Wine Dine and Play: Dining on Anna Maria Island

Dining on Anna Maria Island

A taste of Anna Maria Island
By Sean Overpeck (CFE)
**A full article and index glossary of restaurants, wines, recipes and travel for 
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Anna Maria Island (aka Anna Maria Key), is a barrier island off the West coast of Florida in the Gulf Mexico, south of Tampa and St Petersburg, north of Sarasota and next to the city of Bradenton in Manatee County. The island is seven miles long, and only a few blocks wide. Named after Anna Maria Ceravolo the wife of a former Tampa Mayor, it was first discovered by the local Timucan and Caloosan Native American tribes and, later, by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539, but it wasn’t until 1892 that the island received its first permeant resident. The island is divided into three cities; Anna Maria on the North and widest part of the island, Holmes Beach in the middle, and Bradenton Beach to the South where the island connects via a bridge to Longboat Key. There are also three main bridges that connect the island to the mainland. The population is around 8,800 based on the 2005 census but gets over 75,000 visitors each year according to the Chamber of Commerce. The island is known as a cozy paradise with an old Florida vibe, where my wife and I spent four days in a little staycation away from our home in St Petersburg. From the northern end of the Island you can see the entrance to the Tampa Bay through the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, enjoy great restaurants, beaches, shopping, and other activities. 

John Roser was one of the first people to settle and built several places on the island, to include roads, pipelines, and a church, which led to a further increase in population. Roser was also famous for being the creator of the Fig Newton, which he eventually sold to Nabisco Brands.

High rise condos and fast food restaurants are pleasantly absent from this island, and with close to one hundred small restaurants and bars, it is a food lovers delight, home to many award-winning bistros, cafes, and restaurants written up in national newspapers such as the New York Times, and USA Today, as well as magazines from Europe. My wife and I stayed at the Bungalow Beach Resort in the bottom portion of the island in the city of Bradenton Beach. The resort has 16 bungalow style cottages right on the beach, each with a different tropical style name, the pineapple being ours. There are many Anna Maria Island beachside hotels, featuring a wide array of room sizes, from rustic million-dollar cottages by the sea to deluxe suites, remodeled homes, and luxury condominiums. Speaking of beaches, the island is known for is beautiful turquoise emerald Gulf waters and sugar-white sandy beached coastline. Especially Manatee Beach in the middle of the island, and Bean Point Beach, which is tucked away on the North end of the island near the 100-year-old City Pier. Other activities throughout the year include the annual “Bayfest,” the “Beach’N Food Truck & Music Festival,” privateers parades, art gallery walks, July fireworks, Easter egg hunts, holiday walkabouts, several markets, and much more. Check with the local Chamber’s calendar to learn more details. 

Our dog playing on the sandy beach near the Bungalow
City Pier - Picture courtesy of Travel + Leisure

Like most resort islands in Florida parking can be a challenge, so besides taxi and Uber, they offer a Free Trolley to take you where you want to go. As a tradition when we visit a resort area we like to rent a golf cart and drive around the neighborhoods and off the beaten path to see the scope of everything the islands have to offer. This is where we ran into the Anna Maria Bayfront Park, saw private golf clubs, and passed by wildlife preserves. Most of the islands speed limits are 35 mph or under, so driving a golf cart makes for a perfect and fun time. We drove through Holmes Beach first seeing many businesses stretched across a walkable seven-block section of town that included small unique gift shops, coffee and bagel café’s, silver, art galleries, and much more. We popped into a local dive called D Coy Ducks Bar & Grille for a quick drink, and later that evening had a lite dinner at eat here Anna Maria, a cozy inventive chef-driven American beach bistro recently selected as two of Florida’s “Best New Restaurants” as part of Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon Awards. They have also received accolades as “Best Restaurant” and “Best New Restaurant” from numerous publications in the local community. Beach Bistro which is also part of the eat here family and owned by Sean Murphy has long been included in ZAGAT's "Top Restaurants in America” list. We did not have time to stop into Beach Bistro, but will on the next visit. We shared a few items enjoying the hickory house-smoked fish dip, and the Seattle style grilled muenster and gruyère cheese sandwich with caramelized onions, apples, and vine-ripe tomatoes. They also had a nice wine list, plus offered a free wine coupon that we forgot to use.

Hickory house-smoked fish dip at eat here Anna Maria

Earlier in the day after leaving D-Coy Ducks, we took our golf cart to the northern end of the island in the city of Anna Maria passing by a restaurant of interest that we marked for our return trip called Sign Of The Mermaid and stopped into The Sandbar Restaurant for a quick appetizer and some drinks. When we rent the cart on the island adventures we love to just restaurant hop, enjoying drinks and different flavors. If it is to our liking, then we return. The Sandbar is another refreshing chef-driven seafood restaurant under the reins of Chef Rich Demarse, and besides causal fair had one of the better beer and wine lists on the island. As a few hours went by traveling around and still in the northern section we stopped for a late lunch at what was by far the best restaurant experience of our trip. The Waterfront Restaurant and Craft Bar was so impressive that we returned for a dinner meal a few days later. Executive Chef Jason Hibberts introduces you to global seafood in this new American cuisine style restaurant that has an emphasis on sustainable products from local and independent vendors. We sat on the patio with views of the city pier and the Tampa Bay with the Sunshine Skyway bridge in the distance and were given the best service from all the restaurants we had visited on the island.  Try the wasabi encrusted Ahi tuna, the brie appetizer, or the truffled gouda mac and cheese cooked with a BBQ pork and bacon mixture. 

