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Visiting Sanibel/Siesta/St. Pete....recs and comments?

Hi there gulf coast Florida Hounds! We are coming down from grey, cold Boston for a week of sunshine, relaxation and, of course, good chow. We are fish eating vegetarians and prefer healthier food. We don't want too many very expensive places...we love "little joints" with great food. Here are some spots I've scoped off the boards. I'd love comments and other suggestions.

Sanibel/Ft. Myers:
Sweet Melissa's
Mad Take Out (Spelt pizza!!)
Lighthouse Cafe
Island Cow

Siesta Key/Sarasota:
Captain Brian's
Broken Egg (WW French toast..yumm!)
Dry Dock Grill
Star Fish company
Creek Seafood
Simon's coffeehouse (vegetarian fare?)

St. Pete/Clearwater:
Crab Shack
Leafy Greens Cafe
Central Cafe and Organics
Tio Pepe's
Mid-Penisula Seafood
Lenny's (better breakfast spot?)

So that's my starting point.....now I need hounds to point me in the right direction!

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  1. We had a very good meal at Doc Ford's in Sanibel, and that was really the only food of the trip worth mentioning! It's not so much a "little joint," but those are pretty much nonexistent in Sanibel/Captiva. They also have an excellent rum bar if you are so inclined!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Tippy

      I second that motion--Doc Ford's has the most addictive shrimp in Florida. Get the red sauce Columbian 1/2 lb appetiser, great crusty bread to soak up the sauce and an icy rum cocktail and you have a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Best restaurant on Sanibel Island.

    2. I've heard the fish at Lazy Flamingo is really good. There are 2 locations on Sanibel.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nmurawsk

        I was not crazy about Doc Fords at all. In fact, it was a total dissapointment. However, we had a great breakfasts at Lighthouse and Island Cow and a great dinner at Lazy Flamingo's. Have a great time.

      2. Thanks for the responses! Keep 'em coming........


        1. Several of your St. Pete recs are not near St. Pete. Lenny's, Tio Pepe's, and Keegan's are all Clearwater locations - which can be up to 45 minutes away depending on where in St. Pete you are. Are you staying in one location and driving to the three locations, or are you hopping around?

          I live in between Clearwater and St. Pete, and I found this board posting very helpful in finding new places to enjoy. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/587920

          In St. Pete, I love Hook's Sushi and Thai. I make that same 45 minute drive just to get
          their rolls.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TampaAurora

            We are staying close to Clearwater, which is why I chose those spots as starting points. Thanks for the link....I did see it and checked out a few of those recs. Since many were "meat based", or far from Clearwater area,I thought I'd still ask for recs. We really aren't interested in having any ethnic foods, as we get a great selection of those here in Boston.

          2. In St. Pete, Ceviche is a great tapas bar near the water downtown and Keegan's isn't in St. Pete per se, but is wonderful all the same--don't miss the octopus/garlic appetiser.

            1. Phillipi Creek oyster bar, only 5 minutes from siesta on Tamiami Trail US 41, just south Clark Road or the southern road to Siesta
              Better than Captain Brians for me.

              Broken Egg (WW French toast..yumm!) Absolutely great

              Dry Dock Grill
              Not far but a pretty drive going to Longboat. Stop at Mote Marine Aquarium, I was manager for years. Send me your name and I will have passes waiting for you at the door if you want. 15 each, free for me. Be glad to do it. Lots of fun a few hours, manatees, sharks, turtles a good time. Right across the street is the Old Salty Dog. Not fancy, just a outside bar, good fish sandwiches, etc. Dry dock is inside a bit fancier, but not too, shorts is fine. More refined food. The "DOG" is more just fishermans food. Both good, and I like both. The columbia, FL tradition, Spanish cuisine is wonderful on St. Armands Circle on your way out from downtown Sarasota to Longboat, Lido (dry dog area), On a great circle of shopping experience, great fun, nice to enjoy, shopping and dining experiences, the Columbia has great spanish food, fun with inside and outside. I love it. The atmosphere is worth it. Or you can view the pelicans at the DOG or the Dry Dock. All three different and I enjoy all three.

              For a nice dinner there are several, let me know what type of food you are interested in. Pricey or more just atmosphere.

              Any questions you can email me or just post back. My email is on my profile. Be glad to help.

              Star Fish company Never heard of, not sure why
              Same as Phillippi and others similar
              Breakfast downtown, not much atmosphere but good food ... First watch
              Great sushi place ... Pacific Rim, nice atmosphere, awesome food, not near the water but very good. Not too far from you.

              steak hour in Tampa, Berns, Amazing 4 or 5 star. Un real food, horrible atmosphere, just tacky, anyone will tell you that. But the food is worth it. But if I were you I would stick to beach and FL stuff.

