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Great Seafood in the Tampa Bay Area?

We have just done the unthinkable: we've cancelled a trip to northern Italy and Munich which included five nights at Michelin starred restaurants through the Dolomites, Salzburg and Germany. Simply, we were afraid that with another volcanic eruption-or the fear of one-the trip would have been ruined. And, that it would be a long time before we would see our cats again! I should note here that I've travelled heavily in Europe on business for thirty years and am somewhat spoiled in building vacations around where to have dinner.

We have some experience with the Tampa Bay area. In the '90's we had a half dozen trips to Clearwater Beach and did our best, then, to eat our way around the Gulf Coast. This year, next week actually, we are coming back. I know we're not going to replace Salzburg or Munich's best restaurant or a memory from the Dolomites but, in its own way, I believe the Tampa Bay area is one of the most beautiful on earth. Germans, Swiss and Italians would lust for a vacation there!

For us it isas much about where to eat. From the '90's we had good experiences at Bern's, the Lobster Pot and a Grouper sandwich at Frenchy's. We're also willing to drive an hour or more from Clearwater Beach for a memory. Right now we have reservations at the Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach and Cafe Ponte. I am guessing that Mise en Place is not worth the drive nor Sidebern; both are what I can find here in the Washington, D. C. area. I would say the same for Italian or French.

But for Gulf seafood is it Guppy's? The Salt Rock Grill? The Island Grill? Does Frenchy's have the best fried grouper sandwich? Dockside Dave's? Waltz' Fish Shack? In Tarpon Springs we used to go to Pappas but I believe this has closed. Today should we go to Mykonos, Rusty Bellies? We're staying at the Sand Pearl: what is their restaurant like?

We love Clearwater Beach and the Tampa Bay area. We're looking for what is done best where you live.

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Beach Bistro
6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

Cafe Ponte
13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

Salt Rock Grill
19325 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785

Mykonos
628 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

Frenchy's Cafe
41 Baymont St, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767

Sidebern's
2208 W Morrison Ave, Tampa, FL 33606

Lobster Pot Restaurant
17814 Gulf Boulevard, Redington Shores, FL 33708

Gulf Coast Cafe
4919 Memorial Hwy Ste 115, Tampa, FL 33634

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  1. Hi! Glad you love our area! Haven't eaten here yet, but it is at the top of our list as soon as possible. Middle Ground in Treasure Island for seafood. We have heard great things from friends and work colleagues. Hope you enjoy!
    nclark

    1. I love Guppy's, and I think they have some of the most consistently good (not to mention creatively prepared) seafood on the Pinellas beaches.

      Salt Rock Grill is very nice...in a way, the ambience makes it more special than the food, IMO. Don't get me wrong...the food is good, just not as memorable as I think it should be considering the price tag.

      Keegan's on Indian Rocks Beach is also worth a visit. It's as inexpensive as your Crabby Bill's and Dockside Dave's type places (neither of which I'm much of a fan of), but a lot more creative. Their oysters rockafeller are some of the best I've ever had.

      I also like Conch Republic on North Redington Beach. They offer good, fresh seafood served in a fun, Key West environment.

      Is Frenchy's grouper sandwich the best? I hear that a lot, but I've had grouper sandwiches that were just as good at Keegan's, Guppy's and Conch Republic (among other places). As long as the grouper is fresh, it's hard to get a "bad" one IMO.

      There's a Columbia restaurant just south of Clearwater Beach on Sand Key that's nice and consistent if you like Spanish food. It's a pretty place with an intracoastal water view.

