ST. PETE BEACH
As the mother of a teenage daughter, my thoughts may just roll along this path, as implacable as a gutterball: There's a lot of noise out there, a lot of razzle-dazzle and Johnny-come-latelies, and sometimes you must tune that all out in order to see someone who, quietly and confidently, has been standing there all along.
I don't always practice what I preach. (I'm out of the Twilight zone now, not talking about teenage boys.)
Patrick's Bayside Grill has been tucked into a little house along Gulf Boulevard since 1994. My incessant dining has taken me up and down this road more times that I can count, ricocheting from fried-fish shack to good-times beach bar. I didn't see this little 44-seat independent through all the hubbub.
Patrick Abulone started out as a teacher in Buffalo, N.Y., but shored up here when he won a liquor license in the lottery for Pinellas County. He opened the bayside Mulligan's first, then a second Mulligan's location on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg, and finally tiny Patrick's. He sold it to his chefs in 1995, then bought it back in 1998 and has been settled in since then.
In an intimate space, leafy potted plants dangle from the rafters of a peaked ceiling. Black tablecloths, crystal candle holders and simple cafe chairs seem about 1994 in provenance. For some reason, Patrick's seems to draw a preponderance of winter visitors from Europe. On a couple of visits, mellifluous accents swirled around the dining room (and tables are set close, a boon to eavesdroppers like me).
This Euro-magnetism might be explained by the service. It, too, feels European. By that I mean servers don't hover, they get in and out with the specials and drink orders, food is delivered speedily, but there's not a lot of "My name is Whatevs and I'll be your server tonight." You may have to flag them down for another drink or the dessert soliloquy.
The menu is hard to categorize — American/Continental with Asian doodads? — but the obvious place to start is the house-baked bread ($2). It's not gratis, but it's better than most free bread, warm and crusty and cut into thick wedges into which the accompanying pesto-swirled olive oil seeps beautifully.
Entrees come with a small Caesar salad, but for $3 more, you can upgrade to a very nice mixed green salad with walnuts, clods of blue cheese, decent tomato and cuke in a honeyed balsamic vinaigrette.
For something a little more substantial, a plate of seared, sesame-seed-crusted ahi ($12) is a nice sharer, its cucumber salad seriously spicy and a tangle of seaweed salad another good counterpoint. More of a hold-your-own starter, a cup of the house lobster bisque ($4) is rich and sherried.
Two entrees that stand out from the list of a dozen: a crisp roast duck ($28) and the pan-seared sea bass (market price, but around $30) show cook William Grant's expertise. Both are moist but perfectly crispy-topped, each paired with a classic orange beurre blanc, a scoop of simple orzo and a generous forest of steamed skinny asparagus spears.
Abulone's wine list is egalitarian, no varietal left behind, with a fair-minded mark-up and very generous pour by the glass. And a full bar is somewhat unexpected, with a phalanx of beach-appropriate signature drinks.
While I'd like to see a dessert or two that push the envelope a bit (besides a pedestrian cheesecake and carrot cake, not made in-house), Patrick's, overall, is the kind of self-assured, charming spot that has drawn fans effortlessly for more than 18 years.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses.