Gulf-to-Gourmet: Fresh, Local Seafood in St. Pete/Clearwater
For a sampler, look to this list of local specialties, with tips on where to enjoy them.
St. Pete/Clearwater’s location between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay promises an abundance of fresh, local seafood – and no shortage of restaurants that present them in myriad delicious ways.
This area is known as the “Grouper Capital of the World”, so you’ll find the local favourite at the forefront of menus, available year round. A golden fried fillet is commonly served on a bun with tangy tartar sauce, though its subtle flavor suits it for specials from spicy fish tacos to meaty fish cakes. At Walt’z Fish Shak on Madeira Beach, chef-owner Walt Gerbase updates his chalkboard menus daily based on the fresh catch. He works with local captains to source the grouper he serves blackened or fried alongside crispy cole slaw.
At Walt’z Fish Shak, order the local grouper “blackened” for a mild fish accented with black pepper and other spices.
Imagine raw mackerel, mullet and other fish smoked slowly over native wood, served whole or blended into a wildly flavorful spread. You can find it around the local area, but Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish on South Pasadena is the icon. Nab a table outside or take the fish spread to go, and proceed directly to the beach nearby. Don’t forget the salty soda crackers for dipping.
May through October, area restaurants and fishing outfits harvest these crabs from traps set in local Gulf of Mexico waters. The crab meat is so sweet and firm, it’s likened to lobster. Order yours at restaurants such as Billy’s Stone Crab in Tierra Verde, which serves the fresh, orange-tinged claws hot with melted butter or cold with piquant mustard sauce.
With its views of Tierra Verde and plates of sweet stone crab, Billy’s Stone Crab is an iconic dining experience in St. Pete/Clearwater.
Warm Gulf of Mexico waters nurture large oysters that withstand baking, frying and inventive flavor combinations. Still, freshly shucked raw oysters are just what some diners crave. The Oyster Bar on downtown St. Petersburg’s eclectic Central Avenue serves the briny bites every which way; try the Kilpatrick to add smoked bacon and caramelized onion.
The Oyster Bar in downtown St. Petersburg serves Gulf oysters prepared every which way.
These blue-hued specimens are available year round, though connoisseurs anticipate the arrival of the buttery, soft shell variety in spring. Blue crab cakes, crispy yet tender, make most menus, or try a creative preparation such as guacamole studded with the sweet meat (available at Guppy’s on Indian Rocks Beach).
Wild Gulf shrimp vary in color and size. You might savor the plump pink variety in a simple “shrimp cocktail” with a squeeze of lemon and a red, horseradish-based dipping sauce. Other varieties include golden fried, featured in creamy pasta dishes or stuffed with crab – any of the Frenchy’s family of restaurants in the area can enlighten you.
Whether you order them fried, chilled in a “cocktail” or folded into warm, comforting grits, Gulf shrimp are an essential taste of local seafood.
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is served by two international airports (St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Tampa International Airport), making flying in and out simple. These gateways to paradise feature service from more than 30 airlines, competitive rates and efficient facilities packed with amenities. Direct international flights are available from Panama, London, Frankfurt and Zurich.