DINING: Casual feel, serious food at Eat Here
Published June 29, 2011
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 9:42 a.m.
Winner of numerous culinary awards, the Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island has earned the reputation as one of the best restaurants in Southwest Florida. Owner Sean Murphy now has a new enterprise called, commandingly, Eat Here.
5315 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach
Open 5 to 10 p.m. daily
But there's a bit of playfulness in that title, as indicated by the restaurant's description on the menu: "Beach Bistro's little sidekick." And the diminutive well describes the prices, which are uncommonly reasonable for the quality of the food.
True to its nickname, Eat Here goes out of its way to avoid pretentiousness. The dining room is small and tightly packed with three different types of seating -- booths, tables and highboys -- none of which use tablecloths. Cotton dishtowels stand in for napkins, and the flatware is light, while servers, wearing black pants and tee shirts, pour water from old wine bottles into chunky brasserie glasses.
Other touches add to the shabby-chic ambiance. A single sunflower in a wine bottle graces each table. Along a long wall, a handsome mirror hangs, but a series of watercolor paints obscure the glass. Above, the ceiling tiles have been given a thin coat of brown paint.
The same spirit of whimsy rules the menu, so that there is a Not Mama's Pot Roast ($14) and a Better-Than-Any-Frenchman's Onion Soup ($8), while an iceberg lettuce and blue cheese combo earns the wince-inducing name, The Titanic ($8).
But behind all this jokiness some serious cooking is going on. Take the Bistro Bruschetta ($8). It offers three toppings rather than a single one. The best is perhaps the roasted Roma tomatoes, which concentrated the flavor of the tomatoes wonderfully. A tapenade was almost as good, tart and salty from the black olives, while the pesto finished third only because the other two were so good.
Duck, Duck Mousse the Plowman Platter ($8) gets its name from the inclusion of smoked cheddar (really good), apple, berries and cornichon pickles. But the star of the show is the mousse, which arrived in a ramekin and was silkily smooth and intensely rich. The apples and cheddar helped offset this richness while adding to the overall complexity of the flavors, the smokiness of the cheese pairing well with the mousse, the crispness of the apple giving texture.
Tempura Beets ($8) personify the whimsical strain at Eat Here. They're chunks of beets fried, as their name indicates, tempura style and served in paper in a conical stand (like French fries or calamari) and come with a crème fraîche and chèvre dip. They're also surprisingly good.
Chef Gator's Gulf Coast Grouper Cakes ($10) consist of two cakes dusted with panko crumbs and pan fried to give them an attractive golden crust. Pieces of crawfish joined the chopped grouper and brought greater depth of flavor, and every once in a while a bit of celery appeared for a satisfying crunch. The cakes come with a mango beurre blanc that some diners may find too sweet; the crawfish especially invite a sauce with more bite.
Usually I'm leery about stuffed fish. Some of the worst dishes I've ever had involved fish stuffed -- read buried -- under gratuitous mounds of crab or shrimp oozing cheese and cream. But I put myself in the restaurant's hands and tried the Stuffed Flounder ($18).
It was a good decision.
The fillet of flounder puffed up with a restrained stuffing of andouille sausage and crab. The crab introduced a note of sweetness, while the sausage had a smokiness that wafted through the stuffing. A creole cream sauce gave just the right hint of piquancy.
Among desserts both a Chocolate Pot de Crème ($6) and an Apple Crisp ($8) were excellent.
Service was casual and attentive. There's a small selection of reasonable priced wines and a very good selection of craft beers.
See all of our restaurant reviews at ticketsarasota.com.
This story appeared in print on page E14
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