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Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub
Located on Long Boat Key, the next island south of Anna Maria Island, the SoCal Radio Wine Dinner at Mar Vista was spectacular, starting with the view. We ate on the covered patio, but they have options for dining under the trees or on their private beach.
Our four-course feast began with American Red Snapper Wings, Executive Chef Aaron Kulzer’s riff on chicken wings. Since I don’t eat chicken, I’ve always ignored it when the menu offers wings. So I was excited to try these created using American Red Snapper this time. Chef Kulzer brings his passion for sustainable seafood and scale-to-fin cooking to Mar Vista, where his high-end southern-style cuisine with a Cajun twist is an integral part of the restaurant’s menu.
The first course was American Red Snapper Wings paired with an Emolo Sauvignon Blanc. The tempura-battered fish had a bone almost precisely like the prominent bone in a chicken wing, so the wing appearance was there. Add Buffalo sauce, blue cheese crumbles, and carrots as a foil to the buffalo sauce’s heat, and you have wings created from fish. The celery leaf garnish completed the Buffalo-sauced theme.
Then the second course was a fresh, organic Caprese salad featuring marinated heirloom tomatoes from Gamble Creek Farms. This dish wasn’t the traditional presentation, with alternating layers of sliced tomatoes and cheese. Instead, it applied the now-on-trend plating concept of negative space. The top of the plate featured a single piece of burrata, surrounded by wedges of marinated heirloom tomatoes complemented with a pool of arugula pesto. The bottom section of the vessel remained empty. Finally, the dish was complete, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and a few crouton sprinkles for crunch. They paired this dish with a Lola Rose wine for a lovely accompaniment.
The entrée showcased wild boar from Shogun Farms. While I love pork, I’m not fond of (read, don’t eat) wild game. So, I was admittedly hesitant about this dish. But, my passion for BBQ pulled me in.
Shogun Farms removes feral hogs from private, commercial, and government properties throughout Florida and brings them back to their farm. At the farm, the farmers feed the hogs a clean, healthy diet in a stress-free environment. On the farm, they provide them with local produce and acorns. The fact that they feed them acorns is reminiscent of the finest Iberico ham from Europe. The product becomes USDA-certified wild boar meat.
Shogun Farms is a fantastic story of taking an animal that causes over one and a half billion dollars worth of damage annually throughout the nation and turning it into an amazing food product. Chef Kulzer’s wild boar dish is pulled pork with a whiskey BBQ sauce, served with a fried grit cake and pickled Petrichor oyster mushrooms. The grit cake was crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The wine pairing with this course was a Lola Russian River Pinot Noir.
Finally, the fourth course was dessert, featuring a Lola Pinot Noir poached pear. The pear sat in a slightly bittersweet pool of chocolate sauce, and the chef topped it with whipped cream and fried mint. Chef Aaron Kulzer told me his philosophy that desserts aren’t always about being sweet but instead making them dance in your mouth and bringing back a memory—a happy ending.
This special dinner makes Mar Vista one of the best places to eat in the Bradenton Gulf Islands.
Piper’s Pro Planning
If you’re out boating and decide you need sustenance, Mar Vista’s private dock offers 14 boat slips. They also have boat-side pick-up that includes beer six packs, bottled wine, and ice.
Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar
Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar has personality and stunning sunset views. We had dinner as the sun rested over the horizon, adding to the special atmosphere. The outdoor deck, covered thatched roof, and beachy drinks lend to a Caribbean feel without leaving the United States.
The décor offers a touch of whimsy. As an example, get a selfie with the shark over the bar. Those teeth are scary.
The specialty at Floridays is seafood in all forms. We started with an appetizer of lump crab cakes fried to perfection. Then, the chef trimmed the plate with a corn and avocado relish, adding a bit of creamy sweetness to the dish.
The hearty seafood boil was a mix of shrimp, mussels, and clams boiled in an herbed beer broth. Add to the mix sausage, red-skinned potatoes, and corn on the cob, and you’ll probably want to share the dish. Be sure to sop up some of that broth with a piece of bread, as you won’t want to miss a drop.
Those looking for something lighter may enjoy the Tarpon Springs Greek salad. The salad started with chopped greens, then they added diced red onions, feta crumbles, whole kalamata olives, sliced cucumbers, halved cherry tomatoes, and pepperoncini. The chef topped that off with Greek dressing and added a scoop of potato salad to make the dish a bit heartier.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, one dessert they offer is a classic Florida key lime pie. Perfect to round out any seafood dinner.