Brie appetizer at Waterfront Restaurant and Craft Bar

On the second day, still having our golf cart for the morning, we finished off our drive on the northern end having a quick drink with house-made chips and dips at Poppo’s Taqueria nestled between the waterfront restaurant on the eastern end of the island, and the Sandbar restaurant on the western end. It is a little store sitting next to a doughnut shop, art gallery, and small boutique. Poppo’s was very unique, offering up gourmet style Mexican Street food. Owned by Patrick and Rowen Coleman, this family owned and operated Latin-inspired taqueria is a fully organic restaurant. None of the products have preservatives, GMO’s, or anything else that is artificial. When sourcing their produces, they make sure that as much of it as possible is organically grown, to include ‘whole’ fresh produce, and most importantly, no processed items of any kind. This is a place to add to your list. We then headed to the southern end of the island, having to trade in the golf cart for our car, stopping into a tiki bar and breezy seafood restaurant on the beach for a quick drink called the Gulf Drive Cafe. This area was south of our bungalow and heading into the city center of Bradenton Beach, where there were the most shops, bars, hotels, and restaurants, really catering to the main tourist groups. For lunch, we stopped by the Beach House, a Florida Style waterfront dining restaurant newly redesigned and upgraded featuring Gulf-to-Table concepts by Executive Chef Will Manson. The Gulf-to-Table concept has gained great interest over the years as being the freshest seafood available in a Florida restaurant, where local fisherman make the catch in the morning or afternoon, and it is on your plate for dinner or happy hour. We shared the 24 Hour Florida wild boar dish, which attracted me to the restaurant when doing research on places to eat. It was slowly prepared sous-vide style served with a spinach dip. This along with a few drinks made a perfect happy hour meal. It was so mouthwateringly delicious, and one of the best dishes we had from our entire trip and was the main thing that set it apart from the Waterfront Restaurant. From there we worked our way over to Bridge Street in the center of the city which had the most touristy style shop destinations on the island. Other features as we walked around were the Bradenton historic street pier and clock tower, the Bridge Street Bazaar, and a spot of interest for our next visit for breakfast being the Island Creperie

24 Hour Florida wild boar dish at the Beach House

On the pier beside the gift shops was the Anna Maria Oyster Bar where we came the following morning to have some breakfast since the Creperie was closed that day and enjoy some hangover beers. Later that evening and our last night on the island, we stopped into the Island Time Inn on Bridge Street to the third floor terrace where Bridge Street Bistro was located. They are a fine new American dining restaurant owned by Stephen Bishop and Ron Fuller with Executive Chef Jimmy Lopatinski behind the wheel. There are several “new American” cuisine style restaurants on Anna Maria which are also known by the names modern American cuisine, or contemporary American cuisine restaurants. The term refers to the wave of modernized cooking predominantly served at upscale fine dining restaurants that began in the 1980s. I recommend the Ahi tuna dish with wakame seaweed slaw and a traditional New Orleans recipe of Oysters Bienville. 

Oysters Bienville at Bridge Street Bistro

Our final stop came the next day on the drive home. Before leaving the island some friends told us about a place that had just opened on Anna Maria that they were friends with the owner and to check them out. So we stopped into SMOQHOUSE, a modern and causal BBQ Fusion eatery featuring handcrafted sandwiches, salads, and soups. The restaurant was owned by Andy Kubes who also own two other SMOQHOUSE restaurants in Northfield, Minnesota. The menu changes nearly daily with the specials written on a chalkboard. You can dine in a very uniquely designed dining room that focuses on the BBQ or takes it to go which we did. Go with the smoked buffalo chicken on brioche with slaw, and the brisket burger cooked with some smoked cheddar, caramelized onion, and a house made ‘Smoq’n Sauce.’
Bradenton Beach Pier and Clocktower

This sums up our trip to the island, and like other island adventures around Florida, it did not disappoint. We only scratched the surface of the island when it comes to the culinary scene, and it will take many visits to get a true glimpse of what Anna Maria has to offer, and what it will provide in the future as culinary trends change, and a broader range of people visit. 

Here are the restaurants my wife and I visited and reviewed on Anna Maria Island:

Florida style waterfront dining with Gulf-to-Table concepts 
Anna Maria, Florida, USA
A Chef driven Beach-style Bistro
Anna Maria, Florida, USA
Gourmet organic Taqueria street food
Anna Maria, Florida, USA
Third-floor terrace seafood-centric New American dining
Bradenton Beach, Florida, USA
Chef-driven seafood restaurant
Anna Maria, Florida, USA
Global seafood with a comfort feel
Anna Maria, Florida, USA

A casual BBQ joint
Anna Maria, Florida, USA

Other Florida Island restaurant adventures:

Waterfront upscale new American cuisine 
Sanibel Island, Florida, USA
Beachside Victorian-Style seafood restaurant
Pass-a-Grille / St Pete Beach
Japanese restaurant & saké bar with sushi
Key West, Florida, USA
Italian eatery in the Thunderbird Resort
Treasure Island
Relaxed waterfront seafood restaurant 
Tierra Verde Key
Casual American eats
At The Westin Harbour Island
Tampa, Florida, USA

See the whole list by visiting “The Wine Dine and Play Article Glossary by country

Other Anna Maria Pictures:

Island Time Inn on Bridge Street
Sunset on Anna Maria Island
Dining room at Waterfront Restaurant

The Sandbar Restaurant Bar
Poppo's Taqueria 
The Beach House dining room 
City Pier 
Bradenton Beach
Sunshine Skyway Bridge 

Who is John Galt?


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