Decked out like a British pub, The Moon Under Water (332 Beach Dr. NE, 727/896-6160, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–midnight Fri.–Sat., main courses $8–15) is more an homage to the exploratory—and slightly sodden—nature of the Victorian Era. Billed a “British colonial tavern,” the Moon serves up fish-and-chips and vegetarian shepherd’s pie as easily as it does jerk chicken, tabbouleh, and a selection of signature curries.
Despite the seeming incongruity of the menu items, it all makes sense, and the kitchen does a great job of juggling the varied cooking styles needed to pull off the variety of dishes. A solid selection of beers complement the menu, and tucking into a curry and a lager at one of the Moon’s outdoor tables—which provide excellent views onto Straub Park and beyond to the marina—might be a Victoriana fan’s dream come true.
Located half a block away is the Park Shore Grill (300 Beach Dr. NE, 727/896-3463, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., main courses $10–30), which boasts similar views but a decidedly more traditional menu. Just because the Park Shore specializes in classics like filet mignon and lobster pasta doesn’t mean those dishes aren’t served with flair, and little flourishes like chicken lettuce chili wraps give some indication of the Grill’s contemporary leanings. The classy but unstuffy environment—along with those views—make this place a date-night staple, and the outdoor tables are fine for a casual lunch.
Unwilling to settle for dishing up refried beans and tortillas in various configurations, Red Mesa (4912 4th St. N., 727/527-8728, www.redmesarestaurant.com, lunch and dinner Mon.–Sun., breakfast Sun. 9 a.m.–2 p.m., main courses $8–24) focuses on utilizing fresh ingredients in contemporary versions of traditional Mexican dishes. You might find a wild mushroom fundido or a roasted-pork tenderloin in ancho chili sauce on the menu; the seafood selections use mostly gulf-caught shrimp and grouper. Red Mesa is pricier and more stylish than a bean taco.
Primi Urban Cafe (27 4th St. N., 727/895-4909, lunch Mon.–Sat., dinner Tues.–Sat., closed Sun., main courses $11–19) is a family-run Italian restaurant, although owners Arno and Irene Von Waltsleben aren’t typical trattoria types. Having sailed to the United States from their home in South Africa with their three kids, the Von Waltslebens fell in love with the country and decided to relocate. Arno had trained with an Italian chef in Pretoria, and he brings those skills—and his family’s sense of adventure—to the cozy confines of Primi. The Von Waltslebens stress their use of fresh, local, and organic ingredients, and most of the menu focuses on innovating on Italian traditions—fish marsala, Gorgonzola gnocchi, a locally legendary Bolognese sauce—and occasionally tossing in flavors from their former home (their recco sauce incorporates curry and dried chili peppers).
Ceviche (10 Beach Dr., 727/209-2302, www.ceviche.com, tapas plates $7–13) is the St. Petersburg outpost of the Tampa tapas powerhouse and serves the same tantalizingly wide selection of authentic Spanish plates as well as the same remarkable sangria. Unlike the other Ceviche locations, though, this location is open for lunch and has a breakfast menu with pastries, croissant sandwiches, omelets, and tortilla Española.
Clearwater and Clearwater Beach
There are four Frenchy’s restaurants in Clearwater Beach, all serving up a similar selection of casual seafood fare. But Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (7 Rockaway St., 727/446-4844, www.frenchysonline.com, 11 a.m.–midnight Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat., main courses $8–15) is both the biggest and the best. Located right on the beach, it’s understandably a favored place among beachgoers looking for a lunchtime nosh, and the extensive outdoor seating and to-go window caters to the flip-flop set.
Indoor seating and a large bar area with live music day and night means that Frenchy’s is hopping from open to close. Most of the dishes tend toward seafood specialties, but ribs, steak, poultry, and pasta plates are also available, all of which are prepared with surprising care in a kitchen that really doesn’t need to try as hard as it does.
Laziz Authentic Indian Cuisine (2475-J N. McMullen Booth Rd., 727/797-7541, lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun., main courses $9–15) is in an out-of-the-way location tucked into a strip mall almost 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Clearwater. But considering the dearth of Indian restaurants in the area and the quality of the food at Laziz, it’s worth the drive. With no big surprises on the menu—biryanis, curries, tandoor-cooked meat—Laziz delivers the basics in gigantic, healthily spiced portions. There’s also a weekday lunch buffet.
St. Pete Beach Area
Most beach towns suffer from a dearth of fine-dining options, but the communities in the St. Pete Beach area enjoy a surplus. La Cachette de la Plage (321 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach, 727/596-5439, www.lacachetteflorida.com, seatings every half hour 6–9 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., prix fixe $48–60) provides a warm and friendly French dining experience in a cozy upscale environment. With only prix fixe dinner seatings available, the restaurant typically fills quickly during high season, and guests will find themselves either in relaxed outdoor seating or in a comfortable—though more formal—indoor dining room.
The menu changes seasonally and varies daily, depending on what’s fresh, but there’s typically a selection of fish, poultry, and meat served with specialized sauces and elegant plating. The preparations are creative and classically French. A variety of cheese trays is available, along with decadent desserts.
Thick-cut steaks and generous seafood portions dominate the menu at the Salt Rock Grill (19325 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, 727/593-7625, www.saltrockgrill.com, 4–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 4–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., main courses $15–35), and raw-bar selections, including freshly flown-in specialty oysters and grace notes like “Medibbean Shrimp” (sautéed in olive oil and garlic with olives and Feta cheese) and a chimichurri-topped veal porterhouse, set this popular spot well apart from the fried-seafood shacks up and down Gulf Boulevard.
Of those fried seafood shacks, PJ’s Oyster Bar (7500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727/367-3309, www.pjsoysterbar.com, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 1–11 p.m. Sun., main courses $7–16) is worth a second look. Covering all the bases—oysters, wings, burgers, and seafood baskets—PJ’s is set apart by its friendly atmosphere. Despite the fact that the large restaurant is constantly packed during high season, the staff always seems glad to see another guest come through the door. Family-run since 1985, PJ’s is unlikely to win any awards for subtlety or sophistication, but it is excellent for the casual seafood meal that so many crave while at the beach. There’s also a location in Indian Rocks Beach at 500 First Street.
With less than 50 seats, Patrick’s Bayside Grill (5007 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727/363-4440, www.patricksbaysidegrill.com, 5 p.m.–midnight Mon.–Sat., main courses $17–28) has almost as many entrées as it does tables. By keeping things small—and intimate—the kitchen can turn out a selection of specialty Italian dishes (osso bucco ravioli, steak Gorgonzola pasta) and meat and fish preparations (sesame-crusted scallops, roast duck) with care. Waitstaff are friendly and accommodating, and the homey space feels more like a neighbor’s dining room than a restaurant.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition