells there is a little museum with a spectacular collection.

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Naples

I just got back from a quick, three day tour of Naples. There were way more misses than hits on the food front, but I did find something that was truly worthwhile: Friday Happy Hour at the Naples Grande Beach Resort. I guess you can file this under "Drinking Bad Champagne is better than drinking NO Champagne" but $3 a glass for Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label at Happy Hour is too good to pass up. The price starts out at $3 a glass and goes up $3 a glass every hour until 7:00, then starts going back down.

So if you plan correctly, you can drink a ton of champagne before dinner, pair it with a decent Charcruterie plate ($10), and get out for well less than $50. Then go have dinner, and head back to the resort after 10, and continue to drink the night away.

I think $3 is just about right for VC!

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Holmes Beach


I'd appreciate some recommendations for Sarasota, especially seafood restaurants.

Drive 45 minutes north to the Beach Bistro which is Zagat 29 for food (yes, Zagat 29/ and the best seafood restaurant in the state. We've made annual pilgramages to this which is also one of the most romantic restaurants in America: http://www.beachbistro.com/ It really looks this good! And, it is one of America's great seafood restaurants in an incredibly idlyiic location.

The negative? It's known. Well! Reserve a month in advance even for a weeknight and expect to spend some money. Superb wine list reasonably priced.

We've built Florida vacations around annual trips to the Beach Bistro. We love this place!

Joe Heflin
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Sarasota


We will be in Sarasota and Siesta Key in mid-April. We made reservations ar Michael's on East and Bijou Cafe. Any other suggestions? We like romantic, dimly lit places that feature seafood.

Well its neither romantic nor dimly lit, but we enjoyed the seafood at the Casey Key fish house. I recommend it if you're in more of laid back, Tiki-esque mood. Saw Stephen King there,but didn't recognize him wearing grungy jeans and Maine T-shirt until wife, who grew up partly in Bangor, pointed him out.

http://caseykeyfishhouse.com/menu.html
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Panama City Beach

I just returned from Panama City Beach last week. Have a couple places to share.

First is Joe's Corner Pub. This is located on the east side of the Hathaway bridge on US 98 in Panama City. No frills hole in the wall watering hole. They only serve beer and only take cash. But what they also do is make some of the best buffalo wings I have ever had. Whatever their secret is they are doing it right. The wings are a perfect size, they cook them correctly without having to ask for extra crispy, and the sauce is out of this world good. The blue cheese is mediocre, but the wings are the star here.

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Next was Dusty's Oyster Bar on Front Beach Rd., Panama City Beach. Fresh local oysters. They will do them any way you like. I like them raw. $5.99 a dozen. Also had blackened scallops one of the three times I went there. They were great.

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Naples

Currently in Naples. There is a somewhat new spot (well, opened in 2009, ie after the majority of this thread was posted) called Inca's Kitchen. It's in a modest strip mall on Collier Blvd., well east of downtown. Don't be fooled--it may be the best food in Naples now. The chef-owner is a serious guy from Peru, and he does really good stuff at really reasonable prices, with a major emphasis on seafood. Best seviche I ever had, followed by some grilled corvina with a mixture of shellfish sauced with a house-made yellow pepper sauce. Rich and rewarding, with really fresh fish. You'll think you're in a frou-frou place on 5th, but you won't be paying 5th Ave. prices.

http://strongerthanall.biz/mexican-peruvian-food-naples-fl/menu.html

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Holmes Beach/Sarasota

Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island has 28 from Zagat for food.  It's also among the most romantic restaurants on earth.  Ask for one of the three tables which are literally on the white sand beach.  http://www.beachbistro.com/  I am being serious about this last statement:  the tables sit directly in the sand about 20 yards from the edge of the building.  Watching the sun set while sitting at one of these rivals any restaurant I have ever been to anywhere.  Much of what you will be served is outstanding.  This includes Shrimp Mosca equal to the NOLA original, an excellent cioppino, outstanding grouper crusted with hazelnuts and on and on.  The wine list is a Grand Award winner from the Wine Spectator.

Negative:  it is a long standing tradition that you have to reserve at least a couple of weeks in advance for Friday and Saturday night.  Perhaps longer for the beach tables at sunset.

Overall it is my single favorite restaurant in all of Florida.  We've been going for twenty years and have bult trips around a visit.  About 25 minutes north of Sarasota driving up Longboat Key.

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Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island has 28 from Zagat for food.  It's also among the most romantic restaurants on earth.  Ask for one of the three tables which are literally on the white sand beach.  http://www.beachbistro.com/  I am being serious about this last statement:  the tables sit directly in the sand about 20 yards from the edge of the building.  Watching the sun set while sitting at one of these rivals any restaurant I have ever been to anywhere.  Much of what you will be served is outstanding.  This includes Shrimp Mosca equal to the NOLA original, an excellent cioppino, outstanding grouper crusted with hazelnuts and on and on.  The wine list is a Grand Award winner from the Wine Spectator.

