Foodie purists or fried-food-faint-of-heart, move along. These aren't the droids you are looking for.
Ever long for a traditional fried seafood dinner without glam or fuss? People who have been in Tampa a while may miss the likes of the Colonnade, Seabreeze or Mirabella's seafood eateries. At one time, they dominated the seafood scene in the old Tampa. There were no fancy imported clams or fish flown in fresh daily from foreign lands. They offered a classic battered and fried plate of ocean harvest. I had a craving for some and went looking. My quest took me to Blue Sea Seafood Market and Restaurant in surprising part of town. Upon arrival it's clear that it's a popular place as the parking lot is full. As we await our food an African-American couple walks in chuckling and pondering the idea of having “seafood in the hood”. We all laugh in sync like it is some sort of social anomaly.
Blue Sea is no froufrou ornate innovative complicated culinary place. There is no pretense or master chef. What it is is a cultural experience with a store full of customers from different walks of life. A cowboy looking man replete with boots, rodeo belt buckle, and stetson hat waits patiently for his to-go order. Folks of many colors are seated, eating out of their food-filled foam containers. Some of the staff speak in an Asian language adding to the cultural blend.
At first it looks and smells like a typical fish market. Glass-front displays line half the wall, filled with crushed ice and several types of fish and shrimp. At the other end of the counter employees take orders for the kitchen. The menu is vast and includes a variety of sandwiches, fried or broiled dinners, and combo meals with different mixes of seafood. Unlike similar restaurants, there are several Asian influences here including fried rice dishes and egg rolls. Orders are placed and paid for at the counter and delivered to the table or in to-go packaging.
We lean into the fried seafood. I order a Seafood Platter ($12.49), a combination dish of clams, scallops, and shrimp. My tablemate decides on a fried catfish sandwich ($4.49).
The amount of food is astonishing.
The catfish sandwich is stacked high with four pieces of fried fish topped with lettuce all wedged inside a large sesame seed bun. The stack is really too tall to get a good bite easily, but it is well worth the effort. The fish is flaky and the peppery batter is perfect.
My seafood platter arrives in a Styrofoam box stuffed with fried goodness. The trio of seafood sits on a bed of golden brown French fries and is accompanied by three or four hush puppies. Wow, that’s a lot of grub.
The shrimp are the star of this show. Six large butterflied crustaceans are dredged and deep-fried. The batter is salty, crunchy, and luscious. The shrimp are nice and firm and the whole bite crackles when eaten.
The clams strips and clusters are also battered and fried rendering a blonde brown color and more satisfying crispiness. I ask staff what type of clams they are and they aren't sure, but they're good!
The small bay scallops are mediocre. Biting into them does not render the expected graininess or fiber you might find in better scallops and the batter is wimpy. Somewhat disappointed I move on.
Then I find the hush puppies. These ping-pong ball sized spheres of deep-fried cornmeal are mixed with the perfect blend of spices. They are sweet-ish in taste but savory overall, and deliver a crumbly outside and warm corn-mealy inside. Wow!
The accompanying French fries are generic. They are thick cut russet type and cooked just right, but nothing special. Plus, I can't eat anymore! I'm full and this old school seafood dinner mission is accomplished.
The food is not aesthetically pleasing photographically, but brown fried food rarely is. It's a crispy crunchy pile of fried seafood goodness and it hits my reminiscent yearning spot! Service is fast and friendly and the prices are insanely reasonable. Seafood in the hood indeed!
Chip Weiner is a Tampa food blogger and an award winning freelance photographer specializing in portraiture, food photography and photojournalism . He has been a photography instructor for over 10 years and teaches Tampa photography classes throughout the year. Have a suggestion for a food event or restaurant? Contact him here
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