By LAURA REILEY
Times Food Critic
MADEIRA BEACH — It's a space with a pedigree. In the spot that used to house Dockside Dave's, a new three-story building has been erected at the edge of Madeira Bay Marina. Construction delays put its schedule back by more than a year and four months, but Latitudes Waterfront Dining finally opened its doors mid-April.
It's the handiwork of a bunch of pros. J.W. Centanni worked at Ricky T.'s on Treasure Island for 11 years; his wife, Kathy, beat his record with 16 years at PJ's Oyster Bar in Indian Rocks Beach. Co-owners Kelli and Gino Centanni had Beach Nutts Bar and Grill for years out in Treasure Island.
In short, these people know what they're doing when it comes to casual, waterfront dining heavy on the Jimmy Buffett soundtrack and catch of the day, both with a generous side of fries. The building itself is quirky, seeming still a bit unfinished: The restaurant entrance is on the third floor, accessible by stairs or elevator. The second floor houses the restaurant's office as well as a yacht brokerage and a boat rental outfit. It's easy to wander around confusedly until the smell of steamed clams and sweet fried Florida lobster orients you to the third floor.
Once inside, there are a couple of tough choices: To sit at the bar, where bartenders steam goodies (mussels, clams, Old Bay-tinged shrimp; all $8.95) right there while you watch? Or out at one of the back patio tables to view the bobbing boats tied up so tidily? From either perch, menu perusal yields a lot of usual suspects: po' boys ($7.95-$8.95), seafood baskets ($6.95-$8.95) and seafood pots (what I know as a New England clam bake, with oysters, mussels and other seafood supplemented with corn on the cob and some red bliss taters; $23.99 for two people).
I wasn't wowed by everything: The coleslaw is sogged by too much mayo, the cheesecake tasted like refrigerator and the curly ornamental kale on every plate is a waste of space. But otherwise I thought Latitudes offered a number of fresh-tasting seafood dishes in competent preparations. Smoked fish spread (made by Nachman's Native Seafood in Redington Shores of grouper, snapper, mahi-mahi and other treats; $7.95) was tasty and a good warm-up to a grilled grouper sandwich ($9.95), the plush white fish annoyingly served with a tomato slice long past its peak.
Fried shrimp ($8.95) get a nice panko breading, the time in the fryer just right. Their accompanying fries are workhorse; better are the sweet potato shoestrings ($3.95) or even the crab-stuffed fried mushrooms ($9.95), their temperature guaranteed to wreak havoc on the roof of your mouth, but so be it. In fact, Latitudes' fryer work is its most valiant, but I appreciate that they make an effort with healthy stuff like a crudite platter ($6.25) and a decent Greek salad ($7.95), beets, pepperoncini, not-too-salty feta and a blob of potato salad lending substance.
Located all the way across the street from the gulf, Latitudes still manages to give a decidedly beachy impression. Classic rock standbys and chummy, easy-going servers bolster this, but it's the no-nonsense, fair-priced seafood dishes that sustain the feeling.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.