Updated 11 months ago
Eat Here's seafood stew.
The boast is not in the waggish tradition of "warm beer and lousy food," but simply accurate. The best, owner Sean Murphy and most everyone on Anna Maria would agree, is the Beach Bistro, an intimate cafe two miles up the road, which has been a destination for epicures for 26 years. And which is also owned by the same Sean Murphy, a Nova Scotian law grad who settled in the local dining scene some 30 years ago.
Can't mistake one for the other if you look at the prices.
The visiting gourmand can drop $47 on the duck dinner at the Bistro or restrain himself to a "smaller plate" of foie gras on brioche for $34. At Eat Here, the menu is all small plates. Locals can blow $18 on shrimp with mango ketchup, but most items on the menu, from heart-attack hot dogs (bacon-wrapped then fried) and tempura beets to poutine fries, are less than $10.
The tale of two menus from one operation is a classic example of how the smartest restaurateurs and chefs now aim to expand into lower price points, friendlier neighborhoods and more comfortable food.
Murphy, whose Bistro has a Golden Spoon hanging in Florida Trend's Hall of Fame, has been flirting with more casual formats for more than a decade and assembled much of Eat Here three years ago. He opened Eat Here in an unexciting location in Holmes Beach last spring. Before the year was out, he opened a second, larger version in downtown Sarasota.
Owner Sean Murphy
Bistro regulars who remember Jeff Tarr's painting of bright red koi will find a copy hanging on the wall and printed on the tabletops. The napkins are cotton bar towels rather than white linen. (But they don't stoop to synthetic.)
Murphy points out the differences/similarities: Butter-poached lobster at the Bistro vs. lobster tacos at Eat Here; prime tenderloin uptown vs. pot roast downtown; roses at the Bistro vs. sunflowers in used wine bottles at Eat Here. And so on.
The best payoff for the locals at Eat Here is the $18 seafood stew, aka Bistro bouillabaisse, with a humbler yet equally fresh catch swimming in the same savory broth. Chocolate pudding may be mousse in politer company, but it couldn't taste richer at twice the price.
The new thinking is not just penny-pinching and trading down but imagination that seeps upward into posher precincts, too.
Or it could be that in modern times even a high-end meal is served with twinkling whimsy at no extra charge. Consider the "White Castle Slider" at the Bistro, a sweet buttered bun with prime beef, foie gras, bearnaise and demi glace and a menu confession: "Everything that is bad for you all in one place."
Eat Here, Holmes Beach [Photo: James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times]