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Review: Salty Rim Grill, in old Mulligan's spot in St. Pete Beach, is a refreshing tropical oasis

ST. PETE BEACH —

Mulligan's, a longtime beach bar without a lot of culinary ambition, was replaced in 2010 by Ocean Breeze. In that transition it underwent a fairly elegant remodel, with an international small-plate menu that turned out not to be a perfect fit for this waterside locale. At the end of 2011 the space started its next life as the Salty Rim Grill, with a "crush bar" of slushy, juice-based cocktails and a menu that ranges from Cancun to Key West.

Partners Scott Estes of Lee Roy Selmon's and Rattlefish Bar & Grill, Jeff Hawks of Hawks Neighborhood Grill and Rory Hardin seem to have a savvy understanding of the situation: Locals and tourists are looking for a place where drinks are big, tropical live music plays the Buffett oeuvre on the deck, and food is moderately priced and not too froufrou. While the decor has undergone another major overhaul (gorgeous jewel-colored glass fishing floats hang over the bar area), the menu has been adjusted in a more casual, loosely Caribbean direction.

The main attraction is the signature drinks list (although, come on guys, put the prices on so we don't have to ask). Goofy quenching options like a watermelon Collins (tequila, fresh watermelon, lime, agave nectar and a splash of Cointreau), as well as more sophisticated classic cocktails are well made. If you sit outside on the deck, cocktails come in plastic cups, which detracts a little, but if it's sunny and there's a band, it's worth the sacrifice. My favorite on a couple of visits was a watermelon basil mojito, but ask them to go light on the simple syrup.

Salty Rim is festive, the kind of place where a mess of shared appetizers seems like a reasonable dining strategy. The Bong Bong Shrimp ($8.90) is a wan imitation of Bonefish Grill's Bang Bang version, so instead I'd direct you to the blackened tuna bites ($10.90), big cubes of seared tuna accessorized with a sweet chili dipping sauce and a bit of tomato ginger chutney. A trio of fish tacos ($11) is another nice sharer, warm flour tortillas packed with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, unnecessary cheese and very fresh-tasting fish. Bonus: The flour tortillas are gluten-free.

We also enjoyed the seafood margarita ($8.50), a big scoop of salsa married with lump crab and tasty shrimp and paired with house-fried tortilla chips. It could use a little more oomph of spice, but it beat out the mini crab cakes ($10.90) by a mile, the latter being too squishy of center and paired with a pedestrian remoulade that lacked any of the advertised Bacardi Estate rum flavor.

Of the main courses, a straight-up fried shrimp po' boy ($9) came on a satisfyingly crunchy baguette with a fair number of crustaceans and a side of very respectable fries. And the Catalina chicken ($12.90) read like a very home-style grilled chicken breast topped with a rich artichoke caper sauce. It wasn't going to win any medals, but the price point seemed fair and the portion generous but not ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, order the Oreo beignets ($5.90). It's too much of everything (battered and fried Oreos, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar), but a table of friends can manage to dispatch an order frighteningly fast. A touch more sophisticated and demure, the white chocolate banana bread pudding ($5.90) is also good, its amaretto pecan sauce a nice foil for the scoop of vanilla ice cream and the soft, buttery-custardy bread.

Oreo beignets and slushy tropical cocktails: Salty Rim Grill aims for us grownups to have a little childlike fun. Nothing wrong with that.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

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Salty Rim Grill

9524 Blind Pass Road, St. Pete Beach

(727) 851-9955;

thesaltyrim.com

Cuisine: American

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, until midnight Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex, MC, V, Dis.; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Appetizers $4.50-$10.90; entrees $8-$24; desserts $5.90

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★ Service: ★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★

Review: Salty Rim Grill, in old Mulligan's spot in St. Pete Beach, is a refreshing tropical oasis 01/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 3:30am]

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