      -----
      Salt Rock Grill
      19325 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785

      Frenchy's Cafe
      41 Baymont St, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767

      Crabby Bills
      7675 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34747

      1. Sideberns is actually pretty solid but it's nothing you can't get in DC. Oystercatchers is the best upscale seafood around here (and the best brunch), followed by Island Way Grille / Salt Rock Grille (essentially the same restaurant). Bern's is still impressive, and Beach Bistro is worth the drive too. Armani's is good contemporary Italian with a killer view, if you're coming here stay at the Hyatt there by the airport and you can bang out Oystercatchers and Armanis without even having to leave the campus. I had a good meal at BlueFIGS the other day (North Dale Mabry) and people lately are raving about the Refinery but I wasn't impressed when I went (but I plan to give it another try). I never shut up about Pane Rustica, but there's a reason for that too. Dinner there is a must, everything is creative, unique and perfectly prepared, proportioned, and presented. Great atmosphere too. Datz is a fun spot for a great sandwich and a craft beer or glass of wine.

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        Beach Bistro
        6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

        Sidebern's
        2208 W Morrison Ave, Tampa, FL 33606

        1 Reply
        1. re: askdrtodd

          I would suggest a day in South Tampa: check out the new Tampa Museum of Art (no, won't hold a candle to DC museums, but it's good and you'll be supporting the team, as it were), maybe the Tampa History Museum; have a drink and a small bite at Fly (which is downtown, near the museums); then have dinner at Pane Rustica (the strip mall location will upset you, but persevere). You can't loll on the beach every day, right?

        2. Best Gulf seafood is Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island...super fresh local fish and a creative menu. It's the best seafood on the beach. (Lobster Pot is nothing special anymore...and pricey for "just there" seafood.) In Tarpon Springs, my favorite place for Greek cuisine is Costa's...some of the best grilled octopus I've had outside of the Greek Islands. Good calls on Beach Bistro and Cafe Ponte--both are outstanding. Down in Bradenton, I'd also recommend Ezra's for outstanding Appalachacola oysters and other great seafood. www.ezrafinefoods.com Enjoy your trip!

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          Beach Bistro
          6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

          Middle Grounds Grill
          10925 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, FL 33706

          1 Reply
          1. re: laboheme

            Laboheme..what nights do you work at Middle Grounds i'll come and see you

          2. Just a suggestion on Cafe Ponte and Salt Rock Grill. Check their websites because both of these have a prefixe special. With CP, it is an appetizer, entree and a dessert for, I believe, $33. And these are not downsized portions either. There is a slight upcharge if you get either the filet or the foie gras. At CP, it is from 530 to 630 pm each day. At SRG, it is from 4-5 pm daily and is an early bird special. Just in case you are watching your budget any.

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            Cafe Ponte
            13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

            Salt Rock Grill
            19325 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785

            13 Replies
            1. re: RibDog

              Thank you everyone for your responses; they are sincerely appreciated. We probably won't be going into Tampa other than the airport and, if we do, we'll probably stop at Seasons 52 which I like from Orlando and Atlanta. Most of our time will be cruising the coast from Tarpon Springs to Sarasota with numerous stops in between. I've also read that Pappas closed in '05. Our last visit, was about 15 years ago and we really liked it. How does Costas compare to Mykonos which the St. Petersburg Times calls the best restaurant in Tarpon Springs?

              Middle Grounds Grill sounds really interesting especially with its chef having competed on Iron Chef. Salt Rock Grill is definite. I know the reputation of Pane Rustica but we can find its equal here. I am more interested in what I can't find here or certainly wouldn't have been available in Europe. Beach Bistro is especially interesting: we've actually been there but on a night when it was closed. We looked in the window! I know that it is famous for bouillibasse, even serving it in three different sizes. I wrote this on the France board about two years ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/485636 I also make bouillibasse including a fish fumet which I make myself. It will be interesting to try the Beach Bistro's.

              It will also be interesting to see how the coast has grown. I was an annual visitor starting in the early '80's but haven't been in about ten years now. The Lobster Pot then was excellent. Today, I understand it has little in common with that which was once promoted as Florida's best seafood restaurant. I also believe the ownership changed a number of years ago.

              We are staying at the Sand Pearl: is anhyone familiar with its restaurant?

              Last, is B 21 still a good wine shop on Highway 19?

