Clearwater, FL & fish sandwiches.
Last weekend, Mr. K and I made a weekend trip down to Clearwater, Florida. The weather was warm, almost too warm, but the breeze from the ocean kept our adventures pleasant. We packed small carry on bags, filled mostly with bathing suits, and prepared to eat massive amounts of seafood. I hadn’t been to the beach during the summer months in quite a while. The last ocean my toes were in was the Indian during Australian winter and it had been a while since I had been involved with Florida beach culture first hand.
As soon as we pulled our red rented Jeep on the coastal road that took us to the tiny beach side hotel where we were planning to stay, I was pleased to see crowds of people barefoot and in less clothing that is acceptable when walking through downtown Chattanooga. We joined several other vehicles the tops or windows down on the road, all playing lively music. Everyone was excited.
Our hotel sat right on the beach. Seriously. It was in the sand. The parking lot was sandy. I knew instantly that I may not wear shoes again on this trip. Oh, how sweet it is to be barefoot and free.
I have to say, visiting Clearwater turned into a very different beach experience than I have ever had. I don’t mean to sound like a prude, but there are better things in life than sand (meaning I don’t love to roll around in it) and frankly the ocean often makes me panic. One could say I am not an Olympic swimmer. I do love to walk on the beach. I can walk on the beach until I am tired and my legs are sore. With that being said - this beach was perfect for ‘long walks’ as it was flat! What? A beach that is flat all the way to the water? I don’t think I have ever seen one quite like it. I was also greeted by the most calm waves. They were’t breaking, or trying to drown me. I was so pleasantly surprised! This little getaway likely proved to be my best beach experience ever, and certainly my most relaxing one.
There were so many things about this trip I loved. The beach was lined with perfect yellow umbrellas in straight rows. We never had to go more than a few blocks to get everything we needed. The weekend was spent going from hotel room, directly into the sand and occasionally into a seafood joint with a wonderful ocean view. I didn’t wear makeup the entire trip! My heaven. I let the salt water make my hair ever more wavy. Everything was easy.
Possibly most important, we ate well on this trip. We took local recommendations and visited Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill. I was told to order grouper, and now I know why. Mr. K and I pretty much ate grouper all weekend. It was just that good. We visited Frenchy’s twice.
Now, after my visit, I know more about Frenchy’s. It is basically a Clearwater staple from what I can tell, and last year Alton Brown called the food from Frenchy’s Original (yes, there are several different Frenchy’s spots along Clearwater Beach) the best bite in town. If you can imagine a way that you want your grouper served, it is probably on the Frenchy’s menu. Among the fresh ocean fare listed, you will also notice a photo of Frenchy’s fishermen that says they are “just down the block,” or some nearby destination like that. Feeling like I am really eating ocean to table is alright with me.
I had grouper a couple of ways during our two visits, but Mr. K stuck with the fried grouper sandwich. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it, I suppose. We had bowls of fruit with every meal - kiwi included! If someone brings me a fruit bowl filled with something other than melons I am pretty much elated. Melons are loser fruit - and I prefer better than that. We also enjoyed a pretty dense list of cocktails. I sipped a Rockaway Mule, which was divine. It was made with lavender and rosemary vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, ginger and ginger beer. I am thirsty just thinking about it.
Mr. K’s fried grouper sandwiches were perfect and crisp topped with the usual along with provolone cheese and homemade tarter sauce. I usually deplore tartar sauce, but this homemade spread was actually lovely and when I ordered the same sandwich grilled I almost asked for a little extra. I also had baked stuffed grouper brimming with crab meat stuffing and coated with dijon caper hollandaise. Let me say that for you one more time - dijon caper hollandaise. Yes. It was good. Very good, and wonderfully rich. I am also a sucker for anything stuffed - who isn’t?
Food and atmosphere considered, Clearwater was the perfect beach destination. I got on the plane home slightly less pale and reminded of how nice the beach can really be. When you’re thinking about packing, don’t bother with anything fancy. You simply need a few good swimsuits ( I just got two wonderful new ones from Target, you can find them here and here, I mixed & matched with black bottoms, of course) and some sand worthy sandals. I also packed simple throw-on dresses, like this one, and plenty of sunscreen.
Where is your next adventure taking you?