From a breakfast bistro to a beach side culinary expense, dining in Anna Maria is about the whole experience.
Whether you go to Duffy’s for a burger, Ginny & Jane E’s for the breakfast quiche, the Sandbar for the conch fritters or the Beach Bistro for lobster escargot, you are experiencing great food in a beautiful location with outstanding staff and service.
In a fantastic departure from the normal dining experience, guests linger while they enjoy the food, ambience, and each other, leaving Blackberries in purses and pockets.
When making your dining choice, the Anna Maria Island community again comes into play, with other diners so enthusiastic about their meals they stop just short of offering you ‘fork privileges.’ But menu suggestions and advice are free flowing.
Meals here are an event to be enjoyed, savored, shared. Remember, downshift. You won’t be driving through anywhere. Take your time and relax.
Anna Maria meets every gastro desire you could possibly have. There are basic neighborhood pubs, local eateries, upscale restaurants, and elegant dining choices. Seafood is fresh and plentiful, making it a must-taste favorite.
Ask anyone on the island, even other restaurant owners, where to eat for a special occasion and they will resoundingly direct you to Beach Bistro where owner Sean Murphy has succeeded in his twenty year pursuit of excellence, creating an outstanding restaurant and dining experience.
The food is interesting without being “trendy,” using fresh ingredients and attractive pairings, and the on-the-beach setting is amazing. Accolades for the restaurant include, “the best food on the Gulf Coast,” “one of the top restaurants in America,” “one of the most romantic restaurants in America,” and one of the “top wine restaurants in the world.”
One patron found the statement, “it’s as good as any in Paris or New York” as an insult. He noted, “They could say that some restaurants in Paris or New York are as good as this, but many aren’t!”
Most diners have difficulty describing the restaurants beyond “Perfect.” It is exactly, precisely the way a restaurant should be. First the food seduces you with the presentation, then woos you with aroma, and finally captivates you with taste. Nothing disappoints. Nothing falls short.
Sean Murphy is a breath of fresh air in the upscale restaurant scene, warm, generous and having never met a stranger. His attention to detail and his dedication to outstanding taste are matched only by his sense of humor.
He is intense about the food, the setting and the service, but constantly finds amusement in everything else, and works to make even this upscale experience fun. For example, the preamble to the tasting menu notes:
“As a much younger man, Sean was given a formative gift, “The Punch Guide to Good Living.” The guide contained this wise advisory: “When you find yourself in the bazaar of an exotic city in a foreign land and a mysterious cloaked and hooded figure steps from a dark alley, plucks at your sleeve and says, ‘Come with me’…Go with him!”
While Mr. Murphy demonstrates extreme pride of ownership and exceptional culinary aptitude, but none of the stuffiness often associated with such impeccable restaurants.
Instead, his message is to enjoy the finest things in life, with your shoes off if you’d like.
The proof of the pudding certainly is in the pudding, and at Beach Bistro that “pudding” is fabulous. Mr. Murphy says the reason is simple, “We get the best stuff, and we get the best guys to cook it. That’s our formula for excellence.”
Beach Bistro seeks out and serves the freshest, highest quality ingredients in all their food. only serving prime American beef, a designation bestowed on only 1% of beef produced in America. This is the best of the best, and the taste reflects it. Lamb is fresh from Iowa and Colorado because lamb from New Zealand arrives to the US market frozen.
Likewise, the grouper at Beach Bistro is fresh local caught grouper, not frozen North Pacific Cod grouper or Vietnam Catfish Grouper.
Mr. Murphy’s whimsy can be seen throughout the menu. Highlights on the exceptional menu include “One Helluva Soup,” a Bistro Blue Tomato, served in a cognac glass is like no other tomato bisque you’ve ever had. The Bistro “White Castle” sliders are described as foie gras and prime tenderloin on a butter grilled sweet bun with demi-glace and béarnaise; Lobstercargots are “lush chunks of Florida spiny lobster (instead of the chewy little slugs)” served escargot-style.
Florribbean Grouper with a toasted coconut and cashew crust. Pan seared, oven finished and caressed with a red pepper papaya jam; the Rack of Domestic Lamb is “simply the world’s best, fresh domestic lamb from Iowa and Colorado.”
End it with Chocolate Truffle Terrine or Florida Key Lime Pie.
Another outstanding element of the Beach Bistro is the staff. As each member will tell you, they are a team - from owner Sean Murphy to Chef Matt Deason to every single member of the wait and bar staff. They are seamless, appearing when needed without hovering, patiently encouraging you to savor each morsel and each uninterrupted moment of pure dining bliss.
