edible jackpot

The Pursuit Of Excellence

By Megan Greenberg / Photography By Jenny Acheson | October 11, 2016
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Award-Winning Waterfront Dining at the Beach Bistro

James Beard, Zagat, Florida Trend, Wine Spectator, and Bon Appetit. To some, these names are foreign; to others, they are synonymous with metropolitan dining. But to restaurateurs, these names are practically gods. And they can tell you: If those names know your name, it means they’ve deemed your dining divine.

Soul food isn’t always fried chicken, ya know. Sometimes it looks more like Butter-Poached Nova Scotia Lobster or Bourbon and Maple Grilled Gulf Shrimp on pomegranate citrus grits, garnished with chimichurri. If you want to feel the spirit move you, no need to bite the dust. Instead, grab a bite at the award-winning Beach Bistro, recognized by the finest names in the industry, where the only maker you’ll want to meet is the one who prepared your plate.

Two more names you should know? Sean Murphy and Susan Timmins. This husband-and-wife team are the creators of Beach Bistro, currently one of the top Zagat-rated restaurants in the country. Though the pair are in control of the restaurant’s reins, they also take great pride in allowing Beach Bistro to decide its own destiny.

“We were only allowed a tiny sign,” says Susan. “We wanted people to know we were a restaurant located on the beach, and Beach Bistro made that clear. Early on, we thought of ourselves as a traditional bistro—casual, quick, comfort food—but we became more high-end because the customers’ palates led us that way.”

Many locals know the story of Beach Bistro’s beginnings: The space was originally Sean and Susan’s favorite coffee shop on Anna Maria Island, partly due to its frigid air conditioning—a luxury back in the ’80s. However, in 1985 Hurricane Elena devastated the destination, allowing the space to become available. One month after the storm, Sean and Susan turned grit, sweat, and elbow grease into Beach Bistro’s best ingredients. On November 1, 1985, the restaurant served its first guests, and now, 30 years later, it’s nowhere near serving its last.

“We’re nothing until the guests arrive. There’s a synergy between us and them,” says Susan. “It’s the smallness of the room, it creates a special intimacy.” But size isn’t the only special component of the space. “We’ve lost track of how many engagements have taken place here,” Susan says. “And it’s amazing to see it repeat in generations. Couples who got engaged at Beach Bistro decades ago would bring their kids here for birthdays and graduations. Now those kids are returning home and getting engaged in our dining room.”

Beach Bistro is quite the conundrum, really. Every adjective one might use to describe it juxtaposes with an opposing term to further illustrate the point. Here, let me give you an example. One would easily classify Beach Bistro as fancy, fine dining. Yet, if you’ve ever been, you know this small space is also quaint, almost homey. Sunlight, and then sunset, stream in through the large glass windows, yet the low, dark ceiling creates a cozy, cavernous atmosphere that destroys any notion of pretension.

The menu is filled with familiar items—shrimp, scallops, lamb, filet, Caesar salad, even tomato soup—yet the pairings and presentation are undeniably unique with an unexpected twist that turns said Caesar into an $18 ordeal due to its sacred lineage (you’ll have to partake to pick up the whole story) and tomato soup into something extraordinary. The extensive wine list reads like a Wordsworth poem, with a Napa Cab that costs more than my rent. Yet, the intimate, well-stocked wooden bar makes you feel right at home. You can choose to see Beach Bistro through almost any lens. Polished and refined, surely! But with the shoreline literally steps away, there’s no mistaking the familiar Florida feel of the sea and the sand and the soothing allure of a beachfront getaway, though I suggest leaving your shoes on.

I guess that’s what caught the eye of all those big names listed at the top, among other well-known food publications. The dishes, service, wine list, location, and every other detail that gives a space a sense of place make Beach Bistro undeniably attractive to any and all who are looking for a truly special dining experience, especially food critics. The Los Angeles Times took note, naming Beach Bistro “One of Florida’s best restaurants.” Food & Wine Magazine called Beach Bistro “Exceptional” while Southern Living stated, “There’s not a more magical spot.” And while those accolades are, indeed, awesome, Beach Bistro’s newest accomplishment truly shows where this spot in the sand stands.

Zagat, an extremely respected restaurant rating guide, recently released its Five-Star rating system, granting Beach Bistro 4.9 out 5 for excellence in food, making this gem of a local restaurant the highest Zagat-rated restaurant in Florida, and one of only 11 in the entire country to receive that high marking. The entire country! And it’s here in our backyard!

Yeah, that’s gotta be one hell of a tomato soup, right? Though I’m guessing the duckling, bouillabaisse, and its famous “Food Heaven” helped move the needle to the right. What’s Food Heaven, you wonder? Well, the menu describes it as “The richest food marriage—Colorado lamb, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster and Hudson Valley foie gras, all on a brioche bread pudding. Served with a port, demi-glace sidecar and a sip of Essensia.” I told you this place was divine.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go for the elusive 5,” shares Susan. “It’s nicer to be able to strive for perfection.” And that, my friends, is what you call class, something Susan and Beach Bistro have in spades.

Beach Bistro will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. For a place made famous for catering to others’ celebrations (think marriage proposals, graduations, family additions, and more), it’s time for this perfect little spot to celebrate a milestone all its own.

This restaurant better be on your bucket list, because it’s most certainly an activity you’re going to want to cross off before you cross over. I’m sure whatever’s in the beyond is beautiful, but Beach Bistro made heaven a place on earth and it turns out they’ve got a table just for you.

Beach Bistro: 6600 Gulf Dr, Holmes Beach: 941-778-6444; beachbistro.com

Owners Sean Murphy and Susan Timmins Photo courtesy of Beach Bistro
Article from Edible Sarasota at http://ediblesarasota.ediblecommunities.com/eat/pursuit-excellence
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