Having had Star Fish Company in the historic working fishing village of Cortez (at the waterfront west of South Bradenton) on my wish list for quite some time, this gorgeous Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect day to take a little drive down I-75 South to check it out. UD and I deliberately went later in the afternoon to (hopefully) avoid any lunch crowd since I was aware that the place is very small. The front of the building is a fresh seafood market, while the back serves a short and simple seafood menu to be enjoyed at one of six (I think) waterfront picnic tables. When we walked around to the back, we were in no way prepared for the fustercluck that was the Star Fish "restaurant". First of all, the tiny area was jam-packed with patrons jostling for morsels of food (and, to be fair, I'm assuming there's a good reason for that). There was no direction being given by anyone on staff...but judging from the broad swathe of humanity queued up behind a single window, we quickly surmised that this dining experience would be "Food Truck style". Ummm....NO. While I do adore food trucks, I was already bitchy from both hunger and navigating Bradenton traffic during snowbird season and was in no mood to fight for either my food or a gull-spattered seat at a communal picnic table (and the spousal unit was in total agreement with me on this one). We needed something a little more civilized.
Solace appeared a mere block or two away in the welcoming arms of Swordfish Grill.
Swordfish Grill has a rustic, Keys-y feel to it and (hallelujah) we were able to be seated immediately at a nice, shaded table on the tiki deck overlooking Sarasota Bay where I was finally able to exhale. It's tough to be cranky with a view like this:
Our server, Peggy, was a ray of sunshine...a true gem! Her sweet, positive attitude was infectious (plus she brought beer really quickly) and our savage beasts within were soothed in no time flat.
I'll admit upfront that I wasn't expecting the food to be particularly well done since waterfront tiki decks and memorable cuisine rarely go hand-in-hand...but Dogboy and I were both very pleasantly surprised by the quality and freshness of the relatively simple seafood offerings here. We started with a dozen Oysters Rockefeller, which (sorry, Keegan's...you've been demoted) were the best I've ever had. Oysters were large, tender and tasted uber-fresh; the spinach was perfect and completely sans any of that "greens funkiness" we all hated as kids and a generous portion of gooey, melted cheese was piled on top. Oh, and I totally loved the hint of Pernod in these guys. Showstoppers.
I also tried a cup of the Soup of the Day, which was a Cajun Shrimp Corn Chowder. This was a hearty and delish concoction which was of the ideal consistency for a chowder, in my opinion (slightly thick and creamy, without being overly rouxed or gruelishly thin). The chef was generous with the shellfish, corn and potato morsels and the addition of Cajun spices was just liberal enough to bring the faintest sheen of moisture to my upper lip. Nicely done!
My better half selected the Clams Casino, baked with bacon, peppers, onions, parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs as his entree. They, also, were super-fresh tasting. I'm not really a bell pepper fan (and there were copious amounts nestled in each shell), but I thought these clams were pretty damned fine, nonetheless. UD enjoyed them as well in spite of the fact that he was expecting less breading. I, however, thought the bread crumb application was pretty light compared to some almost stuffing-like renditions of Clams Casino I've tasted.
I considered Fried Clam Strips, but our sweet Peggy was quite honest when I queried whether they were frozen or freshly hand-battered and fried. She did not flinch, however, when I inquired about the freshness of the grouper ("super fresh/never been frozen"). Now you're talkin'! I'll preface this by saying I've eaten my weight in grouper sandwiches over the past 25 years of living in Tampa Bay. This was one of the best I've ever wrapped my lips around. The thick, sweet slab of grouper was exquisite...delicately battered, fried to perfection and served on the softest and loveliest roll one could imagine. I hate tomatoes so I promptly removed the slices that came with, but even I can recognize what a high-quality, freshness-forward slice of my slimy epicurean nemesis looks like. My selected sides of pineapple-studded cole slaw and a well above average redskin potato salad with a sour cream dressing also impressed for the venue and price point.
We were informed us that desserts were made in-house, which prompted us to try a couple even if it meant loosening our belts a notch. Key Lime Pie is done to death in Florida, but UD can never seem to resist the lure of it. Although this is a dessert that generally fails to thrill me, I was quite surprised at first bite by how firm, tangy and delicious it was (notwithstanding the fact that the whipped cream garnish had been so sloppily applied, presumably by either a kitchen neophyte or a 9-year-old, that Peggy apologized for it). Hey...we couldn't have cared less now that we both had a substantial lunch and three frosty beers under our belts. The intense Key lime flavor in this pie was off the grid, which could be attributable to the tiny flecks of lime zest in the custard. Exceptional.
I couldn't really forego Bread Pudding once I was alerted to its availability since it's pretty much my Kryptonite. Lovely and dense as it was (not to mention liberally slathered in a hedonistic Amaretto cream sauce), I would've preferred more crusty edges and less the hint of a "baked, then warmed again later in the microwave" texture. However, with this being the weakest link (if I must pick one), it's tough to imagine a better casual waterfront dining experience for the dollars.
What else can I say? We'd be happy to visit again anytime for both the food and the view despite the hour-long drive.
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.