Rolls of paper towels, suspended on wire clothes hangers, sway in the breeze of ceiling fans like a bunch of low-rent Halloween ghosts. It's a festive and casual touch at the new Roosterfish Grill, although ripping a towel off when your hands are really dirty is no small challenge. • And your hands may get dirty.
Taking over the spot that was most recently Balla's Steak House (and Sports Bar & Grill, the Great Lakes Fish House, 1st & Ten Sports Bar and Rib City Grill before that), Roosterfish is the newest project for Fred and Sandra Hurley. Having been part owners of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurant group to the south over the Sunshine Skyway, they are familiar with how to orchestrate casual, good-times seafood.
It's a fish and chips kind of place, a buffalo shrimp kind of place, a grouper sandwich kind of place. And it's affordable. Happy hour runs weekdays 2 to 6 p.m., with martinis, Manhattans and well drinks for — get this — $2.75. And after that, the prices get hiked up all the way to $3.
I will say that there are times the kitchen may do itself a disservice: Shrimp for the shrimp cocktail ($8.99) are steamed with some kind of seasoning mix so the finished shrimp aren't snowy white but speckled in an unalluring way. And a lovely tangy-sweet housemade key lime pie ($2.99) comes on a plate that is squiggled with a neon green-apple sauce that muddies the flavor of the lime. In general, presentations could be more visually pleasing, but the pricing is reasonable at Roosterfish and the portions are generous.
The Hurleys, their general manager and the servers all seem like restaurant pros, with the kind of easy banter and well-timed follow-up that puts customers at ease. The staff wears shorts and T-shirts; the silverware comes in paper sleeves; and those bobbing paper towel rolls serve as napkins. It feels like the kind of seafood places you find at the beach, with oversized fishing lures and seashells in a space that looks as if it might have originally been a Shoney's.
There are more ambitious entrees that compete ably with other Pinellas seafooders. The house crab cakes ($12.99 as a dinner) are seasoned nicely, with a crisp edge, big lumps of crab and not a load of filler, the dinners coming with a choice of two sides (the mashed sweet potatoes and French fries dominating the slightly waterlogged red potatoes and steamed broccoli). Southern-style breaded and fried catfish ($12.49) also brought flaky, delicious fish with a fairly greaseless exterior. The biggest sellers thus far, according to Fred, have been the cedar-planked salmon ($13.49) with a sesame-soy-pineapple marinade, or the mango mahi ($13.99) with subtle jerk seasoning and a spoonful of sprightly mango chutney.
Still, sometimes if I really feel like getting my hands dirty, I'll set my sights on a pile of Alaskan king crab legs ($25.99 for a pound), the sweet meat pulling out in long fingers before getting a quick dunking in drawn butter and a squirt of fresh lemon. Sure, it's not a local gulf delicacy, but a messy pile of empty orange shells and fingertips glistening with butter feels like a casual luxury, especially with a whole roll of paper towel just an arm's-reach away.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.