|That little sign says it all.|
A couple of weekends ago, we decided to drive to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and get fish sandwiches at Frenchy's. Turns out, not only was it spring break, but everyone in Tampa had the same sunset idea. We suffered through ghastly traffic snarls and watched from our car as the sun disappeared while we tried to locate a parking spot. A drink was in order.
But before I get to that, a bit of background: I first became aware of Frenchy's through my sister-in-law, who lived in Clearwater many years ago. Frenchy's was her go-to beach spot for entertaining out-of-towners. She insists The Original Frenchy's is the best - and she may be right.
In case you are unfamiliar with Frenchy's, it commands an impressive restaurant and small-business monopoly on Clearwater Beach. I counted four Frenchy's restaurants, a stone crab retail outlet, a gift shop and a hotel. If you haven't been to Clearwater Beach, it's not a big place, so this is no minor presence.
I have some dining experience at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, which is smack-dab on the sand, and I mean it's so beachfront that it's in serious jeopardy if "The Big One" hits. It boasts an amazing view of the Gulf and its breezy deck is most pleasant when it's not jam-packed with spring breakers and snowbirds. We knew from the traffic that we wouldn't even try to get into this one.
Down a side street about a block away, we stumbled upon The Original Frenchy's and, as luck would have it, aced a parking spot right in front of the little joint. We headed straight for the tiny bar, which had two stools open. Ice-cold beer was placed before us by a cheerful bartender, who also was in charge of bellowing the names of the parties whose tables were ready. She didn't need to look far for people on the waiting list because this is a compact place, with eight inside tables and a handful outside. A wall inset with an aquarium divides the bar from the dining area, which is enveloped by circa-1980 wood paneling adorned with neon beer signs, a specials chalkboard, a few posters and a giant plastic fish.
In drinking time, it only took a beer-and-a-half until the bartender shouted our name. She placed us outside the kitchen in a booth that the people next to us vacated because of the Arctic breeze blasting from the air-conditioning vent above our heads, a fact the old geezers merrily shared after they saw me shivering. Hubmeister and I huddled on one side of the booth for warmth!
Our taste buds already primed for grouper sandwiches, we took a cursory glance at the menu. A small selection of seafood entrees, a couple of soups and a few salads presented a more limited menu than the other Frenchy's locations, so if you want a ton of choices, visit one of them.
You may choose to have your fish sandwich prepared in one of the following ways: original, fried, Cajun, or grilled. Trying not to add any additional tonnage to my physique, I have always chosen the grilled preparation without the fixings. Not tonight, baby! After that drive, we were going full throttle into hot grease. As far as I could glean from the waitress, there isn't any difference between original and fried, so we placed our order for two Original Super Grouper Sandwiches.
I can barely find the words....Whatever you do, if you go to Frenchy's, splurge on the fat and calories and get this sandwich. It's $12.50 and worth every penny and fat gram.
The crispy batter encased a mammoth portion of grouper - and it was REAL grouper, not some impostor fish. White as snow and tasting as if it were pulled from the Gulf waters minutes before meeting the fryer, it was about two inches thick and flaked beautifully, like fresh lump crabmeat. So mild. So outrageously delicious fried in that flavorful batter.
"All the way" meant it came topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. The cold toppings on the just-out-of-the-fryer fish offered a welcome temperature contrast. The tartar sauce was kicky, but a slice of lemon would have been welcome for an additional burst of flavor. The only other things that could have improved this sandwich would have been a better piece of lettuce and a homemade bun.
Hubs and I both got fries, which were average Joes, but hot and salty enough that we didn't pass on them.
My previous meals at Frenchy's Rockaway were forgettable and I'm not sure whether it's because I got diet-minded grilled fish or if The Original Frenchy's cranks out better food. I will say this: The Original is where I am heading when I drive to Clearwater Beach. A dive in the best sense of the word, this place has a friendly, shorts-and-flipflops atmosphere and exudes an aura of organized chaos while churning out grouper so super that Hubs and I both agreed it was one of the best things we ever ate.
Verdict: Dive worth a drive.
The Original Frenchy's Cafe
41 Baymont Street