              -----
              Beach Bistro
              6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

              Salt Rock Grill
              19325 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785

              Mykonos
              628 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

              Lobster Pot Restaurant
              5157 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34242

              Middle Grounds Grill
              10925 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, FL 33706

              1. re: Joe H

                Costa's Seafood Feast (with the squid grilled rather than fried) is a spectacular eating experience.. The Smelts are fried, and that's enough I think...
                For THIS combo...

                I'll post a pic I took at my last visit...
                You very well might be shocked to find grilled octopus can be THIS good...
                ------ and the grilled squid....

                The crusty, melty, very flavorful, flaming cheese appetizer called Saganaki is a must.... You yell OPA! when they pour brandy on it and light it on fire...
                They squeeze a lemon to put out the fire...
                Eat it with bread before it gets cold...
                If you're a cheese lover it will blow your mind...

                The creamy, phyllo crusted, spinach pie called Spanokopita is exceptional...
                You shouldn't missed that.... It's like $6.95 and a nice portion....

                Stuffed grape leaves with avgolemono sauce are really nice...
                Their Gyros are great!

                For about 9 years, because my job puts me there, I've been having lunch in Tarpon Springs on the second Thursday of 'almost' every month...
                In the beginning I tried most all of the places and compared my favorite things...
                I thought all of these goodies were better at Costa's...

                Anything on the menu will probably be good, but those first three things I couldn't recommend stronger...

                 
                1. re: Mild Bill

                  Great. Now I have to trek out to Tarpon. :)

                  1. re: askdrtodd

                    Let's all cruise out one Saturday...

                    1. re: Mild Bill

                      If by "one saturday" you mean "tomorrow" then heck yeah!

                      1. re: askdrtodd

                        I love it! But I can't do tomorrow....
                        Maybe next Saturday?

                    2. re: askdrtodd

                      no kidding! I love grilled octopus.

                    3. re: Mild Bill

                      Their Pastitsio is also divine. I love love love the octopus too!

                    4. re: Joe H

                      I had dinner at the Lobster Pot a little over a year ago and my entire party was pretty disappointed with it...especially considering the price. It's not like it was back in its glory days. I definitely got a sense that it was circling the drain.

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                      Lobster Pot Restaurant
                      17814 Gulf Boulevard, Redington Shores, FL 33708

                      1. re: Joe H

                        Yes, B21 is still an excellent wine shop!

                        1. re: Joe H

                          Well, if I can't talk you into Pane Rustica, can I talk you out of Seasons 52? Perhaps the other outposts are better, but the one here is deeply mediocre, even for a chain. I cannot think of any reason you'd choose it over many better options in Tampa.

                      2. Joe - I agree with everyone on Middle Grounds - awesome. Cafe Ponte is one of my all time favorite places to eat - the mushroom bisque with black trumpet dust is amazing. Also - the Fois Gras "A" - superb. Thomas Keller took his family there when he was in town if that tells you anything. If you are in Sarasota - there is a VERY casual place on the water called the Old Salty Dog - it was featured on Man v. Food. Great view and a great place to drink beer and relax. Dockside Dave's is my favorite grouper sandwich - although the Carribean grilled grouper sandwich at Frency's Rockaway is great too. Have a great time!

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                        Cafe Ponte
                        13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                        The Old Salty Dog
                        1601 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Tangerine7

                          Middle Grounds is now a done deal. Thank you everyone! Tangerine7 we have a reservation at Cafe Ponte for next Saturday night and are really looking forward to it. If mushroom bisque is on the menu it will definitely be ordered. The Salty Dog in Sarasota is interesting because the day (Friday) that we go to the Beach Bistro we'll be "cruising/exploring" Sarasota and Long Boat Key in the daytime. This fits in very nicely.

                          MissE, please forgive me because I haven't been to Tampa's Seasons 52 yet but I have been to both of the Orlando locations including Sand Lake road 15 or more times since it opened. I just really like it. For someone travelling on business it is something of an escape. I've talked my wife into sharing it and she liked it-we even went back a couple of nights later! Because of the many positive experiences from Orlando and Atlanta (Perimeter Mall) we have to give it a try.

