South Beach Bar and Grille
777 Gulf Boulevard
Boca Grande, Florida
Ah, Boca Grande. It's a little island about two hours or so north of Tampa, and it is absolutely beautiful, the kind of place that gets slapped on tourist brochures - or would, if the people who own property on the island weren't clever enough (or well-heeled enough) to keep it off the beaten track. My grandparent's owned a condo here when I was a little kid in Florida, and I went there yearly every year until I was about 11 or so.
They sold it when my aunt and my cousin's moved away from Florida, but family members still come back here - my mom has been coming here since she was a kid, as well. For my cousin's graduation, we came back once again. A home-coming of sorts. It's funny how me and my two cousins remembered almost every inch of even the drive - the mangrove stands, the little podunk towns you drive through, the massive, yellow Sunshine Skyway bridge, the tragically now-closed Dairy Queen with the barbeque sandwiches - and then crossing the tollbridge to get to the island.
No color manipulation needed. God, it's nice.
The island is all white sand and beautiful sunsets and one large lighthouse, and people riding golfcarts, except not many people, because they really do manage to keep the riff-raff out. We had rented a very large and lovely vacation home and a bunch of us arrived to hang out and eat tamales and wander around.
Not that I really appreciated it, this go-round - you see, I was flying to New Orleans the next day to see my boyfriend, who I had gotten back with over the Internet (sort of) over the course of a couple months, and now he was moving to Phnom Penh.
And we were pretty certain we were going to still like each other, but how could we be certain? It was terrifying. I believe I spent about half the day at Boca Grande hiding under a blanket on a couch, squinting to read my new Kindle, but not really reading, more just being trapped in a haze of existential, relationship-and-future-of-your-life based terror. The timing in other words was a bit off, but it's not your fault, Boca Grande.
(My boyfriend is moving to Phnom Penh in less then a month. I had nothing to worry about. But you never know that before.)
Oh yes, this is a food blog. I did eat one meal "out" on Boca Grande, which was at the South Beach Bar and Grille (with the obnoxious e). It's right on the beach and serves slightly fancified Florida beach shack fare. Think lots of grouper, fried seafood, pastrami sandwiches for the NY transplants, salads of various kinds, seafood chowder, hamburgers, and other seafood-themed stuff. It's expensive as hell, but food on Boca is expensive.
Curiously enough, despite the awesome location, the food is really, really good. (Just don't try parking there then hitting the beach, apparently, judging from Tripadvisor. Seriously. They don't like that.)
What is it with me and grouper? To me, it's like the madeline of the fish world, the protein that takes me back to childhood. My dad used to fry grouper at the beach all the time when I was a kid - some of my earliest food memories involve getting grouper sandwiches after preschool with my mom at this colorfully decorated restaurant in Tampa.
Whenever I'm in Florida, I eat prodigious quantities of the stuff. This was an excellent grouper sandwich, a good specimen of the genre: Plenty of fish, lots of mayo, lettuce and tomato, keep er' simple. I prefer my grouper sandwiches fried - doesn't obstruct the flavor profile - but some would beg to differ. Liked the coleslaw fine. I'm on a coleslaw kick lately. $15. Can be done reuben style. I almost went for it but decided that would either be perverse or awesome, and I didn't feel like wasting my one shot in 2011 for a grouper sandwich.
Must add that the fried grouper fingers were also very good, as determined by myself and my cousin. My mother was also very pleased with her seafood chowder, which was thick, Boston-ish, and absolutely terrible for you, as it should have been. We hung out for a bit and watched people on the beach. I worried about my boyfriend and worried about sun protection - oh god, what if I get a cold sore? - and worried about the universe and my job and probably individual atoms if I got right down to it.
I'm not very good at beaches.