Maybe it’s because they’ve around some 60 years now, but anyone visiting the venerable Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar would have to agree that pulling into their waterfront restaurant feels an awful lot like slipping into your favorite, most comfortable flip-flops.
While you can count on the huge selection of old-Florida traditional favorites, there is always a culinary adventure ahead, just like when you’re on vacation. The menu never gets old, as it’s constantly offering new, tasty dishes due to the undeniable creativity of Chef Pedro Flores and his ever so talented team in the kitchen.
A sizeable party of local journalists, Instagram influencers, writers, and food bloggers were recently treated to a sneak preview of some of Phillippi Creeks newest seafood creations. So let’s just say up front . . . thank you, Chef Judi Gallagher and Phillippi Creek Restaurant for including us in the festivities!
We were seated and greeted with a Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita that woke us up to a wonderful evening of shared tastings and culinary exploration. This cocktail packed a punch, letting everyone know we were in for some inspiring flavors, many from the islands and southern hemisphere. Let me say this . . . if you’re one of those “avoid the straw” people, you were in for a special surprise because once your taste buds come into contact with the chili pepper sugared rim of the Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita, you’ll be searching for the coolness of the cucumber and lime . . . but know this . . . that jalapeño is not taking a back seat to a cucumber. Wow! and Yum!
What followed our introductory cocktail was a veritable taste-a-palooza of seafood-centric delights.
To kick things off, everyone was treated to a Hawaiian Lobster Cocktail. Served in a fresh half coconut shell on an ice bath, the delicate cold water lobster was married to green onions, and jalapeño relish, all dressed with a marvelous soy-lime citrus creation, and artfully garnished with a fried plantain chip. The texture and flavors of cool, heat, crispy, and savory were absolutely spot on!
On the heels of this dish came the Caribbean Chopped Salad. As I was enjoying this dish, I felt as though I was in an echo chamber. In succession, diners on either side of me and across the table chimed in with an unrehearsed “I would definitely come back just for this!” Add my name echoing that sentiment.
Served on a skewer, five succulent basil and parsley marinated shrimp were grilled just enough to reveal a whisper of char while remaining juicy and slightly cool on the interior. That is a feat in itself, but these babies also rested atop one of the freshest and most colorful chopped salads in recent memory. Vine-ripe tomatoes, English cucumber, radish, hearts of palm (woot!woot!) and exquisitely ripe Haas avocados were all tossed with an avocado citrus vinaigrette. Every single bite was a virtual high-five to the taste buds.
Soon after this delight came the New England inspired Whole Belly Clam sandwiches, sliced into two or three-bite portions for each of us to enjoy.
Fried clam sandwiches typically feature clam strips, but with Chef Pedro at the helm, we’re enjoying the entire, delicious crustation dipped in cornflour breading and deep-fried to a golden brown. A soft, lightly toasted potato roll hosts the fried clams drizzled with Peruvian yellow pepper aioli. A cold beer and this sandwich struck me as the perfect waterside non-fussy lunch. (In case I ever need a break from Phillippi Creek’s blackened grouper sandwich . . . but that’s a conversation for another day!)
Next up we were treated with a hot, gooey, and oh so delightful Crab Dip. Methinks “crab dip” does not adequately describe this dish, so let me try to do so without “flowering” it up. Phillippi Creek Restaurant’s new crab dip appetizer is presented in a rarebit dish featuring a well-balanced combination of baked lump blue crab, melted Fontina cheese, and kernels of fresh corn that brings a pronounced sweetness to the palate. Warm and comforting, each scoop heaped on one of the accompanying salted blue corn chips delivers just enough crab, just enough cheese, and just enough crunchy corn to make this an ideal sharing dish. Seriously, you can’t scoop up one bite without getting all three flavors!
Another “must-do” appetizer/entrée was presented next in the form of the Tempura Lobster Mac & Cheese. (This is probably best served as an entrée, since sharing it as an appetizer may result in a duel over the Tempura Lobster!)
If you’re a fan of Chef Pedro’s grilled lobster mac n’ cheese, this is a twist on one of his most popular dishes. Healthy-sized chunks of lobster are dipped in tempura batter and flash-fried to a light golden brown, just enough to keep the crustacean front and center. These morsels were perched atop a mac n’ cheese featuring a sublimely creamy blend of English cheddar and smoked gouda that suggests a more mature flavor than your standard mac n’ cheese sauce. Honestly, Chef Flores’ recipe had me scraping up the dish in spite of the fact that I was rapidly approaching a full tummy, knowing full well there were more tastings to come! Thank goodness for the coleslaw. It was the perfect complement to the dish as it helped me focus elsewhere. Whew!
The Linguine & Clams that were offered next would be worthy of appearing on pretty much any Italian restaurant’s menu, especially a waterfront location. In fact, I was somewhat shocked that Phillippi Creek Restaurant and Oyster Bar didn’t have the dish on their menu up until now!
Ultimately, Linguine and Clams are a relatively simple dish that tastes pretty much the same most places you order it. What we enjoyed with Chef Pedro’s take on this seafood classic was the broth; a bright lemon, sliced garlic and chardonnay blend that dresses up the humble steamed middle neck clams for a summer picnic. The al dente pasta is also topped with a number of whole belly clams that were obviously cooked/steamed in the chardonnay sauce, making this simple-sounding twist one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments for this home cook. Fresh parsley, a sprinkle of parmesan and warm garlic bread are essential to this dish because you ARE going to sop up that sauce!
At this point, I felt like the kitchen staff might be taking bets as to who would fall off the picnic benches first. Since it hadn’t happened yet, they sent out the show stopper . . . the visually arresting King’s Seafood Boil that sailed onto our tables on a boat-shaped serving vessel.
We were informed that this feast was designed to feed 2-3 people. Well, just eyeing this cornucopia of Alaskan King Crab (yum!) cold water lobster, peel & eat shrimp, and steamed mussels, accompanied with corn on the cob, garlic bread, and red-skin potatoes, all doing a synchronized swim in Maryland spiced butter, I’m guessing this would make four people very happy. (Or could it be that a button on my pants just popped?)
In any case, the King’s Seafood Boil was definitely one of those “What was that?” dishes that ALL the surrounding tables were asking their servers about. If you want to impress your out-of-town guests, don’t say a thing – just order this dish for the table!
To round out the evening, the staff at the bar couldn’t resist offering each of us one of their newest creations, the Key Lime Pie cocktail. Trust me, this is as much a dessert as is it a cocktail. The unique tang that you that comes only from key lime was ideal for finishing off an evening spent tasting pasta, garlic bread, an abundance of seafood, jalapeño, and the sauces featuring the brininess of the sea.
So while the years have been kind to this true Sarasota landmark, so too has Phillippi Creek Restaurant and Oyster Bar’s ever-evolving menu been kind to all of us.
And should you choose to “dress up” before you slip on those flip-flops, go right ahead The atmosphere may be laid back, but the food can be pretty special! It’s just that kind of place!