              Please let me know, Tickets to MOTE, not a problems. www.mote.org, happy to do it. also any other info, just ask. Lots of good places but I like for vacationers to experience FL, not another good restaurant and it seems you enjoy that too.

              1. Keeping in mind your fish/vegetarian inclinations (a drummer whose beat I do not hear), I would recommend Island Cow, which looks deceptively unimpressive on the outside (and has a very cheerful, clean interior) but has a remarkably broad menu, carrying many things that you would not expect to find on on a breakfast/lunch diner kind of menu. You'll find plenty of non-meat stuff you'll like.

                I also recommend Lenny's in Clearwater on U.S. 19 for a great Jewish breakfast/deli experience (with plenty of WASPy items on the menu, too).

                Doc Ford's on Sanibel is one of my favorite places for lunch. I've never been there for dinner and I have never had a bad meal. They serve, interesting, unusual food, as well as usual island/Florida standards. The influence is heavily from the Carribean, Latin and South America.

                In the Ft. Myers area, on McGregor, try the Prawnbroker for fish. Get an address. The place is hidden away and easy to miss (although it actually is on McGregor), maybe a twenty-five minute drive from the Sanibel bridge.

                1. Since you are staying on Siesta I forgot to mention the Lobster Pot. Right in Siesta Village. Not fancy, just fun and really decent good food.

                  Yes Simons is ok too, not my favorite, but nice

                  Pacific Rim for sushi, not to far, just a bit north, but wonderful sushi, many vegan options.

                  And the citrus cafe it is in downtown sarasota, on Pinapple. Sort of a fun area to browse, some antique shops, interesting to just walk around. not far to drive at all. They have lots of salads and sandwiches.

                  Taste of Asia also downtown. Great thai dishes, lots of vegan dishes and all natural. Great food. If planning a night in downtown SRQ which can be fun, some live music outside at a few of the places. Mattisons City grille is great food outdoors right downtown, live music, you can get great food deserts, nice atmosphere, not too loud, still can talk, just a nice atmosphere to enjoy the downtown area. Then I would drive over to St. Armands circle since you are already down town. 5 minutes and you are there. Walk around the circle at night. Very relaxing. Get a great coffee and then go right to Lido beach 1 minute away and walk the beach, What a perfect night.

                  1. For St. Pete:

                    In my opinion, Keegan's is not what it used to be...seems to be "resting on its laurels" of late. I prefer Guppy's, which is just a few blocks north of Keegans.

                    There's also a fantastic little French place on Indian Rocks Beach called La Cachette De La Plage. They offer a 3, 4, or 5 course prix-fix dinner ($48-$60). Food is delish, but one of the best parts is that it's a BYOB with no corkage fee! Also, check out Pincho y Pincho in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg. It's a little tapas bar with outdoor patio dining. Lovely tapas, great cava sangria, and the world's best tres leches cake! It's a "little sister" restaurant to Ceviche, which I think is much better than Tio Pepe (which, to me, is also sort of a "has been").

                    Oh...and you might want to try the Frog Pond (there's one on St. Pete Beach and one on North Redington Beach). Amazing breakfasts! Be prepared to wait.





                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sweet_polly

                      You may have noticed a change at Keegan's because they recently changed hands. We have been there so often in the past, can notice the subtle changes, dish for dish. The new owners are trying hard to live up to their predecessors - it's still quite good, but not great, in our opinion.

                    2. Hi Science Chick - I, too, am a Boston hound, but spent Jan and Feb in St. Pete/Tampa and spending Mar in Ft. Myers (right near Sanibel). I am also a vegetarian and here's what I've found so far:

                      St. Pete:
                      Leafy Greens - not sure it exists anymore. Big sign that said they were moving, but not where and now the space is vacated.
                      Central Cafe and Organics - tiny space, good sandwiches, but more meat based options than veggie. Decent raw options.
                      Red Mesa Cantina (downtown) - delicious tofu tacos and sangria at the outside bar with waterfalls!
                      Cafe Alma - decent veggie options and this became my brunch spot, but what I really like is the beer selection and the atmosphere reminds me a lot of Highland Kitchen (my usual brunch spot). Awesome staff and service!
                      Ceviche - spanish tapas place with a surprising amount of veggie options that are better than your average. there are a few scattered throughout the bay area, but the downtown one is my favorite.
                      Bella Brava - it's tomato season here... chef tends to focus on local produce with an Italian flair
                      The Table - fun wine list, limited veggie options, but the cheese plate rocks. The house bread is some concoction of cheese filled chickpea flour type rolls (I think)
                      Pacific Wave - mostly sushi here and creative asian influenced chow, awesome happy hour specials on both drinks and apps
                      And if you're into craft beers, the Independent (Central and 3rd N) and the Cider House (Central and 20th) both have amazing beer selections (no food though)

                      Sanibel - East End deli. Lunchtime joint, incredible sandwiches.

