It seems like, in the blink of an eye, the “ugly duckling” strip plaza at the corner of Blackburn Point Road and South Tamiami Trail in Osprey has grown into a beautiful swan.
And with this improvement, the latest and most recent addition to the Shops at Casey Key is the newly-minted “Craft Grill & Bar,” The Clever Monkey. While restaurants and sports bars featuring craft beer have proliferated exponentially in recent years, it’s the Clever Monkey’s choice to name themselves a Craft Grill that drew us in.
It was a spur of the moment lunchtime decision that sprang from I-think-I’d-like-a-burger comment with my wife. You know.
(*Spoiler Alert* The Clever Monkey is sure to become our go-to spot whenever I crave above average”pub grub” fix and /or need to see catch a sports event I can’t get at home.) See? I’m already making a case for Jill and me to return – which, at the time of this writing, has already happened twice!
The dining room is cozy, uncluttered, with an exposed brick wall, and every booth has its own TV, complete with remote(!) for your customized viewing. The bar is in the back, with a Fenway Park mural and raised bleacher-style seating for more hardcore fans. Thank goodness I was wearing flip flops because I needed every finger and toe to count the number of screens, both large, medium and small. (Truth be told, I ran out of digits!)
But I digress. The food here made me sit up and pay attention.
Having recently digested an article (figuratively, not literally) from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune covering the best local burger places on the Suncoast, I knew I wanted a burger. Being that The Clever Monkey is new, they didn’t make the SHT’s article, but seriously their Spinach Brie Burger was the best burger I’ve had in recent memory. The perfectly cooked medium patty was succulent and juicy while the garlic aioli, fresh spinach, and tomato accoutrements topped with melted brie rounded out a fresh flavor profile that drew rave reviews from this burger lover. And we practically jousted over the sweet potato fries that I chose as my side, which offered a crisp exterior and yummy/yammy finish.
While not typically our M.O., Jill glanced at the specials chalkboard on the way in and ordered the Chimichurri Steak Salad. Chimichurri is kind of Jill’s Kryptonite, so I wasn’t surprised. We were thrilled to see that on the ever-evolving menu that this is now available full-time. Clever call, Monkey!
The chef makes the most of this dish, using sirloin instead of the usual flank or skirt steak. And most importantly, the chimichurri sauce was fresh and bright, offering the perfect acidic drizzle on top of the steak that Jill ordered medium rare to medium. Resting on a bed of crisp greens, the Chimichurri Steak Salad was a perfect composition for lunch or light dinner. But don’t simply take my word for it, check out the picture above.
With that lunchtime visit behind us, my next pit-stop to The Clever Monkey was a late night craving for pizza, because, in my opinion, we all need more pizza in our lives.
I ordered the 12-inch thin crust, with more toppings than might be legally advisable, (I did mention that it was late at night, right?) and the end result was delicious. My only misstep? I should have ordered the 16″ large. Here it is, in all its glory. Go for it!
On a subsequent night, we rationalized that we needed to do more “research” at The Clever Monkey and return once more.
We had previously taken home a copy of their menu, so we knew the 60 South Grilled Salmon was going to be ordered by one of us and then shared. What a good decision that was. The beautifully crisp sear on the salmon created almost a light crust that encased the tender, savory interior of the 60 South Salmon. Served with a creamy asparagus risotto with lemon caper sauce we were reminded why The Clever Monkey is a Craft Grill and Bar, vs a standard sports bar. This dish offered yet another unexpected twist from this unassuming neighborhood eatery-sports bar-roadhouse.
I was intrigued by the Grilled Wedge Salad, which sounded like a sensible appetizer choice . . . that is until it arrived. Easily shareable, the deftly charred iceberg lettuce was adorned with tomatoes, parmesan, olives, artichokes, onions, and pepperoncini and a light Caesar dressing. Knowing that more food was coming, I happily munched my way through 1/4 of the dish, boxing up the rest for a delightful lunch the next day. (Does that count as a fourth visit in less than two weeks?)
For me, the litmus test for a sports bar/restaurant will always be the quality of their chicken wings. Hey! Good luck for me . . . we happened to visit on a Wednesday night when chicken wings are on special! So, winner, winner, chicken wing dinner!
My twelve wings came with the option of choosing two of the 8 sauce choices. My default is always a traditional medium hot, and the other half dozen were tossed in an Asian-Garlic sauce. Clearly, these wings were fried in fresh oil changed on a fastidious schedule, as they were done right – crispy skin and a meaty bite thereafter without a hint of greasiness. Having eaten perhaps 100,000+ chicken wings in my time (don’t judge me please,) you’ll either have to take my word for this or prove me right when you stop in.
So, while we revel in the idea that a fresh craft grill is on the local Osprey/Casey Key scene, there will no doubt be more delicious surprises added to The Clever Monkey’s menu. All I can say is “Stay Clever my Friends!” Your twist on the classics is delightful!
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