Yesterday afternoon, we received a telephone call from Ann and Mal, very close friends wanting to know if we had dinner plans. Ann said that she was in the mood for fish and we agreed that sounded good. In Tampa and the surrounding areas, seafood restaurants come in two varieties, very posh, gourmet and rather expensive and informal places of the beach bar genre. I can explain the latter by stating these are rustic places on the beaches where the beer is cold, bathing suits are acceptable attire and the specialties are broiled or fried sandwiches made with the freshest seafood and other finger foods.
The best of these is Frenchy’s, with four locations on Clearwater Beach. The weather was not that fine so we choose the “original” restaurant on a narrow street a few blocks from the white sand for which Clearwater is famous.
First a word on why Frenchy’s fish is always fresh: they have their own fishing fleet. In 1983, two years after Mike Preston, a transplanted Canadian from French-speaking Quebec opened his own restaurant on Clearwater Beach, he realized that depending on others for fresh fish was not the way to go and bought his first boat. They now have a small fleet and visitors can come and purchase the freshest seafood in Pinellas County, or just watch as the boats are unloaded and experienced fish cutters go into action.
But back to last night.
We were seated immediately in the original Frenchy’s, a relatively small restaurant, far smaller than the other locales; yet there was plenty of room in the wood paneled area with slowly turning ceiling fans overhead.
I am a lover of hot soup and stews, whatever the weather or season, even on a summer afternoon in Florida. As an appetizer, I ordered a large bowl of Super Seafood Gumbo, advertised as loaded with grouper, shrimp, scallops and crab. The Gumbo was a deep, rich brown and, indeed, full of large pieces of fish and crab. I added a healthy dollop of hot sauce and dug in. We have visited New Orleans and had authentic gumbo; this bowl was as good as or better than any I have tasted. I was sorely tempted to order a second bowl and forgo anything else, except for the ice cold Sam Adams beer. On the other hand, I was looking forward to the grouper sandwich.
Meanwhile, Joan and Ann shared an order of steamed mussels. There were plenty of them for a starter, but they were rather small; on the other hand they were very, very tasty. I checked.
We all had grouper sandwiches which were served with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce and hand cut French fries which were thin enough to be considered chips. So good. I choose the Cajun grouper sandwich with extra hot spices. They complied totally and my sandwich was totally great.
None of us had room for dessert, although our server suggested something she said was fantastic, fried Oreos. Maybe next time.
Meanwhile, we can recommend Frenchy’s for a truly good meal or snack or just nibbles to go along with a cold brew or two.