Piper’s Pro Planning
Plan to visit on a Saturday night when they frequently feature live music. Check the schedule for sunset times and request a table on the deck. You won’t be sorry!
Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar
Located in Cortez, the oldest working fishing village in Florida, Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar showcases the views of Sarasota Bay. They feature fresh wild-caught Florida seafood. By boat, you’ll find them by mile marker 49, and you can pull your boat right up to the dock.
They offer seating on a covered deck, an open deck, and indoor seating.
We started our meal with appetizers. The Bahamian conch fritters are a secret recipe from the islands passed down through the generations. These tasty fried conch balls come with a remoulade sauce.
If you want your oysters cooked but can’t decide the style, try the oyster sampler, where you’ll find four each of the cooked oysters for a full dozen—oysters Rockefeller, garlic Parmesan oysters, and bacon jalapeno oysters. If you prefer to slurp your oysters raw, they have that too.
I had the grouper bites with fries and coleslaw. Grouper is a specialty in this area, and they cube the bites, bread, and fry them for a fun take on this fish. They also offer other versions of grouper, including the Island Grouper, a jerk-seasoned fresh gulf grouper topped with grilled banana and a butter sauce.
Piper’s Pro Planning
They showcase live music seven nights a week and all day Saturday and Sunday. Go when you feel like dancing.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier
Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier is a family-friendly restaurant that’s been around for more than 25 years.
The Mussels Provençal features mussels sauteed in white wine with scallions, tomato, basil, garlic, and Parmesan. They accompany the dish with two slices of garlic toast to capture every bit of that sauce.
If you’re a landlubber and prefer beef over seafood, their half-pound Angus burgers won the best burgers in Bradenton. Locals will also tell you their Danish baby back ribs are the best ribs anywhere. The ribs have a sweet BBQ sauce to complement the tender pork.
Piper’s Pro Planning
Due to limited seating at the Pier location, they don’t accept reservations, Yelp NoWait, or call-ahead seating.
For more seafood dining in the United States, check out this article on “The Best Places to Eat in Gulf Shores, Alabama.”
Anna Maria Island Beach Café
Appropriately named as the primary portion of the restaurant is outdoors on the beach, the Anna Maria Island Beach Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 365 days a year, but they’re known for their all-you-can-eat pancakes.
In the old days, when a diner proclaimed, “Your pancakes are so good!” the older gentleman behind the spatula would respond with, “I made them with love just for you!” or “You’re the prettiest girl on the beach today!” The pancake portion of the café was originally manned by the Kiwanis Club, where the banter with the customers provided affectionate entertainment during the wait. The original crew has since passed, but the all-you-can-eat pancake tradition continues. In the beginning, no one else had all-you-can-eat pancakes, so parents would come to Anna Maria Island Beach Café with the kiddos, and now those kids are grown and bringing their children. It’s tradition!
Wait in line at the window to order your food, buy the all-you-can pancake ticket, and go over to the pancake building to pick up your pancakes. Then repeat until stuffed. The staff will bring the rest of the food to your table.
We had breakfast here, and you could easily spend all day eating and enjoying the beach. And if you only need a cold beverage, avoid the line and get it in the ice cream shop.
Anna Maria Island Beach Café doesn’t accept reservations. The café features live entertainment nightly. Check out the restaurant’s website for the schedule.
Piper’s Pro Planning
Another advantage of breakfast at Anna Maria Island Beach Café is the free trolley you can pick up in the parking lot. Have breakfast in the café, and jump on the trolley, which runs from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., leaving your car in the parking lot. Explore the island without worrying about finding a parking spot.
Pin this to your favorite seafood restaurant Pinterest board.
While Piper is a lifelong Michigander, she’s had adventures worldwide. Bomb-sniffing dogs chased her in the middle of the night in Bogota (working late), gate agents refused her boarding to Paraguay (wrong visa), and US Marshals announced her seat number on a plane while looking for a murder suspect (she’d traded seats). It’s always an adventure! She even finds exciting activities in her home state of Michigan, where she lives in Lansing with her husband, Ross Dingman, her daughter, Alexis, and two granddaughters.