A creature halfway between a caterpillar and a butterfly is all about energetic transubstantiation and potential. But often it ain't pretty. This summer Frenchy's took over the Island Outpost as its fifth location. It started a slow, real-time transformation, without closing shop and without a clear demarcation between the Outpost and Frenchy's.
No matter. At this point Frenchy's Outpost has all of the signature Frenchy's dishes (yup, the grouper sandwich, the she-crab soup), but with the easy, breezy Key West rumpus that was the Island Outpost. The Sand Bar down the way, the longtime beloved shack right at the edge of the Dunedin Causeway, has reason to quake a bit. The Outpost burger isn't quite as sinful a pleasure as that at the Sand Bar, but everything else is in place to make it a pre- or post-beach ritual stop.
There's the shore theme decor (which will likely go through a major overhaul at the end of the year when all the permitting is in place) and the fresh-faced servers who are the height of efficiency but won't put up with any of your nonsense after your third mai tai. And yes, there are the mai tais, hurricanes and Windex-reminiscent blue curacao drinks that scream "I'm on vacation and I should have upped my SPF today but whatevs." There is live music that will likely fall under the rubric "all the hits of the '80s, '90s and beyond."
Frenchy's has been a Pinellas biggie for more than 30 years, its 29th annual stone crab festival taking place at the original Clearwater location Oct. 26 and 27 (Florida stone crab season opens Tuesday). In fact, Dunedin represents untrammeled ground for the company. So far, it feels seamless, embracing Dunedin's small-town, civic-minded, dog-friendly vibe.
Owners Michael Preston and Dan Shouvlin will open the Clear Sky Draught Haus on downtown Dunedin's Main Street in coming weeks, so they've got a lot of irons in the fire. But with this project they've managed to take the good things from the Island Outpost (like the pulled pork nachos, $9.95) and add to them the dishes for which Frenchy's has built such a following. This means the fish spread ($7.95), a perfect scoop of smoky lushness paired with cellophaned water crackers and the grouper sandwiches ($10.95, $12.95 large) done seven ways: the original (and frankly, best) beer-battered; the Rockaway with provolone and tartar sauce; grilled; Cajun; Caribbean; Buffalo and reuben-style. Any way you accessorize it, the fish is caught by Frenchy's own fleet of fishing boats.
The grouper Santorini ($17.95) is a worthy application for the boats' bounty, the fish paired with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and a lemon butter sauce flecked with basil and topped with feta. The fresh fish tacos ($11.95) on a recent night were a little less wowza, their grilled fish so mild, with sour cream, shredded cheese and cabbage that the corn tortillas represented the dominant flavor.
Beyond the seafood, Frenchy's has come to be known for its desserts made by Ragena's: the key lime and peanut butter pies (both $3.95) are the kind of crowd-pleasing sharables that seem to grace tables as often as those fruity froufrou drinks or a passel of peel-and-eat shrimp ($8.95 half order, sometimes offered smoked as a special).
It's logical that Frenchy's and the Island Outpost would morph into a new temptation for those beach-bound to Honeymoon Island. It's a marriage that makes sense and it seems like the honeymoon is just getting started.
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.