Monday, April 23, 2018
Restaurants

Depend on the view, if not always the food, at Billy's Tarpon Turtle

TARPON SPRINGS

Dodecanese Boulevard is cheek to jowl with restaurants, most of them purveyors of traditional Greek salads, souvlaki and moussaka. A lot of them have the added allure of great views of the historic and picturesque sponge docks. But the Anclote River isn't the only loveliness in Tarpon Springs. Lake Tarpon is gorgeous, with wading birds and gators fringing the banks, boats zipping across its glassy surface.

For a long time, the sole restaurant to take advantage of the view has been the Tarpon Turtle. It had been Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle, a shambling good-times place that seemed to suffer increasingly from some P.R. problems (ouch, those Yelp reviews). Then, two years ago, William Hotaling and wife Christine Macedonio bought it and Willie's became Billy's. He is from Michigan, she from New York — they met in Tarpon Springs in 1986 at a fish camp at this very site. All these years later, Macedonio starts her day by saying good morning to the three alligators and miscellaneous turtles in residence.

The restaurant is pretty far from a fish camp these days. They spent the last two years gussying it up, its facelift including crisp linens and a menu overhauled to focus on upscale seafood and steaks. Fourteen boat slips outside mean some of the patrons are boat-shoed and slightly wind-rumpled, and three onsite bars mean more rumpling if you're so inclined.

The menu is vast and far-ranging, with seven pages of apps, salads, sandwiches, wraps, flatbreads, entrees and so forth. On two visits it struck me that this vastness may not always serve Billy's well, the kitchen forced into such a frenetic tap dance that they can miss a few steps. That goes for servers, too, who are lax about things like wiping tables down before seating new guests, or bringing the appropriate silverware in advance of a dish delivery (is there anything more exasperating than having steaming bowl of seafood bisque, $7.95, and no spoon?). At the bars, the bartenders are solicitous and chatty with regulars but brusque with strangers — which, of course, jeopardizes those strangers becoming regulars.

That's not to say there isn't some good work going on here. Macedonio is a strong presence in the dining room and things seem to run more smoothly under her watchful eye. And the kitchen can come up with some winners: Okay, the shrimp cocktail was floppy and flavorless ($10.95), but a "crab cake biscotti" ($13.95) brought a duo of crab cakes perched atop toasted English muffins with a mantle of Swiss and some tomato slices and scallion. A nice spin on crab cakes, although it read more like an open-faced sandwich than an appetizer.

Wings didn't rise to the level of some of the area's top sellers of Buffalo's finest, and the sweet potato fries ($4.95) seemed ill-conceived, topped with whipped cream and paired with a sweet, cinnamony sauce. Overall, it read like one of those weird desserts that gets someone chopped from Chopped.

That's a lot of tough love so far, but I can recommend the cold-water lobster tail topped with artichoke piccata sauce ($29.95), an elegant contrast of buttery, sweet lobster meat and brisk, tangy sauce, and another night's ribeye ($25.95) brought a nicely marbled piece of beef, its nutmeg-inflected creamed spinach a pleasant foil. And to finish, a low square of bread pudding ($6.95) packed a nutmeg wallop.

A magical setting such as this deserves commensurately lovely food and service, something that happens intermittently at Billy's Tarpon Turtle.

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

     
Comments
Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

For nearly 60 years it was breads, cakes and pastries, up before dawn for the Perrone family in Armenia Garden Estates. For a minute it looked like Tampa’s Housewife Bake Shop was going to close, but third-generation owner Tena Perrone said on Wednes...
Published: 04/19/18
Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

TERRA GAUCHATerra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, a classic churrascaria-style Brazilian meatery — you know, where the guys in South American cowboy attire walk around with the swords of meat until you capitulate in a carnivorous haze — has opened a loc...
Published: 04/18/18
Food events this weekend: Blueberry Festival, Whiskey Obsession, Taste of Carrollwood and more

Food events this weekend: Blueberry Festival, Whiskey Obsession, Taste of Carrollwood and more

WORTH THE DRIVE: Ocala Culinary FestivalThe Ocala Culinary Festival runs through Sunday with dozens of food and educational events throughout Ocala and Marion County. The list is impressive, tickets for events priced individually. Here is a sampler: ...
Published: 04/12/18
Tampa restaurant Steelbach’s Florida-raised beef program could be a model for true farm-to-table dining

Tampa restaurant Steelbach’s Florida-raised beef program could be a model for true farm-to-table dining

TAMPATrust me, this will be a restaurant review. In a couple of minutes. First, we need to dive into something the new Steelbach at Armature Works is doing that is ground-breaking, disruptive, way-outside-the-box. It’s so forward-thinking that Commis...
Published: 04/09/18
Updated: 04/12/18
10 questions with Molly Schuyler, the competitive eater who won $2,500 for eating a big Taco Bus burrito

10 questions with Molly Schuyler, the competitive eater who won $2,500 for eating a big Taco Bus burrito

When it comes to competitive eating, Molly Schuyler is one of the best in the world. Last weekend she dominated her competition at Tampa’s Taco Bus Burrito Eating Championship by taking down a 2.5-pound "El Jefe" in just over a minute to win $...
Published: 04/10/18
Caddy’s At the Pointe apologizes for putting diner’s race on their receipt

Caddy’s At the Pointe apologizes for putting diner’s race on their receipt

A Bradenton restaurant has publicly apologized for a server who described a table by including the diners’ race. A photograph of a Caddy’s At the Pointe receipt posted to Facebook shows the table was entered into the restaurant’s p...
Published: 04/09/18
Updated: 04/10/18
Maple Street Biscuits now open, bringing much-needed biscuits to St. Pete

Maple Street Biscuits now open, bringing much-needed biscuits to St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — I was prepared. I’d been to the Maple Street Biscuit location in Tallahassee in our circuitous escape from Hurricane Irma. The woman behind the counter was going to ask me my favorite childhood television show so it could...
Updated one month ago
This weekend’s food festivals: Celebrate wine, craft soda, shrimp and crawfish

This weekend’s food festivals: Celebrate wine, craft soda, shrimp and crawfish

CHEERS: TO DALÍRaise a glass or two to welcome spring as the Dalí hosts its seventh annual signature wine and food tasting, Los Vinos de Dalí, on Sunday from 3-7 p.m. Both Old World and New World wines are paired with tapas tastings from area restaur...
Updated one month ago
Florida chef Jeanie Roland talks competing on ‘Iron Chef Gauntlet’ and the time she beat Bobby Flay

Florida chef Jeanie Roland talks competing on ‘Iron Chef Gauntlet’ and the time she beat Bobby Flay

In August 2015, Punta Gorda chef Jeanie Roland beat world-famous Bobby Flay with her signature moules-frites (that’s mussels and fries). Let’s say Flay got filleted by a petite, now 51-year-old chef in a fairly sleepy waterside Florida town not known...
Updated one month ago
Free Little Caesars for lunch today for all of America, thanks to UMBC’s NCAA upset

Free Little Caesars for lunch today for all of America, thanks to UMBC’s NCAA upset

TAMPA — Who doesn’t love free food? Who doesn’t love pizza? Well, thanks to Little Caesars and some March Madness, everybody in the country can get free pizza today. Before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament started, Little...
Updated one month ago