By Laura Reiley
To be my friend, nay even my acquaintance, is to cede all of your best ideas, finds and bon mots to me. You will see them in print, unattributed and perilously close to verbatim. In the grocery store line, at school pick-up, I mine conversations like ore to be refined later. It's not evil or laziness, merely the methods of a restaurant critic. For instance, I did not find Wahoo's Bar and Grill. I was told about this new, affordable, good-times, kick-back beachy bar/restaurant by a colleague. He talked about the glazed rib appetizer. He told me about the fried shrimp.
Now they are in my story, and my colleague is left hoping he can squeeze in for a pint of Dunedin Redhead ($4.50) or happy hour $1.50 domestic bottle. Such is life.
Wahoo's opened mid December in a vacant restaurant spot with a vaunted history: Cabanas, Mr. B's, Cadillac Jack's and the old Quarterdeck before that. That's a lot of pressure, but owner Jim Lawson is up to the task, having been raised in Tampa Bay restaurants (13 years at the Tradewinds alone). He owns another one, Wahoo's Waterside Pub and Patio in Redington Shores, with a slightly smaller menu.
This new Wahoo's has a formula everyone can relate to: live music nightly; a game room with shuffleboard, pool and darts; an inviting deck and two big bars; 11 beers on tap and 38 by the bottle; and a casual, comfort food menu that's easy on the wallet. Chef Chris Carnes, who used to own a taco shop in Indian Rocks Beach, gets to stretch his talents every day with a raft of chalkboard specials (one night a Cuban sandwich, $6.95, distinguished by a swath of super-smoky roast pork).
But he's a man unafraid of tater tots ($2.50) or a solid, workhorse hotdog ($3.95, a mighty fine wiener with kraut and pickles at $4.50). This is rib-sticking, beer-friendly fare, people, much of it emerging golden and crunchy from the fryer (solid fried shrimp, 8 for $5.95; less successful fried fish in slightly soupy fish tacos, 2 for $5.95)
The ribs ($7.50) my colleague described turned out to be deliciously juicy, with a glaze that had a hint of key lime and Thai chilies. Sweet, tangy, with just a whisper of heat. I commend his find, although maybe next time he'll wise up and throw me a red herring.
Lawson has struck a nice compromise between bar and restaurant, floating promotions out there like 35-cent steamed clam nights on Tuesdays and guest bartender nights on Wednesdays to feature local luminaries like Hooters girls. Still, the cupcakes I prefer come as Wahoo's desserts: A chocolate torte cupcake ($3.95) and a key lime cheesecake cupcake ($2.95) end a meal with just the right amount of decadence, a nice nibble to share.
Wahoos are known for being solitary fish, but this new Wahoo's is downright convivial.
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.