After diligently scouring the far corners of the web the other day, I can confidently report that there's a serious dearth of dog-friendly, waterfront restaurants east of I-75 in Hillsborough County. In fact, they may well be nonexistent.
Sweet Molly Maguire, still despondent over the loss of her longtime companion, Gastropup, needed to get out of the house. Needed some stimulation. Needed something different to do. An alfresco lunch seemed ideal, but overlooking a parking lot in the August heat did not. Downtown Tampa might've worked, but her hips would not have. At 14 years of age, she can only handle the shortest of walks from car to table. I finally remembered Woody's River Roo, a cute tiki bar and casual dining spot situated right off of I-75 at the Hellenton Outlet Mall exit.
Okay, so Woody's River Roo is no Mise en Place...nor does it pretend to be. The important thing on this occasion was that it has an expansive deck overlooking the sparkling Manatee River and that it welcomes furkids. As it turned out, the food's actually pretty good, too.
Both two- and four-legged members of our party were warmly received by all staff members we encountered and a bowl of cool water was promptly deposited for Molly. There was plenty of shade on the patio which, coupled with the misting fans scattered throughout the venue, made for a pleasant outdoor experience despite the mid-nineties temps and one-hundred-and-eleventy percent humidity. I cringed a little when I realized that live entertainment would be involved since it often has a way of making me want to take an ice pick to my eardrums, either because it's too loud, awful, or both. I was pleasantly surprised when neither of the aforementioned adjectives were applicable. The soloist was actually quite talented and had a nice, relaxing repertoire which he kept dialed down to a volume level conducive to conversation. The scene:
We ordered some cold beverages and started with a better-than-average basket of lightly breaded on the outside/tender on the inside onion rings, which disappeared in short order.
Since Sweet Molly loves crab meat almost more than life itself, she zeroed right in on the Blue Crab Cakes...which turned out to be pretty spectacular. The two large and beautifully seared patties were bountifully stuffed with crab meat and nicely seasoned with spices and a little bell pepper. Binder was kept to a minimum and we all enjoyed the cakes' crispy exterior crust and zippy, horseradish-y sidecar of dipping sauce.
Molly was nice enough to share. Good girl!
Nachos fell into the "just okay" category. The homemade chili topping the requisite tortilla chips was a spicily tasty rendition, but the decidedly "Cheez Whizzy" school bus yellow goo topper kept them from reaching their full potential. But, again...we're talking about inexpensive pub fare here, most of which delivers pretty well for its price point.
My grouper bites were moist, not overly-breaded, fresh-tasting and fried to a golden brown. Fries were the frozen battered variety, but served hot and crunchy. I thought the portion was generous for $12.99 and could not finish it all.
Final word: Woody's River Roo is a pleasant place to while away a Florida afternoon. The food more than meets expectations. It's clean enough for an outdoor establishment. It boasts gorgeous views. Staff is laid back and friendly. It's not so much of a tiki-bar venue that anyone should fear bringing their family here...in fact, there were many families with children dining on our visit as well as senior citizens, boaters, young singles, dog parents and everything in-between. Molly gives it her coveted "two paws up".
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.