Friday, May 25, 2018
Dining

Southern Fresh, Nantucket Bucket good fits for Safety Harbor

SAFETY HARBOR

Downtown's little Cracker bungalows are being put to promising new use. Longtimers Green Springs Bistro and Whistle Stop Grill have been joined by newer efforts by Parts of Paris or even more recent ones like Nantucket Bucket and Southern Fresh. These last two represent the best kind of entrepreneurial thinking. "What don't we have in Safety Harbor's dining scene?" The answer is: casual, downhome Southern fare and New England seafood. Done and done.

Both restaurants serve the same menu at lunch and dinner, making them a bit of a splurge at midday and affordable in the evening. At Southern Fresh, a tiny, pleasantly spare one room space with patio seating, the menu totals about 10 items with a couple of daily specials. Two dishes stand out, big time. A BLT soup ($3.50) made me reconsider getting so moony-eyed about tomato bisque. A vegetable broth cradles soft hunks of simmered plum tomato, with garlic, shallot and bacon making their presence known. A little flurry of cilantro and chopped romaine gets added at the last second to the smoky, piping-hot broth. The just-wilted greens lend the soup enough crunch that it gets at just what makes a bacon-lettuce-tomato combo so satisfying.

Home run No. 2 is fried chicken ($11). At lunch it takes enough extra time that you need to be fairly committed. But it's excellent fried chicken — a drum and a thigh, moist and hot, with a crunchy flour coating, neither too thick nor too thin, seasoned expertly. Now add to this a big spoon of homey, buttery mashed potatoes and bacony soft collards and you're in a low country reverie. Even better, finish with the guilty pleasure banana pudding ($3.50), complete with Nilla wafers and whipped topping from a can.

I'm guessing the kitchen at Southern Fresh is minuscule, which accounts for wine and kitchen deliveries hanging out in the dining room overlong, but the general feel is homespun and casual enough that some stacked-up Budweiser cases won't chafe. The short and affordable wine list seems a little tossed together, but the beer lineup hits a couple local blockbusters. In short, Southern Fresh seems committed to doing a few things and doing them well.

Southern Fresh opened in September and less than a month later came Nantucket Bucket, debuting just before Safety Harbor's thronged third Friday celebration. The throngs seem to have stayed at this much larger, 200-or-so seat venture.

The menu follows suit, with owner Russell Latimer hitting New England classics like belly clams just as vigorously as he pays homage to Florida Cracker classics like smoked fish spread. Decor is suitably nautical, with pale Nantucket blue paint throughout and a pet-friendly deck out front. The bar already has a devoted clientele with spirited kibitzing among regular customers (some wearing plastic bibs, always a social lubricant).

I donned my own bib and launched myself at one of the "buckets." It starts with a veggie setup ($4.95), in this case a few boiled red potatoes and carrots, a small onion and way too much boiled celery. Like so many New Englanders themselves, boiling liquids tend to be restrained, with none of the riotous spicing of Louisiana, Maryland, etc. Which is why smoked sausage ($3.95) makes a savory add-in, the assertive smokiness adding to a handful of pink peel-and-eat shrimp ($4.95) and green-lipped mussels ($5.95). The seafood in this lineup was more freshly succulent than another night's Maine lobster. While perfectly cooked, it made me wistful for those sweet, rich monsters I've eaten on splintery picnic tables on Cape Cod.

The house lobster corn chowder ($3.95) is tasty but a little lean on lobster, although the crab dip ($7.95), creamy and lush, was packed with blue crab lumps.

The message at Nantucket Bucket gets a little muddied with chicken marsala, garden burgers and pork sliders, and then it coalesces again in preparations like the fried whole belly sandwich ($11.95). Clams are so often served as just battered, chewy strips. Whole bellies tend to be Ipswitch clams, (gross-out alert for the New England newbie) the G.I. tract of the clam lending a softer, sweeter, brininess to the finished sandwich.

Although not every dish is a smash, Nantucket Bucket is aiming high and, more importantly, filling a new niche in Safety Harbor's burgeoning dining scene.

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
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG ó Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughterís Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’S Feel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more...
Published: 05/23/18
Restaurant review: Baytenders Oyster Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

Restaurant review: Baytenders Oyster Bar & Steamer is a low-key, friendly spot to gather

ST. PETERSBURG Brian Storman has had a long and colorful career in the Tampa Bay area. In the 1980s he had the insanely popular Storman’s Palace in Feather Sound, which in 2008 became the grownup playground "ultralounge" called the Venue (25,0...
Published: 05/21/18
Waltís Fish Market, a Sarasota institution, to celebrate its 100th anniversary

Waltís Fish Market, a Sarasota institution, to celebrate its 100th anniversary

A Sarasota seafood fixture is celebrating its 100th anniversary.Waltís Fish Market, Restaurant and Tiki Bar, 4144 S Tamiami Trail, will host a party at noon on Sunday complete with a mechanical shark, live music, live auctions, silent auctions, an al...
Published: 05/18/18
Food events this week: St. Pete Taco and Beer Fiesta, Brunched 2018, Sweet Corn Festival

Food events this week: St. Pete Taco and Beer Fiesta, Brunched 2018, Sweet Corn Festival

TACOS: AND BEER You can get the weekend started Friday evening at the St. Pete Taco and Beer Fiesta from 6 to 11 p.m. at Albert Whitted Park. It’s a serious all-star cast of food trucks: St. Pete Taco Lady, I Wanna Wok, Fiesta Bowls, Boom Boom...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
McDonald’s has ditched frozen patties for fresh beef, and we tried them

McDonald’s has ditched frozen patties for fresh beef, and we tried them

LARGO — Ray Kroc, fast food’s founding father, was a quotation machine. One of his doozies was, "We’re not in the hamburger business. We’re in show business." This month, McDonald’s show got a little more sizzle. In the...
Published: 05/16/18
Tarpon Springs culinary school graduate nabbed coveted spot on U.S. team for Bocuse díOr, the culinary Olympics

Tarpon Springs culinary school graduate nabbed coveted spot on U.S. team for Bocuse díOr, the culinary Olympics

TAMPAWhile the James Beard awards are the culinary Academy Awards, the Bocuse díOr is the culinary Olympics. Itís a biennial world chef championship historically dominated by France and other Western European countries. In 2017, the United States won...
Published: 05/15/18
Review: At charming C House in Tampa, all food starts with the letter C

Review: At charming C House in Tampa, all food starts with the letter C

TAMPARemember that game? "My father owns a grocery store and in it he sells something that starts with C?" All sexism aside (my mom could have owned a grocery store, no sweat), I killed at that game. Yes, it was because my family was cheap and did a ...
Published: 05/14/18
Need a last-minute Motherís Day reservation for Sunday? We got you covered.

Need a last-minute Motherís Day reservation for Sunday? We got you covered.

How do we express our love and gratitude to the women who brought us into this world? Clearly itís with brunch and bottomless mimosas. Many big brunch buffet go-toís are already fully booked by now, but hereís a potpourri of options that are still li...
Updated one month ago
Edison chef Jeannie Pierola will take over iconic Pachís Place location

Edison chef Jeannie Pierola will take over iconic Pachís Place location

TAMPA ó Al Pach, wearing a signature loud vest, would sit at the counter corner nearest the entrance and greet every regular by name. He was a fixture for years, since Pachís Place was established in 1992. Pach died in 2005 but Pachís Place lived on ...
Updated one month ago