                          Does anyone have any experience with the restaurant at the Sand Pearl in Clearwater Beach?

                          -----
                          Beach Bistro
                          6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

                          Cafe Ponte
                          13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                          1. re: Joe H

                            Hi Joe:

                            Regarding the Sand Pearl, it has gotten some favorable reviews. I haven't eaten there yet, but have enjoyed watching the sunset while having a cocktail at their beach bar down by the fire pit...it's a great way to start off an evening. Looking forward to your review if you try it!

                            1. re: Joe H

                              Cafe Ponte is a very solid restaurant. Just a note. Thomas Keller has family in the Pinellas area. Where did he take his family? Cafe Ponte.

                              B21 is still a good place to buy wine.

                              Seasons 52 has gotten good reviews. I haven't been yet but my wife has been to the one in Orlando and loved it. I've eaten at Caretta in the Sandpearl. The fish dinner that I had there was excellent. It was my 2nd time there and each time has been excellent.

                              -----
                              Cafe Ponte
                              13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Thank you scubadoo97, we'll be sitting in Caretta in about 22 hours having dinner! Cafe Ponte is our Saturday night reservation and B 21 will be a stop from the airport en route to the Sand Pearl before we check in! Seasons 52 is a restaurant that I have loved on Sand Lake road since a week or two after it opened. If the Tampa outpost even approaches it we will be very happy. Still, my expectation (and hopes) are for the Beach Bistro to be the meal of the trip.

                                -----
                                Beach Bistro
                                6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

                                Cafe Ponte
                                13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                                1. re: Joe H

                                  Joe, beach bistro is killer, you won't be disappointed. Had the "Food Heaven" last time I was there, and there was no way I could argue with the way they named it- Rack of Lamb, Maine Lobster, and Foie Gras. drooolll........

                                  My wife and I fell in love with Seasons out on SLR (and a ton of other restaurants right by that SLR and Dr Phillips area), and I work less than mile from the new one here in Tampa, and in a few visits I can assure you the two don't compare. If you're in that area, go to Oystercatchers or Ocean Prime, either one should fit the bill.

                            2. re: Tangerine7

                              Avoid the Old Salty Dog like the plague. Sub-par, overpriced food. And the view - not that great.

                            3. By the way - if you go to Old Salty Dog (he has two locations now) - go to the one on City Island - the original - great view.

                              -----
                              The Old Salty Dog
                              1601 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236

                              1. I lived in the Tampa/St Pete area several years and still visit my grandchildren there. Our favs were 4th Street Shrimp store and Caddies on the beach during the day. Safety Harbor has a terrific thai restaurant in a strip mall on corner of Enterprise and McMullin Booth.

                                1. I personally like Charlie's for steaks much better then Bern's. Cafe Ponte is really good.

                                  -----
                                  Cafe Ponte
                                  13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                                  19 Replies
                                    1. re: Mild Bill

                                      Several times we went to Bern's with a party of eight, we did not have good service.
                                      And the steaks are so much better at Charley's Steakhouse, but It is pricey.
                                      Meantime I would go to Bern's to their desert room upstairs any time, that is incredible!

                                    2. re: Rosa G

                                      Respectfully but Cafe Ponte is NOT "really good." In fact it was a huge disappointment with half of the tabvles empty ofn a Saturday night.

                                      -----
                                      Cafe Ponte
                                      13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                                      1. re: Joe H

                                        Joe, what was the disappointment with Ponte?

                                        First you have to remember that this is not the Washington DC Baltimore area. Florida and the Bay area has been hit very hard by the economic down turn and the recovery has been very slow compared to the rest of the country. We have one of the largest unemployment rates in the country at the moment. That might account for the empty tables at one of the more upscale restaurants in the area. Chains are a magnet for the Tampa Bay area in general and mediocrity is the norm. What were your highlights food wise during your stay?

