I love exploring the greater Tampa Bay area in my "quest for the best" and have mined my share of hidden gems in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Beach Bistro, Harry's Continental Kitchen, Cafe L'Europe and Bridge Street Bistro (upstairs), please scooch over a bit and make room in the handbasket for my newly discovered south-of-the-Bay crush...Blue Marlin Restaurant on Bradenton Beach.
Cutely tucked away in a quaint area awash in galleries, shops, restaurants and bars (right across the street from the beautiful beaches of Anna Maria Island), Blue Marlin is as adorable on the inside as it is on the out. The blue and white theme is carried throughout the venue and decor has a decidedly "New England" feel. The seafood, however, is all local (procured from the fishing village of Cortez, right down the road) and as fresh as it comes.
We didn't have reservations (which, apparently, it is a good idea to have), so we planned to arrive shortly after the 5:00 opening...and it's fortunate that we did. A steady stream of snowbirds with rezzies ambled in over the course of our meal and we heard the host tell several callers that they were fully booked for the "sweet spot" between 7:00 and 8:30. We received awesome service from Ali, whose extraordinary level of professionalism belied her obviously tender years.
Let's get this party started! Blue Marlin serves wine and beer only, but the selection is broad enough to satisfy all tastes. My Butter chardonnay lived up to its name (I've gotta find some more of this shiznit) and was sold at a reasonable markup. I got the last bottle of it, too...which made it all the sweeter (or more buttery...however you want to look at it).
An amuse bouche of salted edamame was delivered in short order, which gave us something to nibble on while perusing the menu...nice touch.
Dogboy started with a cup of the outstanding Cortez Chowder. Grouper cheeks and fresh veggies married well in a savory tomato and saffron broth which also served as bath for one huge, fresh and succulent shrimp. I'll be the first to admit that I usually prefer creamy chowders, but this was amazing...delightfully fresh and flavor-intense.
The Fish Rolls also exceeded expectations. Tender grouper morsels were prepared "crab cake style" with minimal filler, rolled in panko breadcrumbs, deep fried and served with Garlic Aioli. I have one thing to say about this, and it's "Dayum!". The sidecar of pickled cabbage, however, was totally ignored.
P.S. I almost morphed into She-Hulk when I found out that the much-anticipated Stone Crab Mac 'n Cheese wasn't available on our visit. These guys have no control over the crappy 2012-2013 stone crab season, however, so I begrudgingly left the building intact.
My entree of Shrimp and Grits truly set the bar for said dish. The sheer size of the spicy crustaceans topping my high-end and most probably stone-ground grits (there are clearly no Quaker boxes in Blue Marlin's pantry) made me briefly ponder the misnomer that is "shrimp". It was insanely good and generously studded with crispy bits of smoky bacon...truly the stuff a Southern girl's dreams are made of. The sugar snap peas on the side were a nice touch, but I can't really report on them as I was saving room for dessert.
UD went with the Cortez Boil...more of the gigantic Gulf "shrimp" were served along with fresh Cedar Key clams, corn on the cob, chorizo and new potatoes in a seafood broth. The sweet cornbread accoutrement was delightful, but maybe not the best tool for sopping. I swapped my slab of crusty garlic bread (which appeared to work better as a carrier for the remaining broth) for one of his tender triangles of golden goodness and felt like I got the best end of that deal.
Despite my noble attempt at saving stomach space by totally ignoring my veggies, I was still too full for dessert but, hey, I've never let that stop me before and neither has my Better Half. Dogboy's Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie may have (may...I'm not saying for certain because the preparation of the two is quite different) eclipsed our previous favorite variation dished up at Keegan's Seafood Grille. Blue Marlin's version is a tad lighter in consistency and a little less fudgy...but toasted pecan halves, a great crust (is there lard in there?) and house made cinnamon ice cream made this baby a real contender. Not a scrap remained after Underdog had his way with it.
Ever the "Bread Pudding Gurl", how could I not order the Tropical Bread Pudding which promised (and delivered) orange, pineapple, spice, more mammoth toasted pecan halves and a liberal slathering of orgasmic pineapple rum and caramel sauce. Are you trying to seduce me, Blue Marlin? I hope so, because I'm taking my clothes off RIGHT NOW!
Huh? You didn't really want to see that? Sorry...I got carried away.
Blue Marlin is definitely worthy of a scenic, hour-long trip down I-75 south. Keep it in mind, my fellow Tampans, for the next time you're hankering for both a fine meal and a "beach fix".
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.