In the case of Marlin Darlin, the enticing sounding menu coupled with the beach-chic squeaky clean interior and an unobstructed view of the gleaming open kitchen made me feel a little like I was on a "Third Date" when we were promptly seated at the grossly early hour that only our fellow AARP card carriers can understand or respect.
We received incredibly prompt and friendly service. The menu looked pretty damned enticing...especially the $12.50 "Real Deal" prix fixe option. While never having batted much of an eye at dropping some serious coin for amazing cuisine, UD is an accountant after all. We decided to go out on a limb and try it, despite having both had the "you get what you pay for" lesson pounded into our psyches decades ago. Hope springs eternal, I suppose.
We sipped beverages and shared an order of Onion Rings served with a Maytag Crema dipping sauce while perusing the menu. I would be remiss if I did not remark on the reasonable beer and wine prices (not to mention the fairly generous pours), which generally buys a high level of my affection. Onion Rings, while on the right path, needed a serious egg wash or flour dredging before battering and frying as their crispy coating pretty much disintegrated upon handling, leaving us trying to maneuver what was left of the limp, crustless onion slices into the bleu cheese dipping sauce (which, quite frankly, was not my cup of tea). I prefer something more zippy and horseradish-laden with my rings...but that's just a personal opinion. Parkshore Grill's nomination by me as Best Onion Rings in Tampa Bay is still firmly intact. We would not order these again.
I'm going to be fair and preface the rest of this review with the fact that we did make the conscious decision to "go cheap"...and quite honestly, while I almost every scrap I ate was forgotten the moment we vacated the premises, I've paid as much for Boston Market individual meal consumed at my desk with plastic utensils...where there was no helpful server, cold adult beverage or lovely ambiance involved. For a $12.50 investment, it's tough to bitch about only getting a "kissing your favorite second cousin" level of tastebud tingling.
A nice basket of hot, garlic and butter toasted slabs of Cuban bread appeared shortly before our starters.
My small schooner of Lobster Bisque was creamy and had a fairly lobster-forward flavor along with a nice little creme fraiche floater. No crustacean morsels were located, but it was an "okay" version nonetheless.
While UD's little Citrus Salad didn't bring salacious thoughts to mind, it was still fresh and crisp with a nice dressing and unexpected accents like mandarin orange bits, sunflower seeds and red onion.
My Crab, Shrimp and Mussel Penne Pasta Dish in Lobster Cream Sauce failed to thrill, although there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it other than the fact that it was dumbed down to the point of falling just short of being slotted into Sweet Polly's "downright bland" category. But it is delivered with an extra little sidecar of cheese crumbles for those of us whose cholesterol levels haven't yet reached life-threatening heights (bonus points!).
Underdog's Filet Mignon Kebab with Black Beans and Rice made him a little cranky, if only because he ordered it cooked rare, causing the veggies on the skewer to arrive practically raw. Neither of us are huge beef tenderloin fans to begin with, but the meat was flavorful enough for what it was. Black beans and rice were standard issue, but I could not keep my fork out of that creamy Lobster Mac 'n Cheese that also came on the side with its crunchy bread-crumb topping. The highlight of the meal IMO.
Dogboy selected a little Apple Crisp as his mini "sweet finish" and it was fine...embellished with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream at no upcharge.
But I thought my Sweet Potato Beignets trumped it big time! These were quite the spicy, tender and flavorful little donut-esque afterthoughts.
In spite of the cranky under-(and sometimes over-)tones of this post, there's little complain about when you can purchase a dinner of this caliber for $12.50 each. We got out for around $65 with appetizer, two drinks apiece and two complete meals which is unheard of for us, unless we're having grouper sandwiches and a pitcher of beer at Keegan's. My standards are high...SUPERASS high...so take the criticism you find in this post with a grain of salt. While I probably wouldn't go back (and certainly won't be talking about this dining experience for days and weeks to come), it was a good deal and more than a decent meal for the price. Worth considering for a budget date night.