It sits in the shadow of the Pinellas County civil court, so let's look at the arguments for the Clearwater City Grill.
The restaurant opened in February in the spot formerly occupied by Harrison's. A bar sits in the middle of dining areas that have classic diner booths up front and tables in the back. The deep red walls provide a certain moodiness while black and white prints of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean make the scene feel either retro-hip or a little Boulevard of Broken Dreams, depending on your perspective.
Starting with the case in favor, we present the grilled tuna plank appetizer ($7.95). It's a unique take on a ubiquitous dish. A long paddle comes to the table with four pillows of bread, each topped with a slice of barely seared tuna. Under the fish is a smooth avocado puree, and on top a dollop of spicy jalapeno pesto. The menu describes the flatbread base as "crispy"; ours was warm, soft and delicious. A little texture somewhere might have improved the dish, but the bread was perfect.
Then there was evidence to the contrary in a flatbread of blue cheese and mushrooms ($7.95). This time, the plank held one long strip of crisp bread that was piled high with assertive blue cheese and smooth mozzarella, a nice combination, but any mushrooms were hidden under the melt. The bread itself came across as not freshly made, a bit like a stale cracker.
Something that is clearly freshly made is the jalapeno poppers ($7.95). They are stuffed with lobster and cream cheese, and the peppers still have a crispness to them. That fresh jalapeno comes with a caveat, though: You never know how hot it's going to be. Our server warned us they were flaming hot, but as we tried ours, no one seemed to be overwhelmed by the heat . . . until the last bite. The flesh near the stem was tear-inducing.
The Sedona tacos ($7.95) are an impressive sight. Listed as an appetizer, the three tortillas are stacked with fried bits of mahi and a slaw. The verdict: Tasty but messy. The slaw gets a little too wet, and the half-dome presentation makes picking it up a challenge. Generosity to a fault.
Sandwiches account for the bulk of the main course options. A turkey melt ($8.95) gets a thick slice of turkey on a soft pretzel roll with Swiss and bacon. A classic grilled cheddar cheese ($6.95) is gilded with bacon and apple, a nice combination that would be easier to eat if the apple was cut a little smaller. The sauce on the pulled pork ($6.95) promises sweet and spicy, but is really just sweet.
Same goes for the entree of "sweet heat" fried chicken ($11.95). The chicken is a boneless breast, nicely crispy and juicy. The sweet heat is a spicy honey sauce in which the heat is something of a rumor.
The most disappointing dish was the most expensive, a plate of grouper ($18.95). It was a small piece of fish, and spent too much time on the grill. Sides of plain white rice and limp vegetables didn't help.
Service is friendly, if sometimes a little scattered (dessert?) and the wine list is limited to basics.
Any time or expense that the restaurant spent making its menu more navigable would be a good use of resources. The two-sided sheet has various courses in boxes all over the place, and some dishes are in more than one box. A lot of the type runs together in such a way that it isn't obvious which dish is being described anymore, and if you follow the arrow at the bottom of the page, you'll turn it to be upside down. Decisions become work. No one wants to work at such things.
Jim Webster can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.
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Clearwater City Grill
401 S Fort Harrison, Clearwater; (727) 408-5160; clearwatercitygrill.com
Cuisine: Sandwiches, seafood
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week
Details: AmEx, V, MC, Discover. Full bar, patio seating.
Prices: Entrees $7 to $19, appetizers $4 to $9
Rating out of four stars: Food: ** Service: ** Atmosphere: **