They go by a lot of names: fugu, pufferfish, globefish and blowfish. By any of its names, blowfish has drama. The toxins in some parts of the fish's flesh can cause tingling in the lips, rapid heart rate and a host of other more serious symptoms. For this reason, consumption of blowfish is outlawed or limited in many countries. The new Blowfish Bar and Grill at Bay Pines draws its drama from something else altogether.
Formed in 1986, Hootie & the Blowfish went on to have their debut album go platinum 16 times over, making it the best-selling album of 1995. Football legend Dan Marino appeared in one of their videos, their songs made it into Friends episodes and Jim Carrey movies, and lead singer Darius Rucker became something of a national heartthrob. But all good things must come to an end.
The band still gets together for charity events, but the four bandmates have gone on to other things. In the case of Dean Felber, one of them is the Blowfish Bar and Grill. He and his wife, Andrea, along with partners Mike and Katie Vitale, took what was recently Toucans Ale House and made it into something that's equal parts music venue and restaurant.
With a broad patio and extended indoor bar flanked by flat-screen televisions, it's a casual, good-times kind of place (and daily happy hour $2.50 wells don't hurt). Most nights the stage gets going with local and regional blues acts around dinnertime, and the drink menu is an homage to 1990s hits.
I started one night with a Self Esteem ($6.50), and I'm not a huge fan of the band Offspring. It was the Wild Turkey that drew me, paired with amaretto, Apple Pucker and cranberry. Not a bad drink, although a shorter glass and less ice and juice would have showcased the bourbon to better effect. Other quaffs? The Even Flow, the Man in the Box (would Alice in Chains be fans of peach schnapps? who can say?) and the Come as You Are.
This last seems as much credo as homage to Nirvana. Blowfish seems equally accommodating of shorts and T-shirts as work duds. The staff is young, bubbly and warm (if not incredibly inexperienced) and the menu is bar food with a deeply Southern sensibility.
Felber, a Charleston resident much of the year, brought some South Carolina staples to St. Petersburg, the most addictive of which may be the Shock Top beer-battered dill pickle spears ($6.95), its horseradish ranch a punchy foil for the salty, crunchy snacks. The Charleston Chips with "moody bleu cheese" ($7.95) didn't translate quite as well, a preponderance of slightly floppy, undercooked potato rounds gumming up the works.
Smoked fish spread ($7.95) seemed gloriously Floridian, with little bits of celery providing textural interest and moistened by mayo, jalapenos, lemon wedges, and crackers on the side. The ahi tuna appetizer ($8.95) on the other hand, a dish that seems positively mandatory for menus these days, was inelegantly presented, its tuna overly warm and with a super-salty edge of blackening spices.
The entree list is dominated by a phalanx of burger options ($7.95 to $9.95), the building block a half-pound Angus patty a little shy on beefy flavor, but capped by a nicely toasted pillowy kaiser roll, served with skinny seasoned fries and a snappy pickle spear. The andouille-topped burger ($9.95) had a subtle Cajun accent, but its jack cheese and red onion gave it some oomph.
Of the more ambitious entrees, restraint would improve things. The house shrimp and grits ($9.95) brought six prawns with a subtle bacon flavor over way too much cheese grits (and their texture too solid). Cut that quantity in half and loosen it up and we're cooking with gas. Same goes for a blackened chicken pasta ($9.95), which brought a huge quantity of pasta and chicken, its blackening spices, marinara and alfredo coming together muddily.
In short, there are a number of pleasant dishes at Blowfish, but you're probably coming for the music (or the possibility of seeing Hootie or a Blowfish or two — in fact Darius Rucker swung by for a surprise jam recently). Maybe you can even watch a cover of Oasis' Wonderwall while sipping a drink of the same name (go ahead, it's something refreshing with Crown Royal).
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.