Jimmy Buffett may sing the praises of a cheeseburger in paradise, but everybody knows you just haven't lived until you've had a fresh grouper sandwich in the sunshine.
The tender but hearty white fish is a must for menus throughout the St. Pete/Clearwater area, and the number of ways to serve it is constantly growing. The most common are grilled, blackened or fried, but all of our local spots put their own twist on the dish.
If you're a newbie to the juicy filet, these restaurants will give you the best base to judge all future grouper sandwiches, and if you've sampled your share of the sandwiches before, these spots will make you reconsider what you thought was a great grouper sandwich ever before.
No mention of grouper sandwiches would be complete without talking about Frenchy's Rockaway Grill on Clearwater Beach. The tropical beach hut, located right on the shores of USA Today's "Best Beach Town in Florida," screams paradise with its brightly hand-painted tables of red, orange, blue and yellow fish and island music playing to the beat of the open-air fans while beachgoers walk by in bathing suits and flip flops.
Wakeboards are propped up against stools and chairs by diners who left the ocean not much later than their sandwich. As one of four Frenchy's restaurants in the area, the Rockaway Grill receives its fillets fresh daily from Frenchy's own fishing fleet. The grouper sandwich is usually so juicy that you may wind up ditching the bun and condiments and just eating the fish with your hands (Hey! It's on the beach, you can rinse your hands in the ocean later.)
To the south of Clearwater Beach sits a quiet neighborhood restaurant where locals dine al fresco under golden umbrellas and oak trees. Open since 1992, Guppy's on the Beach sits across the street from Indian Rocks Beach access and draws a casual crowd, albeit with shirt and shoes.
The grouper sandwich done up in a beer batter at Guppy's is found alongside menu items like mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat and lobster salads. Families and fashionable singles mingle at the bar and inside tables, while many locals opt for takeout that can be brought down to the beach for picnic.
Shoes Required Grouper
For diners looking to take a grouper filet to the next level, be sure to visit Salt Rock Grill. From its vantage point high atop towering limestone rocks, the restaurant overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway at Indian Shores.
They have grouper chowder as an appetizer and its menu of fresh fish from the Gulf changes daily. The restaurant also offers a good amount of turf for those not fond of the surf menu. Roasted duck or a T-bone, anyone?
The Columbia Restaurant - Clearwater Beach, a Florida tradition in itself, serves Spanish and Cuban-style dishes.
The grouper gets a Latin makeover when prepared a la Rusa, which is breaded with toasted ground Cuban bread and then grilled and topped with lemon butter, chopped parsley and egg. Pair the dish with Columbia's 1905 salad (named for the year the original restaurant opened), and you'll be properly introduced to the seasonings that make Columbia a must.
Sometimes, all you need is grouper. And lots of it. If that's the case, Dockside Dave's in Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach is your destination. The no-frills diner is popular with the lunch crowd thanks to its half-pound grouper sandwich. The local mainstay is served six ways – grilled, blackened, country fried, lightly blackened on the grill, lemon-peppered or where it all started, Dave's famous beer-battered grouper.
One of the best things about beachside dining is the mix of casual and fine dining. The Hurricane Seafood Restaurant, in the Pass-a-Grille neighborhood of St. Pete Beach, offers the best of both worlds at its three-story eatery overlooking the Gulf. The first floor has a takeout window and casual sit-down cafe for beachgoers looking for the fabled grouper.
In addition to the traditional sandwich, there's a Grouper Reuben made New York-style and served on rye bread, as well as a tropical jerk grouper wrap, smothered in papaya, avocado, pico de gallo, and red beans and rice. Come dinner, the second floor welcomes fine diners and after dinner, everyone is invited upstairs to the rooftop deck to catch sunset.