Too many hours at sea and one thing is inevitable: You get hungry. These restaurants make great tie-up spots for easy waterfront dining from gulf to bay.
Poised to launch a fresh fall menu for lunch and dinner under new executive chef Lance Kraebel, Jackson's Bistro [601 S Harbour Island Blvd., northwest edge of Harbour Island, near the meeting of Garrison and Seddon channels; (813) 277-0112] manages five boat slips, which are free if you're coming to dine. There's a $3-per-foot charge if you're staying overnight, and the maximum boat size is 30 feet. The big draw for recreational boaters is weekend brunch, offered from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for a very reasonable $19.95. A new sushi menu is on the horizon, giving boaters another reason to plan a trip.
The most gastronomically ambitious restaurant within easy reach of Tampa Bay boaters is Il Terrazzo at the Marriott-Tampa Waterside [700 S Florida Ave.; (813) 221-4900], which offers two hours of free dockage and has 32 slips. It can accommodate crafts up to 55 feet, with bridge clearance of 17 feet at high tide and 19 feet at low tide.
Il Terrazzo is fairly unique among Tampa restaurants, and certainly among Tampa area hotel restaurants: It sources as much food locally as it can. They have a rooftop garden and indoor hydroponic garden to produce their own herbs, lettuces and tomatoes. Using the services of purveyor Suncoast Food Alliance, they buy produce from area farms and meats from Florida farmers, such as pork from Palmetto Creek Farms. All that would mean bubkes unless the kitchen knew what to do with it.
In an opulent dining room with water views (so you can keep an eye on your boat), you can sample from a Cal-Ital menu that features such stunners as the aforementioned pork, served as a chop alongside grilled fennel and roasted cipollini onions with a peach reduction and lovely vanilla-scented mashed parsnip. On the other hand, a fillet of gulf snapper, with hearts of palm, local squash and peas, roasted eggplant and a sly chive creme can make you fairly exuberant about living along the Gulf of Mexico.
Single boaters, Bahama Breeze [3045 Rocky Point Drive, Rocky Point north of Courtney Campbell Parkway; (813) 289-7922] is for you. With docking for up to 10 boats depending on size (maximum 40 feet), there's no charge for customers. This is tropical-drinks territory, a small chain that riffs on Caribbean flavors. Set in its own little cove, Bahama Breeze, owned by Darden Restaurants, has proved a magnetic draw for Rays players, Buccaneers and other similarly sporty types. And if you hurry in this week you can grab the happy hour deal, a grilled cheeseburger and Aruba Red beer for $10.
RICK'S ON THE RIVER
Some come by boat, others by kayak or inner tube to Rick's on the River [2305 N Willow Ave., west side of Hillsborough River, north of downtown; (813) 251-0369]. And what they come for are the views of the Hillsborough River and the downtown skyline, the raucous roadhouse feel and the kind of loud live bands on the weekend that make lip reading a handy skill. The outdoor patio at Rick's has been a boaters' weekend hang for the past 18 years on the basis of its grouper sandwich (now just fish sandwich) and the oysters Rick-afellar and fish spread. Boaters find easy mooring along several floating docks that can accommodate up to 70 boats, free of charge to diners (overnight dockage is $1 per foot). According to owner Ken Bracken, Rick's can accommodate boats up to 60 feet, but clearance is an issue. Clearance is 14 feet without the drawbridge and 35 feet with the drawbridge up.
WHISKEY JOE'S BAREFOOT BAR
The bar [7720 W Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-0770] has no slips, but boaters are welcome to pull up on the beach at no charge. And what's the draw for boaters? Deep breath. It has palapas (basically small tiki huts), fire pits on the beach, corn hole, live entertainment, tournament volleyball courts, reggae parties on Sunday nights, beach parties every Saturday and a whole lot of feet-in-the-sand drinking and dining.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293.
FRENCHY'S SALTWATER CAFE
Home of the best dang grouper sandwich in Florida, Frenchy's Saltwater Café [419 Poinsettia Ave., Clearwater; (727) 461-6295; frenchysonline.com] is an institution on Clearwater Beach. If you are feeling bold, try the Grouper Reuben. The octopus, conch fritters and buffalo shrimp are also big hits. Coming by boat? Tie up at Frenchy's floating dock on the south side of Mandalay Channel, north of Memorial Causeway, then walk across the street. Frenchy's also offers dockside-to-go service. Pull up to the dock and they will bring out your food.
THE PUB WATERFRONT RESTAURANT
One of the top boating spots on the Intracoastal Waterway, the Pub [20025 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, on the west side of "The Narrows," south of the Indian Rocks Bridge; (727) 595-3172; thepubrestaurant.com] has good food, cold drinks and an experienced staff that is used to guests arriving by water. Fan favorites include the calamari and Florida crab cake, and you can't go wrong with fresh oysters (any month that has an "R" in it) and the boiled shrimp. No need to worry about docking: The Pub has 30 boat slips.
Another favorite of boaters and fishermen is the Wharf Restaurant [2001 Pass-a-Grille Way, St. Pete Beach; (727) 367-9469; wharfrestaurant.org]. There are only nine slips, and the docking can be tight, but the restaurant's prime location on the west side of Boca Ciega Bay, just south of the Vina del Mar Bridge, makes the Wharf the place to be on a Saturday afternoon. The food, standard beach fare, is always good, especially after a long day on the water.
THE SALT ROCK GRILL
The Salt Rock Grill [19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, just north of City Hall, or on the water at Mile Marker 17; (727) 593-7625; saltrockgrill.com] is a great place for seafood and steak and is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the bay area. With tables overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, diners see their share of boats motoring home at sunset, but few take advantage of the 10 boats slips with complimentary dockage.
MARCHAND'S AT THE RENAISSANCE VINOY RESORT
If you are looking for a fine dining experience, check out Marchand's [501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; vinoymarina.com]. The resort has two-hour complimentary dockage for diners, but you need to call the dockmaster at (727) 824-8022 to reserve one of the 21 slips. The dining is casual — shorts, collared shirts and deck shoes are fine — but you might feel out of place in a T-shirt and swim trunks, especially in the evening hours.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected]