REDINGTON SHORES — The Lobster Pot is back. New owners Lori Jo Vincent and her mom, Fran Bartlett, reopened it in January, just in time for returning snowbirds to alight at their longtime favorite seafooder.
It was opened originally in 1978 by Fritz Reiter, who died in 2003, after which his wife, Joan, carried on the business until September.
Returning patrons have noticed some differences: The dining room has been prettied up, some of the nautical gewgaws removed. The old smoking section room was opened up to the rest of the restaurant; a glamorous new bar is currently under construction. Changes in the kitchen are less obvious. Executive chef Steve Callander has been a constant presence in the back for the past 14 years.
That could be good or bad. The overall sensibility at Lobster Pot is one of retro-inspired refinement. Retro can mean gracefully old-timey. It can also mean tired. Lobster Pot's menu is a little of each.
The best dishes continue to be the namesake classics. A whole steamed Maine lobster (market price $39.95) arrives like a page out of a New England magazine, split down the middle and spilling out its sweet white meat, accompanied by a candle-powered butter warmer, steamed red potatoes and fairly al dente broccoli. Claws cracked just right, a half lemon in seed-catching cheesecloth, the proper tools at the ready.
An evening's special swordfish ($32.95), with fruit salsa and a "pina colada sauce," however, seemed retro in an early 1990s way, the fish itself mushy and not complemented by the abundance of fruity sweetness.
Retro or not, classic oysters Rockefeller ($9.50) is hard to beat, its cream-swaddled Apalach oysters topped with a crust of tasty chopped spinach and applewood smoked bacon. The same can be said of a straightforward surf and turf ($39.50), a 5-ounce filet mignon (good texture but extremely demure flavor) and a South Africa lobster tail hitting all the right notes. (Coldwater South African spiny lobsters are generally considered superior in taste — sweeter, richer — to warm-water tails from Florida.)
The Lobster Pot has always been famous for its escargots ($9), six of the garden pests brought to justice in a bath of herb-flecked butter. Sadly, ours were rubbery and tasted mostly of butter.
Another good retro thing: Every entree gets a snappy-fresh green salad to start. And another bad one: Each bill has an automatic 15 percent gratuity included.
Service is a kettle of fish at the new Lobster Pot. One evening we had a pro, a gentleman who has spent years zipping around this particular dining room (according to Vincent, half the servers were retained from the old Lobster Pot). This waiter could kibbitz and advise while keeping a close eye on his full section. Another night, we drew the short straw with a waiter on his first night on the job. The computer, the pacing and the myriad details of fine dining service flummoxed him, his section containing far too many tables for a newbie. By evening's end he had an unmistakably defeated look — lucky for him the gratuity was not discretionary.
This time of year, the Lobster Pot is crowded with folks who have fond memories from decades of Florida winter retreats. Some of them seem to recognize each other, many leaning across tables to discuss the restaurant's changes. Once these regulars have flown home in late spring, the restaurant will have to figure out how to appeal to year-round locals, how to seem refined and, yes, retro, but still relevant.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.