                                        1. re: scubadoo97

                                          I'm an 8th generation Floridian and I can tell you both the food and service at Ponte has been mediocre every time I've gone there, and I've had to do dinner with Pinellas clients there more than a few times, I assure you. It sounds so much better on paper than it looks/tastes on the plate.

                                          1. re: askdrtodd

                                            First, I've visited the Tampa Bay area annually from 1982 to 1998 and several stops since then. This was our first return to Clearwater Beach since '98 however.

                                            The Beach Bistro was the only great dining experience of the trip. We loved it. Superb wild mushroom brulee, Mosca's shrimp (as good as Mosca's in Waggaman, LA), excellent filet topped with bleu cheese crumbles, best key lime pie I've had; only weekness was their bouillibasse which was NOT as good as they would like to believe. Still, character, ambience-easily worth the 120 mile roundtrip drive from Clearwater Beach. We'll return next year and every year after.

                                            cafe Ponte had a terrible bouillibasse but overall this was just a mediocre restaurant. (A post of mine about bouillibasse at "the source:" http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4856... ) Salt Rock Grille and Guppy's were both crowded each night; both were relative values for what they serve. Very poor fresh grouper at Salt Rock although wood planked salmon was good (Not as good as Orlando's Seasons 52 on Sand Lake road.). Excellent pit cooked oysters. Overall we left both disappointed and felt that better should have been available on the Gulf Coast. Frenchy's Rockaway has a fantastic setting and truly large portions of more mediocre food. The grouper sandwich was a huge disapoointment-we had it both fried and blackened. Tartar sauce was good, cole slaw decent, she crab soup OK, fries frozen. The best grouper sandwich AND outdoor dining exsperience of the trip was a simple one sitting by a sand pit outdoors at the back of the Sand Pearl's beach grille. Fantastic setting welll worth a sunset visit. This is a wonderful hotel by the way with balcanies in the rear overlooking the Gulf. Three weddings on the beach during our stay. We did NOT eat at the hotel restaurant-the menu was very short. Ironically our last meal in Clearwater Beach before this trip was at the old Clearwater Beach hotel, a dinner we really enjoyed.

                                            Hellas in Tarpon Springs was very good especially for grilled octopus and the best grouper dish of the trip, Aegean grouper which is simply topped with grilled red onion, lemon and olive oil. It used to be a special at the old Pappas. Saganaki was medicore. We did not return to Bern's, SideBern's or Mise en Place having been before. Rumba's roadside intersection was a real turnoff. Kohr Family frozen custard in John's Pass should be shut down: No prices posted and $3.50 small ice cream cones for this Kohr Bros. ripoff.

                                            Still, Clearwater Beach for us is America's most beautiful beach city. B-21 is also a great wineshop.

                                            -----
                                            Beach Bistro
                                            6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach, FL 34217

                                            Hellas Restaurant
                                            785 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689

                                            Frenchy's Cafe
                                            41 Baymont St, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767

                                            Gulf Coast Cafe
                                            4919 Memorial Hwy Ste 115, Tampa, FL 33634

                                            1. re: Joe H

                                              Thanks Joe. I really liked the meals I had at the Sand Pearl and as mentioned above it's been a while since I was at Ponte. Disappointing to hear how mediocre it was. We almost went to Rumbas a few weeks ago but I backed out after reading a bunch of bad reviews.

                                              If you ever decide to head away from the beach and into Oldsmar try Restaurant Hapa. Very small husband and wife team that has a small menu but does get some things right.

                                              -----
                                              Hapa
                                              3970 Tampa Rd Ste Q, Oldsmar, FL 34677

                                            2. re: askdrtodd

                                              I have to admit it has been some time since I've been to Ponte. Mediocrity seems to be what we do best in the Tampa Bay area

                                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                                For mussles go to timpanos in hyde park. nice presentation and very yummy

                                                1. re: Lauracooks

                                                  I have to agree...the black skillet roasted mussels at Timpano may be the best I've ever had. Everything else I've tried there has been okay (nothing unforgettable)...still, my husband and I go there specifically for that menu item.

