Anyone who knows us knows that eating is one of our favorite past times. We have embraced culinary travel and it is one of the three focal points on MidLife Road Trip. So naturally wherever we travel to we look forward to the best local cuisine from mom-and-pop diners to four-star restaurants.
No. 1 on the list is Frenchy’s, which is just about as local as you can get. There are four Frenchy’s restaurants within one mile radius of each other, and each of them is thriving. Michael Preston, a.k.a. Frenchy, founded the original eatery more than 30 years ago. His recipe for success is simple, serve the freshest seafood at a great price in a fun, laid-back atmosphere. Serving fresh seafood is easy when you own your own and operate your own fleet of ships, and Frenchy’s Seafood Company reels in grouper, snapper and other fresh fish daily. We especially like to hit Frenchy’s during the opening of stone crab season. His are, by far, some of the best stone crab you’ll find on the west coast of Florida.
Another of our faves: Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber, which opened its doors on October 4, 1948. White table clothes and décor reminiscent of a bygone era indicate this is not your typical beach joint. The crowd tends to skew a bit older and for the first time in a long time, we felt incredibly youthful here. The food is amazing. For starters, servers bring you a relish tray that includes apple butter, cottage cheese with chives, beets with horseradish, and a corn relish served with crackers and fresh baked rolls. The clam chowder is thick, creamy and swimming with clams. You’ll need two hands to navigate the grouper sandwich, and their seafood mixed grill is a plated symphony of scallops, Maryland crab cakes, gulf shrimp and fresh fish. The Bell and Evans pan-fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes also will leave you speechless.
Viewfinder Tip: Many restaurants in Clearwater offer Happy Hour and Early Bird specials. Be sure to ask around.
If you’re on the beach and want a quick lunch that won’t break the bank, the Pier 60 Concession is fast and family-friendly. They have hot dogs, burgers, fries, ice cream and other fare you’d expect from a beach shack. Casual and filling, the cold drinks are plentiful and the picnic tables have a view of all that’s happening on and around the pier. With average summer temperatures hovering in the 90s, this place often looks like an oasis in the sand.
Tucked away amid towering hotels and beach shops, the Clear Sky Café is another gem. Serving up dishes influenced by flavors from around the world, this restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. From French toast served five different ways to fresh seafood served papillote, they have something to tempt everyone’s palate. For dinner we like the Bouillabaise, which includes braised fresh fish, shrimp, mussels, tomatoes, leeks and fennel in a garlic saffron broth.
One of our favorite places to have a light bite and watch the sunset is at the Sand Pearl Resort’s Tate Island Grill. Sitting right on the beach just steps from the sand, it’s where the end of day meets night by the ringing of an antique ship’s bell. (It also has great drinks.)
Finally, we always like to cap off a day on the beach with something sweet and a walk down memory lane. Right across the street from the Clearwater Beach Hilton is a quaint little candy store called Four Monkeys Candy Connection. The walls are lined with shelves of confections – everything from gummy bears to goobers. Treats we like include Sugardarlings, melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes, and the selection of fine chocolate.
What are your favorite foods to eat on vacation?