                      If you make it off of Sanibel and into Ft Myers:
                      Yabo - Delicious homestyle Italian in a very East Village styled place. Sometimes they have live music. Tiny space, so they're always slammed. Small, affordable, but decent wine list. I don't typically eat Italian, but this place will be added to the repertoire.
                      Blu Sushi - I hear from many that Origami is better (haven't been yet), but I really dig the space at the Blu on McGregor.

                      Have fun!

                      1. I'm in northeast Ohio & we previously lived in Brookline, MA. We've vacationed everywhere up and down the gulf coast of FL. I guess it all depends on how far you want to drive for food from wherever your accomodations are. When we rented a condo on Sunset Beach, far south of Treasure Island, we were within walking distance of Caddy's - old Floridian beachfront bar/restaurant. My kids didn't like it - too many drunk people.

                        As for Anna Maria Island, Star Fish is right off the Cortez Bridge - a working class place - picnic tables, paper napkins & plates & great fish sandwiches. Reminds me of a rustic no frills lobster pound in the New England. We vacationed on Anna Maria Island last spring break. We also ate at Dry Dock Grill & that has good seafood, too.

                        In the St. Pete area, we loved the Pass-a-Grille area. Had great seafood at The Hurricane, Sea Critters & The Wharf. If you have a craving for stone crab claws, you could try Billy's in Tierra Verde. It wasn't very good the time we were there.

                        St. Armand's Circle is a nice lunch/dinner & shopping destination. We loved the Columbia Restaurant which also has restaurants in the Tampa area but that might be too ethnic for you even tho the atmosphere is great. We've eaten at Philippi Creek - they have great oysters on the halfshell. It is a popular tourist spot so even if you get there at 5pm in the high season, there will be a wait.

                        We just spent Christmas week on Marco Island & loved it & all the culinary destinations nearby but that is way too far south for you.

                        Hope this helps & hope you have a great trip & great culinary experiences.

                        1. Quick report:
                          Ft. Myers/Sanibel: Stopped in at Mad Take out on our way from the airport to Sanibel. The Spelt pizza was AMAZING, as was the salad. Hand cut fries were a little soggy for our tastes, but we liked the truffle oil topping. Sweet Melissa's was a terrible disappointment. Service was abyssmal, food mediocre. The goat cheese/roasted beet course had sad looking greens and a very unmemorable dressing. Mahi was overcooked/underseasoned. Island Cow served up a decent fish sandwich and salad.

                          Sarasota: Phillipi Creek Seafood won, hands down. We ate there 3 times! Everything was delicious, including fried grouper sandwich, grilled swordfish and all the sides. Broken Egg was pretty decent for breakfast, but lost big points with horrible coffee and no real maple syrup option anymore.

                          St. Pete/Clearwater/Tarpon Springs: Keegan's was the best meal of the trip. First rate conch ceviche, blackened amberjack sandwich. Sides dishes impeccably good and a key lime pie that left our mouths puckering! Fournos Bakery in Tarpon Springs for great spanikopita and kadaifi, and Eco Bean for the best coffee of the trip. Lunch at Rusty Belly in Tarpon Springs was the low point of the trip....horrible service, food orders messed up w/no apology or comp from the owner. "8 oz" grouper sandwich appeared suspiciously like the 5 oz option, but owner insisted it WAS the 8 oz size (weighed before cooking). I expect a burger to shrink a good 20-25% on cooking, but not a white fish.....sorry! Salad miserable iceberg.

                          All in all alot of fun and good chow! Thanks everyone!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Science Chick

                            What ever you do DO NOT go the Island Cow in Sanibel. Gross!!! Do try a few small family owned places: Greenhouse Grill (great veggie lunch for good price and the most incredible Bouillabaisse for dinner that dish is pricy but totally worth every bite!); the Great White Grill for nice cheap pizza and AWESOME beers--the owner is terrific and they also have a nice hummus plate there; for a great sandwich try the east side deli--it is another family owned place with excellent, healthy, creative choices! Have a great time and enjoy the warmth. I know first hand how horrible a Boston winter can be on ones soul.

                            1. re: Science Chick

                              Glad you loved Phillippe, I do too! Broken egg, yes they used to have good coffee!