Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant, located on South Tamiami Trail near Trader Joes, is a Sarasota institution. A 100-year-old institution, that is! Not many restaurants in the world can say that! Walt’s is so popular it’s known its first name only, and everyone who has lived here any length of time knows not only what you mean using the moniker “Walt’s” but will share with you their favorite item on the menu without your even asking! Some folks even questioned the building of Trader Joes so close to Walt’s, as traffic getting in and out of the busy restaurant and fish market seems to run pretty consistent day and night.
Walt’s Fish Market started out as a . . . fish market, back in 1918, and quickly grew into a full-fledged restaurant the moment the founder and his son Tom began offering fried fish sandwiches. The restaurant took off and the rest, as they say, is history. 100 years . . . can you believe it?
Mart and I visited Walt’s on a number of occasions, both the fresh fish market and the restaurant. I made a stunning (if I do say so myself) conch chowder from the fresh conch I purchased at Walt’s Fish Market, and who can say how many grouper sandwiches Mart has enjoyed at Walt’s over the years?
The addition of a Chickee Bar on the side of the restaurant opened by Walt’s grandson, Brett, has only added to the appeal. And it was here that Mart and I stopped in one Saturday afternoon so he could get his fix . . . usually the blackened grouper sandwich.
Walt’s Chickee Bar offers seats at the bar as well as a number of high tops and tables for four or less. Live music is presented from a corner in the back of the Chickee Bar, music that’s 100% fish market appropriate . . . usually the Jimmy Buffet style acoustic guitar vibe that allows guests to enjoy the music, while still conversing or taking in a game on the numerous televisions. It’s the ideal spot for a quick bite or cold beverage when you’ve already left the beach but still aren’t ready to go home.
Being an afternoon lunch, I was in the mood for a nice, crisp salad, choosing one of the meal-sized salads off the menu, the Sunrise Salad and adding grilled salmon to it. The dressing was served, as requested, on the side and the salmon was cooked just as I like it on a salad — with grill marks and a pink, flakey center.
Mart is rarely unhappy when munching away on a blackened fish sandwich, so he was especially excited to try Walt’s Blackened Mullet Sandwich. Seat him in Walt’s Chickee Bar and he was a happy guy, to be sure! Mullet is one of the Gulf Coast’s most underappreciated fish, and we’re glad to see more and more restaurants finding creative ways to serve it on their menu, even if only blackened on a sandwich. Good stuff!
On another visit, I returned to Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant with my sister from another mother, Debbie. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so a visit to her favorite seafood restaurant was the perfect time to catch up. We started out with the lovely smoked whitefish spread, served with those buttery club crackers so many of us grew up on. I have to restrain myself with this whitefish or I could be accused of not sharing. I was good this time. . .
For her meal, Debbie ordered a sampler consisting of a duo of fried clams and Bay scallops. She selected a side of roasted red potatoes and coleslaw from the 7 complimentary sides to choose from. Even though we’d both watched our consumption of the whitefish salad, this was an ample serving. After a gallant attempt, she finally waved the flag of surrender and boxed up some to take home. I tried a sample of both the fried clams and the scallops and found them both to be fried to a light crunchy finish on the outside, while succulent on the inside.
I went for Walt’s Flame Broiled Plate, showcasing broiled shrimp, Bay scallops and flounder broiled in white wine and garlic butter. With that, I ordered a side of Walt’s Coconut Lime Sauce, which was good, but totally unnecessary. The flavors of the broiled fish stood just fine on their own. My choice of sides was the red roasted potatoes and the broiled veggies. This made for a colorful plate, to be sure! Like Debbie, I had ordered more than I could chew, so about halfway into my dinner, I was packing up some for lunch the next day. I may add that I enjoyed dipping the veggies into the coconut lime sauce as much or more than the fish!
So . . . while restaurants featured on SarasotaFoodies need to be in business a continuous 20 years to be considered an A-Lister, Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant stands among a very, very few to serve Sarasota diners over 100 years! Cheers, Walt’s! May you serve seafood happiness for another 100 years!