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Water Witch is a morning glory

Most people know the name Norman Vincent Peale. He's the Power of Positive Thinking guy. Fewer people know his wife, Ruth Stafford Peale, who died last month. But we should. A spiritual leader and author, she founded Guideposts, one of the top 25 largest magazines in the country. Maybe more importantly, she is credited with popularizing the phrase, "Find a need and fill it."

So simple, but it's a phrase successful entrepreneurs and high-tech gurus take to heart. That goes extra for restaurateurs like Tom Goff.

His wife, Pia, went to Europe last year for a long visit, leaving him to mind their Gulfport restaurant, Pia's Trattoria, and watch over two boys. During her absence, Tom wanted to take the boys to breakfast in Gulfport, somewhere with a focus on organic ingredients and "healthy stuff." He came up empty-handed. So he and Pia opened the Water Witch about six months ago. It's a sweet, ramshackle beachside spot where "funk" is the operative design motif and finishing touches include a smattering of found shells and a little bit of sand. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the early part of the day, especially on weekends, is where Water Witch really shines.

Sure, it's near the water, but what's with the Witch part? The menu explains the connection between the restaurant and a historic Civil War-era gunboat. It seems that Gulfport's first settler, Capt. James Barnett, was wounded in a battle on the WaterWitch. He came to the area to recuperate.

On a Sunday morning with the sun glinting off the nearby beach's white sand, it's not hard to see why. Especially if he had a menu like this. The first page contains the usual American suspects (but with the added bonus of free-range eggs, organic milk and yogurt, and as much organic produce as the kitchen can find). Eggs, bacon, home fries — all supremely competent. But turn the page.

The next sheet describes a world-beat approach to the morning meal. There's France with its flaky croissant and marmalade ($5.95), or a hearty Italian array of cold antipasti with a stiff espresso ($9.95), or even puffy Belgian waffles served with a rich chocolate milk ($7.95). All good.

Keep turning. Then comes the pfannkuchen, hard to say (it's PFAHN-kook-en) but a must to order. Thinner than a pancake and thicker than a crepe, it can go sweet and it can go savory, wrapping around Nutella and powdered sugar ($4.95) or fresh asparagus and grilled chicken breast ($9.50). Either way, Capt. Barnett would have been shipshape in no time after a plate of these babies.

The kitchen is presided over by three young chefs who rotate shifts; the dining room staff is kind and a little amateurish. Weekday lunches seem less busy, but not due to any shortcomings in the menu of salads, burgers and line-caught (local if possible) fish and gulf shrimp.

Hereford (hormone- and antibiotic-free) beef comes juicy and flavorful, the burger's lettuce, tomato, onion all exemplary ($8.95; chips, no fries), but the better choice is a delicious mess called the fried shrimp wrap ($12.95), a pile of gulf shrimp tucked among tomato, lettuce, Bermuda onion and a big slather of sassy Creole remoulade.

Not unlike Pia's Trattoria down the street, the Water Witch has personality and the lovability of a longtime local favorite. No small feat for this newcomer. And for breakfast, it truly fills a need.

Laura Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or lreiley@sptimes.com. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found 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.

.REVIEW

The Water Witch

5519 Shore Blvd., Gulfport

(727) 346-2444

Cuisine: American

Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Details: Amex, V, MC; reser-vations accepted; beer, wine

Prices: Breakfast, $4.95-$10.95; lunch, $7.95-$13.95.

Water Witch is a morning glory 03/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 1:36pm]
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