                                                  1. re: sweet_polly

                                                    Hmmm, I dunno. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I had an awful experience at Timpano. Granted, we visited right after they opened the Hyde Park location - This of course, if absolutely no excuse for the horrific service that we endured. We were, basically, treated as if we did not exist (this was awhile ago and we were young).

                                                    As Sweet Polly mentioned, there was nothing unforgettable. Actually, I lie. I too had my eye on the mussels before dining there that evening. While they were OK, I recall the size of the platter being small and not worth the price. Would rather have the mussels from Carrabas.

                                                    The steak was "whatever". My wife had to send back her filet mignon since they had trouble cooking it medium rare.

                                                    Just our experience . . . Perhaps, an isolated incident.

                                                    1. re: Little T.

                                                      Little T...my first experience at Timpano was awful, and I thoroughly trashed it online shortly thereafter. My spouse subsequently dined there with a colleague and was wowed by the mussels. He enticed me to go back for them, and I fell in love. I agree that they have a problem with both service and consistency, though. But when the mussels are good....they are insane! lol

                                                    2. re: sweet_polly

                                                      Polly,

                                                      Go to Pane Rustica one day this week, hopefully they still have the mussels on the menu, they were so good that I can say in full honesty I will probably never order mussels at any other restaurant ever again because they will never compare. The toasted lightly buttered bread they served them with was amazing all by itself, the sauce the plump, juicy, perfectly cooked mussels were bathing in was amazing all by itself (with big slices of roasted garlic & shallots floating around inside) and the mussels were some of the largest and without a doubt the tastiest I've had in my lifetime. When the three were paired together it was heaven. and the portion was sizable enough that my wife and I could have gone and eaten only that and been fully satiated. It really raises the bar for mussels.

                                                      1. re: askdrtodd

                                                        Oh, lawd...keep talking that way, and I might have to run away with you! lol

                                                        I have not tried Pane Rustica, but it has recently fallen onto my "must try" list because of the things I keep reading about it on this board.

                                                            1. re: sweet_polly

                                                              As of Saturday they still had them (just looked at the dinner menu on their website), hopefully they still will this week. I wish they were open for dinner tonight, I have to take a client out and that would be oh so perfect!

                                                2. re: askdrtodd

                                                  Excellent, Dr. Todd. My son is 8th gen. too. Sorry for the derail, no comment on Cafe Ponte, never been. :)

                                                  -----
                                                  Cafe Ponte
                                                  13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                                              2. re: Joe H

                                                I have not been at Cafe Ponte for the past 3 years. May be it is not good anymore.
                                                But years ago that was one of our favorite places. I used to work not far from it and we were having lunches there at least once per week.

                                                -----
                                                Cafe Ponte
                                                13505 Icot Blvd. Suite 214, Clearwater, FL 33760

                                            3. The grouper sandwich at Ward's seafood is probably the best I have had in the area. The same goes for their other fish sandwiches. Always served on a fresh roll and fresh topping.

                                              With fries or hush puppies and a side of slaw, you cannot go wrong.

                                              Thinking about the oil spill (gush), I had to stop in there the other day for a fried oyster sandwich.

                                              Delicious.

                                              1. My daughter and I had lunch today at the Star Fish Company in Cortez. Oh My!!! I have lived here nearly all my life. How I have missed this place? I had the stone crab since today was the last day of the season and it just seemed the right thing do. My daughter had scallops and clams. They called the clams "strips" but really they were more whole bellies cut in half. Everything was so so good. We sat at the bar because all the picnic tables were full. We talked about how it felt like were on vacation, sitting there watching the boats coming in and out. Yep, sitting there in our shorts and flip flops eating perfectly cooked seafood with a perfect view of the water. This is why people pay a lot of money to come here. And we live here!!!