That Food Guy
Friday, January 02, 2015
  The Hurricane Seafood Restaurant - Pass A Grille, Florida

The Hurricane Seafood Restaurant
809 Gulf Way  St Pete Beach, FL 33706
(727) 360-9558
“Open 7AM till close”

Although it has been around for almost forty years, my knowledge of the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant is new. I may have seen it on a sight-seeing tour some years ago but it wasn’t until I read a newspaper article about the restaurant that I became intrigued with the restaurant. Anything that is called “world famous” usually deserves a second look. That was about the middle of last year. I clipped out the article and set it aside. It wasn’t until my sister, Pattie Sue, came from Idaho to spend her snowbird holiday with us that I found the opportunity to try out the Hurricane. She was favorably impressed and in her food-blog she tells why.

My wife, Janis, was very positive about the experience and a short time later, when her cousins came from Tennessee for their snowbird holiday, we again visited the Hurricane Sea Food Restaurant. In this blog I get to write about two almost back to back visits to the restaurant. I hope you will enjoy recalling the moments with me.

Before we even start discussing the restaurant, let us talk about the parking. On street parking in Pass-a-Grille means metered parking. You need lots and lots of quarters or a credit card. The parking spaces are number coded and at intervals there are kiosks where you deposit your quarters or insert you credit card to pay the fee. Then you get to take the receipt back to your car to display and avoid a traffic ticket. Considering that The Hurricane is across the street from one of the nicest beaches on the island, and that all the public parking is curbside, no lots, on a nice day parking at the hurricane can be a problem.

On our first trip to the Hurricane, we thought ourselves lucky as we found an empty parking space on the side street adjacent to the restaurant. To begin with, we were not aware of the parking before coming to the restaurant. We did not have many quarters. It was better to use a credit card and avoid having to run out mid-meal and add more quarters.  I tried and tried but I could not get the machine to complete a transaction. Then I tried the quarters we did have; it spit those back.  It seemed that our good luck in finding a parking place was a sham. I would have to look for another place near a working kiosk.

While I was having a heated discussion with the parking meter machine, the wife and sister were looking around. They motioned me to come to the alley behind the restaurant. There is a small lot behind the building. It is nondescript, has no signage and is unimproved as well as being hidden behind the trees. All well and good and right behind the restaurant; I drove in.  The gate keeper handed me a brightly colored stub and said, “That will be twenty dollars, please.” Seeing my look of shock and disbelief, he quickly added that it was to discourage beach goers from using the restaurant’s lot and that the parking fee would be refunded inside the restaurant. To make a long story short, park in the lot behind the restaurant and avoid, if possible, parking on the street.

Cousin Bill, his steady Sally, and cousin Nancy were our guests for their snowbird getaway. A lunch at the Hurricane seemed to be the thing to do. From southwest St Petersburg, it was a short drove through So Pasadena, then along the hotel row of St Pete Beach, pass the historic Don CeSar hotel and then onto the picturesque island community of Pass A Grill where time passes to the beat of a different drum. On this day I pulled into the parking area. There was no one in sight. So I parked the car just like that was the thing to do.

It was a mild and sunny day and a few cool libations on the roof-top patio bar were just the thing to let us slow down to the pace of living. The roof top bar is a place for snacks and sipping on tall cool drinks. The view was excellent. We looked out over the serene waters of Gulf of Mexico. Below people of all ages were enjoying the white sandy beach, sunning, running, playing and swimming. After a bit, our appetites honed by the salty sea breezes, we went down stairs (on this day it was a long walk indeed as the elevator was not operating). I haven’t been to the Hurricane enough to know all the ins and outs but it seems (and correct me if I’m wrong) that the roof top bar is more of a casual meeting place, the second floor a more formal dining room better suited for the dinner crowd, and the lower, street level floor a casual café with indoor and sidewalk table service.

We chose a table facing Gulf Way with a view across the beach and the Gulf. It was a picnic-style table under the second story overhang. That provided a bit of shade against the bright and hot sun but let the breezes across the water cool us. All relaxed, at ease with the world, it was now time to eat. Our server that day was Amber, a pleasant young lady who worked hard to make our day an enjoyable one.