Superlatives failing, eventually descriptions fall back on the familiar, and accurate, “Amazing” or “Perfect.” As with many experiences in Anna Maria, the one downside is leaving, wondering what else you could have tasted on the menu.
A second must visit restaurant on the island is The Sandbar. This wonderful restaurant takes ambience to the ultimate experience – dining not only with a view of the Gulf, but literally Gulf-side, outdoors, sand under your feet and the water an arms length away.
This is the restaurant people go to every day for the conch fritters created by owner Ed Chiles or the freshest fresh catch you can find. Being at the Sandbar is more like having dinner with a large group of friends than going out to a restaurant.
Guests lean toward adjoining tables to discuss food, weather, and activities, kids frolic on the sand while they wait for their meal, and then there is that awe-inspiring sunset. Every night, guests bet on the exact second the sun will dip onto the horizon, and the winner receives a bottle of champagne.
Diners actually stop their eating and talking and look toward the horizon to see the colors splashing across the sky. The hostess rings the bell when it hits the water, and everyone in the restaurant cheers.
Owner Ed Chiles has created a venue that matches his personality. It is comfortable and hospitable. The food is approachable but special, “We strive to make the operation match the location,” says Ed Chiles with his trademark smile and authentic enthusiasm, “and the beauty of this place sets a pretty high standard.”
While all the items on the menu are very good, we strongly suggest you try the conch fritters and whatever the Sandbar is serving for its fresh catch. Mr. Chiles re-did the traditional conch fritters, taking out the rubbery-chewyness and adding extra flavor. They are heralded as some of the best fritters ever tasted.
One simple piece of advice: if the snapper is on the menu, order it. It is local, fresh, recently caught, prepared to enhance the natural sweet taste of the fish, not overwhelm it.
If you don’t like seafood, there is still plenty to entice you on the menu, including Chicken Anna Maria which is a tropical twist on grilled chicken, New York Strip which is 14ounces of the highest quality prime beef and the ultimate melt-in-your mouth filet mignon.
Do not leave without trying the aptly-named Sinners Delight, “A gooey Fudge Brownie with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream, drizzled with Chocolate Sauce and crowned by a mound of Whipped Cream, Walnuts and a Cherry.”
The Sandbar is where you want to be, every day, whether it is for one of its amazing meals or just a drink with friends. Patrons linger and socialize, have one more drink, one more taste, one more bit of conversation.
“We actually had plans to go somewhere else after dinner,” said Mary Franklin, visiting from Chicago, “but we cancelled it because it’s just so nice here…and I keep ordering more things to nibble on!”
Weddings at The Sandbar are spectacular as there is no better beach location for a sunset wedding. Ceremonies take place in a gazebo on the sand, a few feet from the ocean, and the adjoining private dining pavilion can accommodate more than 160 guests. An on-site wedding planner makes the entire process easy.
You can rent everything you need directly from The Sandbar, and planners will help you select your perfect reception menu.
When at The Sandbar make sure you take time to look at the bell over the hostess station, created by island-resident Tommy Fagan (see “Studio on Pine, below).
For really good barbeque, visit Mr. Bones Barbeque, a taste of true New Orleans-style barbeque in Florida. This eclectic restaurant with a Day of the Dead theme serves beer from a coffin and cooks with such impeccable sauces that the restaurant does not offer salt, pepper, ketchup or other additions.
The prominent sign in the dining room explains, “Our food is expertly prepared by New Orleans trained chefs. No improvement is needed.”
The menu highlights smoky, melt in your mouth ribs with a variety of sauces, including hot, honey glazed, and mandarin. The original secret Mr. Bones barbeque sauce is spectacular. It is smoky and tangy and sweet and savory slathered on ribs that fall off the bone. You can order chicken with any of the sauces, and there is also a beef plate with the original sauce.
The menu extends far beyond traditional barbeque fare, including Congo chicken, which has a spicy peanut sauce, an amazing chicken Tikka served with rice biryani of coconut, raisins, almonds, and a mango chutney, burritos, tortilla pie, and enormous half-pound burgers.
The varied menu has something for every appetite, but we strongly recommend the original barbeque ribs.
Straddling the line between shopping and eating is Ginny’s and Jane E’s Café and Bakery. The cafe is a part of Anna Maria’s history. It was originally the IGA grocery store, then became the bakery and café owned by sisters Ginny and Jane E.
Current owners Roberta (“Bert”) Schaefer and Jeff Levey have maintained the charm of the location while upgrading some aspects. They expanded the menu, for example, and are now open seven days a week.
“We’re happy when people stay all day,” says the vivacious Bert, “it means they are enjoying themselves.”
Read Part I, Inviting, delighting Anna Maria Island, here.
Read Part II, Tortuga Inn and white sand beaches, here.
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