Food on Anna Maria Island
Anna Maria Island, Florida is your typical Gulf Coast island, similar to any that you may find along the stretch of Florida coast from Marco to Tampa. Some of these slivers of land are rowdier than others, some cater to an older population, but all have one commonality: seafood.
There’s a time and a place for the over the top nautical theme that Red Lobster cheaply knocks off, and suburbia hundreds of miles inland is NOT it. What I frequently find too cliche in most restaurants, comes across as endearing in the quaint, stuck in time island of Anna Maria.
A collision of the old and the new, Anna Maria Island harkens back to the days of small beach cottages, before capitalism moved in to profit on cookie cutter condos stacked on top of each other. The atmosphere of the local restaurants resonates this feeling, as there’s not a chain in sight, and one gets the sense that many of these establishments have gone unchanged for decades.
Despite the aging decor, antiquated kale and parsley garnishes, and far too much tartar sauce in packets, the cuisine of Anna Maria is without a doubt delicious. It’s exactly what I want in such a place, and does not try to be anything more, or anything less.
Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar
A trip to Florida is not complete for me without visiting a raw Oyster bar, and Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar on Bridge Street fit the bill. At the end of an elaborate newly constructed pier right in “downtown” Anna Maria Island, AMOB is a shiny new and immaculately clean restaurant. What it lacked in character, it certainly made up for in efficient service, and of course, delicious fresh oysters. At such a place I don’t bother wasting my time with the standard fish and chips fare, but rather stick to the raw bar, and AMOB delivered. As I later found was a staple on the island, the overhead paper towel roll for every table was a nice touch, adding to the authenticity.
The City Pier
What ended up being my favorite meal of our entire stay on Anna Maria, The City Pier is an unassuming, slightly derelict old place, teetering precariously at the end of an old pier on the north east end of the island. Always a good sign when approaching a seafood restaurant, fisherman crowded the edge of the dock, reeling in what I hoped would later be on my plate. The gentle sway of entire restaurant, the $1.50 draft “house lite” beer, and aged nautical theme were perfect, and clearly not a case of a restaurant “trying to hard.” Authenticity trumped any feelings of tackiness, not that any of it mattered after I tasted the seafood.
The City Pier has some of the best shrimp I’ve had, anywhere. Shrimp is far too often over-cooked and tough, or masked in myriad sauces. The shrimp at the City Pier were perfect, simple, and delicious. I also had jerked mahi mahi and sea scallops, but the shrimp are what stands out as most memorable. Any visitor to Anna Maria Island must visit the City Pier and taste the shrimp before the restaurant is swept out to sea for good!
Pro tip, get the shrimp salad at the City Pier. You get just as much shrimp PLUS a salad for less than if you just order a shrimp basket!
Cha Cha Coconuts at St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota
A short jaunt down the narrow Anna Maria island brought us to St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota. Essentially a giant cul du sac lined with shops and restaurants, St. Armand’s Circle clearly had a vivid nightlife and appreciation for fine dining. We decided to opt for the fun option, and ate at Cha Cha Coconuts. The Caribbean Island theme was not over done, and the food spoke for itself. The fish tacos were gigantic and delicious.
No trip to Florida is complete without a fruity umbrella drink, and Cha Cha Coconuts delivered on point. My Piña Colada was dangerously delicious, despite the copious amounts of rum within.
Seafood Seller & Cafe
A surprise culinary treat, our trip to Crystal River to swim with Manatees successfully delivered on the culinary front as well. One doesn’t typically associate mall food courts with delicious seafood. In fact, I would never dream of eating in a mall food court. But upon the recommendation of several locals, we ventured into the Crystal River Mall for some cajun seafood cooking at Seafood Seller & Cafe.
Since arriving in Florida, I was on a mission to have some snow crab (my favorite type of crab), and Seafood Seller & Cafe more than delivered. An even better touch, I was given the option to have my crab cajun seasoned, which was absolutely delicious, and the perfect amount of spice. I easily inhaled my half pound of crab legs.
Leeann opted for the fish tacos, which as you can see above, were even more stuffed with fish than Cha Cha Coconuts’. Entire filets of Mahi overflowed form the simple and delicious grilled flour tortilla tacos.
Cafe on the Beach at Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island
Leeann will certainly vouch for this, but I have a thing for tacky tiki bars, and Anna Maria Island has just the place. Located at the city beach, the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe ticks all of the tourist stop boxes for me. A tiny little thatched roof structure, this tiki bar takes it one step further and offers all you can eat pancakes, 7 days a week, for only $5.99. Don’t expect anything hipster and gourmet, but who can say no to as many pancakes you can stuff your face with while sipping umbrella drinks on the beach?
Overall, Anna Maria Island is a delectable seafood destination. If fancy pretentious is your thing, move along, as Anna Maria is full of simple, unassuming, and tasty seafood.