Cousin Bill has an adventuresome spirit. For an appetizer he chose Gator Bites (Right from the bayou. Tender bites of alligator hand breaded, lightly fried in rice bran oil and served with barbecue sauce, $10.00) About 10 pieces of gator, fried golden brown and served with a small cup barbecue and some wedges of lemon and lime; with some urging, everyone tried a bite at least if only just for curiosity. “It tastes like chicken,” is a common assertion when trying to describe the flavor of an unfamiliar food.  Given the evolutionary kinship between birds and reptiles, we can see and understand the connection and it does hold true here to a certain degree. Indeed, gator does taste a bit like chicken (certainly not ham, or beef streak to be sure) but not just like chicken. It was not a bad or repellent flavor but one that would require a bit of acclimatization to become a readily accepted flavor. It was fun, passing the plate around, trying a new and novel food.

Janis, knowing the menu from her last trip to the Hurricane, again chose the Triple Decker BLT (Bacon, lettuce and tomato, served on your choice of Texas toast, wheat, rye or local baked Cuban bread, $8.25) She chose the Cuban bread. It is an imposing triple-decker sandwich. There is more than ample of everything, the lettuce, the tomato and the crisp fried bacon. The flavor is good and the ingredients are fresh. With a side of fries it is a more than adequate meal. If ever there is another trip to the Hurricane in the offing, I suspect that the BLT would be Janis’ choice again.

Bill and Nancy spent much of their childhood in the Tampa Bay area where grouper is the predominate game fish. So, it is not surprising that they and Sally went for one of the famous staples of the Hurricane, The World Famous Original Grouper Sandwich (Since 1977, this is the one you have heard about around the world. Fresh Gulf grouper cut daily, hand breaded to order in the Hurricane original breading, lightly fried in rice bran oil. Served on a corn dusted Kaiser bun with Duke’s specially made tartar sauce and a fresh lemon wedge. The house recommends fried, broiled or blackened, Market Price on this day was $11.00) As luck would have it for the food blogger, they each ordered a different grouper sandwich and provided a look at each variety.

Billed ordered his blackened. The serving was a nice sized piece of well blackened fish that covered the bun. There was a crisp leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato and slices of red onion. A small cup or tartar sauce and a side of crispy fried French fries completed the plate. He ate his sandwich with gusto. Perhaps he was thinking back to teenage years and other long-ago grouper sandwiches when the beaches were wide open and overcrowding not a problem. He said it was a delicious sandwich and a wise menu choice.

Sally ordered hers grilled. Again, the serving was a nice sized piece of fish with pronounced grill marks, Served with the usual sides, it was full sized meal for Sally who gave it a thumbs-up rating and a definite order again menu selection.

Nancy ordered hers fried. Breaded and fried to a crispy golden brown finish, the plate was completed with a side of fries and garnishes of lettuce, tomato and red onion. She also gave the dish a big thumbs up for flavor and freshness. Perhaps it too was a reminder of days long past when teenagers hung out at the beach.

Relying on past experience, I again ordered the Tilapia Fish and Chips. (Tilapia hand breaded to order, lightly fried in rice bran oil and served with French fries and Hurricane house-made coleslaw, $13.00) It was a nice tilapia filet, breaded and fried golden and crispy, the inside moist and tender. It had a very nice delicate flavor and just a touch of tartar sauce or a spritz of lemon gave it all the zing you would want. There was a serving of crispy fried potatoes and a side of coleslaw.  Made mostly of green cabbage with a touch of purple cabbage and carrots, it was fresh, the vegetables crisp and tasty. The dressing was a bit thin, not really clinging to the cabbage but it has a nice zesty flavor. All in all, the fries and the slaw were a good paring with the tilapia.

It was a pleasant day, filled sunshine, the company of friends and family and conversation over a delicious shared meal; a very good day indeed. Just as we were winding down we noticed that the area was filling quietly with law enforcement vehicles. There were many St Pete Beach officers, Pinellas County Sheriff and many of those unmarked, dark sedans and SUV’s with the tinted windows. I was beginning to wonder if maybe I should have waited earlier for the parking attendant. We asked one of the officers what was going on. He said, on the QT, that the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, visiting in the local area that day, had requested to eat lunch at the Hurricane. I guess it is world-famous after all. I’m sure the Prime Minister had as delicious a meal as did we.
If one fine day you find yourself driving down the seafront road and come across a big green gothic-looking building, on a corner overlooking the sea, stop and enjoy the moment and enjoy a good meal in a scenic setting.

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