Negative:  it is a long standing tradition that you have to reserve at least a couple of weeks in advance for Friday and Saturday night.  Perhaps longer for the beach tables at sunset.

Overall it is my single favorite restaurant in all of Florida.  We've been going for twenty years and have bult trips around a visit.  About 25 minutes north of Sarasota driving up Longboat Key.

May be out of my price range for this trip, Joe, even if -- as I'm going down to row for four days -- I won't be dipping into the wine list at all. But maybe, if one of those spandex-clad oars-babes catches my eye....

I will file this away, however, for a potential future trip, as my favorite (and very well off) cousin lives nearby and the family descends on occasion.

And one of my teammates is in that phase of new romance where you make hormone-fueled bad decisions (some might say that this whole romance is a bad decision, but mine is not to judge) and he may want to throw some cash around, mid-life crisis fashion, to impress his younger babe.

Thanks..

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St Petersburg; Redington Shores

I sensed a theme among most of the places we peeked into in the area: cheap bulk.  After a few encounters with intolerably mediocre food, Gubeen and I started hunting down ethnic restaurants in hopes of respite.  And while we didn't find much worth writing home about, at least the cheap bulk ethnic places weren't quite as bad.

But hey, here are a couple of observations anyway.  In downtown St Petersburg, Engine No 9 cranks out some pretty decent and interesting burger combinations.  Their "Chubby Duck" burger might sport less foie gras than one would get at Ray's (much less the jaw-dropping slabs that Wabeck used to ply us with) but it was still a worthy combination.  G had their "Shrimp Burger", built around a patty consisting of shrimp arranged in a circle.  They use larger, less tender shrimp than Michel Richard's version, and it lacks a contrasting crunch element, but it was still interesting.

Over by the beaches, the prevailing theme was "tourist trap".  Nothing exemplified this more than Conch Republic Grill, an attractive enough spot where the dishes *could* be good but generally ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere.  Their take on fish tacos had the right components, but assembled into an unmanageably large and wet burrito-sized soft taco that would have worked much better had it been two smaller items.  A perfectly good (if absurdly generous) slice of Key Lime Pie was undermined by being plated on a heavy drizzle of a clear, dark green sauce best described as liquified Jolly Rancher.

One spot that we liked was the Seabreeze Island Grill.  One of the larger and more obviously prosperous spots along the main drag, the usual cartoony menu featured mostly locally- and Florida-caught fish, and while the descriptions were thoroughly mainstream, what arrived on the plate revealed a kitchen that actually knew what to do with seafood.  The fried hogfish platter sounded like any other, but the fillets were uniformly lightly breaded in panko and perfectly fried, with nary a hint of overcooking.  Ditto the broiled Royal Red Shrimp, one of the specials that night.  They did admit, however, that their blackened preparations were strongly toned down in deference to the bland tastes of most of their clientele.  The kitchen would happily add sriracha if extra heat was requested.

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Longboat Key; Sarasota; St. Petersburg; Tampa

A couple of weeks on the Gulf Coast & I figure I might as well update this thread:

Sarasota/Longboat Key:  We loved Maison Blanche (LK) and went twice"¦ everything is excellent; Euphemia Haye (LK) was uneven but worth it for the duck (very nice salads as well); Libby's (Sarasota) was a nice neighborhood place that I could see hanging out & eating at the bar in if we were there for awhile (& knew the strengths/weaknesses for better ordering); Dry Dock Sea Grille (LK) has a great view and very fresh, good fish at ok prices; Louie's Modern (Sarasota) was much better than expected - worth going, but remember, it's modern in a NYC/D.C. way"¦ nice open kitchen, upbeat room/staff, but not a homey room.

St. Pete: Z Grill was worth going for the fried chicken/waffles and for the deviled eggs.  Overall, a yes.  I liked Parkshore, but it seems uneven.  Birch & Vine was a definite winner, although they need to tamper with a couple of the dishes.  The taco truck has gone downhill.  Little flavor"¦ wouldn't make it in Austin (or Brooklyn for that matter).

Tampa: there for 2 nights, spent both w/friends at Berns.  Cannot think of a better way to spend the time.  Almost worth flying to Tampa just to eat.

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Tampa: there for 2 nights, spent both w/friends at Berns.  Cannot think of a better way to spend the time.  Almost worth flying to Tampa just to eat.

Did you hit the upstairs dessert room?

And, did they essentially "usher you upstairs" when it was time for dessert? I think it serves a twofold purpose - the main one to get steak-eaters out of the dining room to make more room for other steak-eaters (not that this is a bad thing - it's done tactfully).

Note that Bern's Steak House is long-listed for a 2014 Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant in the Nation. While I can't get behind this, quality-wise, there's no doubting the legacy of this place, and plenty of less-qualified people and places have won national awards.

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We've been upstairs on a previous visit or two, but not these past 2 years.  I'm not a dessert person & we've successfully gotten cheese & after dinner drinks downstairs (or just coffee) once or twice.  We always let them "reserve" us a table upstairs when we begin our meal so that we have the option and they have the (mostly unrealistic) hope of us leaving after entrees.  

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