Advertisement

Safety Harbor restaurant The Tides has gotten bigger and even better

Restaurant review: What started out as a small, locally-driven grocery and market has evolved into one of the best seafood restaurants around.
 
A grouper with Romesco sauce is served at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor.
A grouper with Romesco sauce is served at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 12|Updated March 17

SAFETY HARBOR — The shelves are stocked with hard cider, smoked fish dip, raw milk, spice rubs, fresh flowers and honey.

Over in the cold case, assorted steaks sidle stone crab claws, yellowfin tuna, grouper fillets, mussels and oysters.

In the busy dining room, guests dig into bowls of shrimp and grits, grin over po’boys toppling with fried seafood, and admire plates of seared red snapper and pan-fried trout.

Not all of it is local. But a lot of it is. And most of what’s on offer at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions — in the grocery aisles or on the dinner plate — has been thoughtfully selected with sustainability and small producers in mind. It’s the driving force behind this charming, ever-evolving seafood market and restaurant in downtown Safety Harbor.

Jon and Mary Kate Walker first opened their hybrid business — part grocery store, seafood market and counter-service restaurant — in late 2021. Since then, the market has grown substantially, and the couple are currently eyeing several other Tampa Bay locations in the hopes of expanding the business. But the biggest evolution has been in the dining room, which has morphed from just a couple of scattered outside tables and a menu of po’boys and grouper sandwiches to a 90-seat restaurant — and one of the best spots for a seafood dinner.

What started out as a counter-service only restaurant is now a full-service, 90-seat restaurant in downtown Safety Harbor.
What started out as a counter-service only restaurant is now a full-service, 90-seat restaurant in downtown Safety Harbor. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Jon Walker spent nearly two decades working in the seafood distribution business, something that has clearly informed the carefully curated selection here, which hinges on local whenever possible but also includes a good mix of fish from other sustainable operations. Gulf species like stone crab claws, grouper and snapper are usually sourced from Lockhart’s, a seafood purveyor in Tarpon Springs; mahi often comes from Costa Rica or Ecuador; and the only salmon sold comes from a sustainable farm on Kvaroy Island, Norway.

For diners, this attention to detail translates directly to the plate. Fish and seafood are the focus, after all, and guests have ample choices on any given day, from grouper and mahi to snapper, trout, tuna and scallops. Diners can select what to pair their protein with, ranging from a brown butter sauce to a garlicky tzatziki, herb oil or a citrus-forward beurre blanc.

The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor is a hybrid model with a local grocery, seafood and meat market and a full-service restaurant.
The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor is a hybrid model with a local grocery, seafood and meat market and a full-service restaurant. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Dig in to Tampa Bay’s food and drink scenes

Subscribe to our free Taste newsletter

Get the restaurant and bar news, insights and reviews you crave from food and dining critic Helen Freund every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Sourcing locally and sustainably isn’t always easy, the Walkers will admit. In fact, it’s incredibly hard to run a grocery store that relies exclusively on local products. (It can be even harder to run a restaurant that does so.) But over the years, the Walkers seem to have discovered a secret that sticks. It’s what they call the “cross-utilization” effect: Those ingredients on your plate might very well be for sale in the market, and vice versa.

That means three tasty dips served as a trio — smoked salmon, whitefish and a creamy pimento cheese — are all available for purchase in the store. The fat yellowfin tuna steak glistening in the seafood case will do double duty on a seared tuna salad. And the kitchen’s weekly hog-butchering practice means there’s always something to take home for dinner but also plenty left over to fill the likes of meatball po’boys and boudin balls.

Owners Mary Kate and Jon Walker opened The Tides in late 2021 and have since expanded their business. In the coming years, they hope to open more locations throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Owners Mary Kate and Jon Walker opened The Tides in late 2021 and have since expanded their business. In the coming years, they hope to open more locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Perhaps the most important feat in any seafood restaurant is the ability to cook fish properly, and Walker is a pro. His affinity for simple, strong techniques prompted the chef to start a TikTok account with kitchen tutorials, which has garnered over 100,000 followers.

At the restaurant, those same techniques are showcased on the plate, including in a beautiful sesame tuna salad ($22) featuring rosy planks of just barely seared fish tiled across a bed of Brick Street Farms lettuce with bright watermelon radishes, cucumbers, red onions, avocado and mango — all drizzled in a zingy sesame vinaigrette. A grouper fillet is cooked perfectly, plated atop a burnt orange Romesco sauce ($29), thickened with almonds and red peppers, and paired with a fresh and crunchy salad of shaved fennel and pickled onions. Also very good are the Prince Edward Island mussels, which arrive swimming in a super flavorful garlic-and-white-wine broth ($15). Ask for more bread. You’ll want it to soak up every last bit of that delicious broth.

A sesame tuna salad features seared yellowfin tuna over Brick Street Farms greens.
A sesame tuna salad features seared yellowfin tuna over Brick Street Farms greens. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Though seafood is the focus, there is plenty to love here for carnivores, too (though not quite as much for vegetarians or vegans). Walker sources chicken and pork from Olivor Heritage Farms, in Dover, and beef from Florida’s Providence Cattle Co., the latter of which finds its way into a juicy bacon jam and pimento cheese burger ($20), which comes paired with fried green tomatoes, lettuce and onions on a buttery brioche roll. It’s a solid contender for one of the area’s top burgers, without question, but the accompaniment of a chilled orzo salad (though tasty) feels a bit odd. Better to order one of the menu’s additional sides, such as the crispy potatoes with smoked garlic aioli ($7).

Walker cut his culinary teeth cooking in kitchens in New Orleans, and spent 10 years in Birmingham, Alabama, where he credits the legendary chef Frank Stitt for inspiring much of his approach to food. Not surprisingly, a Southern undercurrent runs throughout the menu, with dishes like crispy boudin balls sidling pickled vegetables and Creole mustard ($12); fried oyster po’boys ($20) on Leidenheimer bread (the real deal, flown in from New Orleans) paired with creamy remoulade; and a New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp and grits ($22).

A grouper Romesco is served in the dining room of The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor.
A grouper Romesco is served in the dining room of The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions in Safety Harbor. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Shopping, too, feels ingrained in the experience here. On busy weekend nights, when there is almost always a wait for a table, guests peruse the market aisles with a glass of wine in hand, picking up items here and there while chatting with the staff. After a meal, folks have a tendency to head back into the store, grabbing a loaf of bread or bag of pasta for tomorrow’s dinner or some fresh local flowers on their way out.

For the Walkers, sourcing and education is always top of mind — both the couple and their staff are happy to share the stories behind the food. And that friendly, informative banter is the final piece in what makes a meal — or grocery run — here feel so successful.

Despite the restaurant’s growth over the years, dining here still feels like an intimate experience — casual enough for a weekday lunch, but also refined enough for a celebratory Saturday evening.

Case in point: I’ve popped in for a quick lunch with a co-worker, spent a rainy Sunday afternoon over a dozen oysters and a bottle of white wine with my partner, and enjoyed a seafood feast with friends and family on a lively Friday night. It was all a delight.

The dining room area at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions includes roughly 90 seats, with a private seating area in the rear of the restaurant and tables outside.
The dining room area at The Tides Seafood Market & Provisions includes roughly 90 seats, with a private seating area in the rear of the restaurant and tables outside. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

If you go

Where: 305 Main St., Safety Harbor. 727-699-8433. thetidesmarket.com.

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Prices: Starters, $9 to $17; entrees, $18 to $32.

Don’t skip: Mussels, Sesame Tuna Salad, Grouper Romesco.

Details: Cash and credit card accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Some vegetarian options available.