Gulf To Table
Behind the Glass
In his bucolic iconic folk tribute to America, Woody Guthrie references the Gulf waters as one of the iconic touchstones that represent this great land of ours. We traveled along those waters from Venice to Anna Maria Island to source the best restaurants and fish markets at which to enjoy the bounty harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. Each of these places offers the opportunity to prepare your own fish or to enjoy a fish dish lovingly prepared for you, from Gulf to table, from their family to yours.
Big Water Fish Market
Tucked away off the South Bridge on Siesta Key in a strip mall you’ll find Big Water Fish Market. Big Water is a retail fish market that doubles as a café and the family-style picnic table seating lends itself to a cozy and convivial atmosphere. Daily specials are creative, fresh, and tasty and the service is friendly. Order the sweet, spicy tuna poke appetizer and chat with the team about the fresh catch of the day. Every Friday from July 8 through August 12 you can enjoy “Eat the Enemy” educational awareness dinners featuring the invasive and delicious lionfish.
► 6641 Midnight Pass Rd, Sarasota;
Captain Brian’s Seafood Market
Captain Brian’s perennially popular restaurant and seafood market feels like a remnant from another era with its Old Florida charm and old-school setting but take a closer look and you’ll see that Captain Brian’s is dedicated to sustainable practices and local ingredient sourcing that makes them appear pretty on trend as far as we’re concerned. The market features everything seasonal, local, and fresh and the restaurant menu proudly proclaims the location each entrée hails from. We love the lightly fried Gulf oysters and the fresh Florida jumbo shrimp—blackened, of course.
► 8421 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota;
Detwiler’s Farm Market
One might not expect to find a fresh farm market near an overpass but Detwiler’s belies its surroundings with a bustling interior filled with rainbow-hued fruits and vegetables, and a variety of locally produced salsas, Amish cheeses, a huge deli counter, and a seafood counter that boasts a plethora of locally caught and harvested seafood as well as fish flown in from Boston. Detwiler’s receives fresh fish daily from a variety of local sources— it’s not unusual for the display to offer Blue Point oysters, Gulf brown shrimp, New England scallops and fresh wild swordfish, plus bags of Middle Neck Clams proudly featuring signs proclaiming that they were “harvested yesterday.”
► 6100 N Lockwood Ridge Rd, Sarasota;
Island Fresh Market
Island Fresh Market in Holmes Beach reminds us of a cheerful general store in a New England fishing town. There are plenty of locally produced trinkets, spices, and condiments from places like Lola’s Handcrafted, Sunshine Canning, and Cigar City. This is the kind of store where the impulse buys at the cash register include jars of artisan-cured bottarga, otherwise known as Gulf Coast caviar, and infused sachets of gourmet local sea salts. The kind folks at Island Fresh Market will happily steam your wild head-on shrimp free of charge and they are happy to recommend local seasonal vegetables and homemade desserts to complement your fresh fish purchase.
► 5604 Marina Dr, Holmes Beach;
Lucky Pelican Bistro
Lakewood Ranch is filled with hidden-away streets that house random enclaves with fabulous neighborhood bars and cafés that aren’t even on the radar yet in Sarasota. One such establishment is the Lucky Pelican Bistro. This beautifully designed restaurant and raw bar is the worst-kept secret in Lakewood Ranch. The Lucky Pelican is always packed with regulars and the good buzz is spreading to new patrons every day. Simple but elegant dishes such as the yellowtail collar chargrilled with sea salt and upscale comfort food like the bacon-wrapped swordfish marsala keep people coming back for more.
► 6239 Lake Osprey Dr, Lakewood Ranch;
We love the intimacy of a farmers’ market, wandering from stand to stand, meeting the craftsmen and artisans behind a variety of handmade and local produce. Buying directly from them gives one the sense of living in a simpler time. Maggie’s Seafood is run by Captain Gary and Mary Balch and at least half of the dynamic seafood duo can be found at any one of four markets throughout the week. Besides fresh-caught fish they offer truly tasty prepared treats and a wealth of knowledge about both the origin of the fish and the best way to prepare it.
► Sarasota Farmers Market; 866-908-0002;
Star Fish Company
Star Fish Company is located in Cortez Village on one of Florida’s last remaining waterfronts. The ramshackle exterior and cavernous fish market are like the land that time forgot and it’s easy to feel a sense of awe as you step out onto the dock to place an order for a cold beer and a plate of fresh seafood accompanied by homemade hush puppies or cheese grits. Remember to bring cash and let yourself forget what decade it is—for at least a little while, we recommend that you leave your cell phone in the car! Head over to the fish market on your way home and avail yourself of a wide selection of local and exotic seafood. You might find yourself leaving with gator tail, baby octopus, grouper cheeks, or mullet and you’ll definitely find yourself back again soon.
► 12306 46th Ave W, Cortez;
Walt’s Fish Market
Walt’s is an ever-evolving Sarasota institution, run by the same family for almost a century and using the same local fishermen for almost as long. Walt’s boasts Sarasota’s best-known fish market, frequented by housewives and local chefs alike. There’s something for everyone at Walt’s, from the unique mobile raw bar fashioned from an old fishing boat to the Native American thatched-roof Chickee Bar. Walt’s customers and employees are a family that loves to fish, drink, play, and work together and current owner, Brett Wallin, stays true to his family’s philosophy and legacy. Every night at Walt’s is a unique experience with innovative drink and food specials and, of course, the best fish spread for miles around.
► 4144 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota;