Willy’s – St. Pete Beach, FL

If you find yourself in beautiful St. Pete Beach, Florida you have to find your way to Willy’s for a burger, grouper sandwich, or one of their tasty and affordable specials.

Willy’s is about the smallest place on “the beach” with 6 tables in a covered open air area, a small covered bar, and an even smaller indoor dining room with 4 small tables and a half dozen bar seats. The small and unassuming appearance might cause a visitor to walk on past but the food is well worth the stop and the wait (during busier peak-season evening hours).

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During our many visits with family and friends we have seen and tasted the Grouper Sandwich, the Fried Dover Sole, the Big Blue Burger, the BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich, and the Blackened Sea Scallops (the priciest item at $8.95). We usually add an order of the Onion Rings (served with a spicy sauce) or the Tater Tots. Most dishes come with your choice of coleslaw or barbecued-baked beans.

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Willy’s offers an interesting array of appetizers, including Spam Fries – fried slices of Spam. Ample Bites particularly likes the Smoked Fish Spread which is smoked mackerel in a mayonnaise-based spread. It is not too smoky and the taste of the mackerel shines through. We were told that it is made in bulk by Ample Bites’ favorite area fish house, Shaner’s Land & Sea in Pass-A-Grille.

Ample Bites has tried most of the items above and my wife covets the Grouper Sandwich and must have it at least once during each visit to St. Pete Beach. During my last visit I tried the special, which was the BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwich. It was outstanding. The beef was tender, smoky and the barbecue sauce was flavorful but did not overpower the beef. At $5.95, it was a bargain. This is true of all of the daily specials including a Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner for $4.95 – you cannot make most of this food at home for the price that Willy’s charges.

Willy’s also offers a food selection of cold beers. The Yuenling Lager is cold and goes well with all of their meals. The wine selection is limited and, I will admit, we haven’t tried the “beach drinks”.

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Willy’s is not right on the beach but it less than a block away from the Inter-coastal Waterway where it comes in from the Gulf of Mexico between Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach. If you walk to the public parking lot along the Inter-coastal you can see a great sunset and perhaps spot a dolphin or two.

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The Wharf: Pass-A-Grille, Florida

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It would be very easy to drive or walk past The Wharf without blinking an eye. Ample Bites happened to read an article in The Gabber, a free weekly paper, about this spot favored by locals. The article declared that The Wharf has the coldest beer on the beach, several Happy Hours each day, and daily specials that include Tacos on Wednesday and fresh oysters on the weekends. It turned out to be right across the street from Ample Bites’ favorite spot in the area to buy fresh seafood, Shaner’s Land & Sea.

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We choose a chilly winter evening to walk St. Pete Beach to the north end of Pass-A-Grille to arrive just in time for the latest Happy Hour of the day. Our journey took us past the legendary Don Cesar hotel, a coral-colored jewel that can be seen for miles along the Gulf coast. We also noticed a rustic beach house that was decorated with an attractive dolphin sculpture. The beach was pretty barren during our trek due to the strong and gusty north winds but we did see a lone windsurfer hugging the shoreline.

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The Yuenling lager was indeed cold and the house cabernet sauvignon was by all accounts pretty good.

We started our meal with a Sesame Tuna that was perfectly seared and crusted with white and black sesame seeds. The tuna was drizzled with a wasabi sauce and a tangy house sauce that appeared to be Sriracha-based. The tuna was garnished with a generous serving of pickled ginger and a less generous serving of seaweed salad (though additional seaweed salad could be purchased for an additional $1.00).

The Taco Wednesday specials included chicken, pork, shrimp, Mahi-Mahi and grouper tacos. Ample Bites enjoyed two of the blackened grouper tacos with sweet Thai chili sauce. The lettuce and tomato was fresh and the generous serving of grouper was perfectly cooked and warm, obviously fresh from the pan. The tacos were served with a small but very tasty serving of red beans and rice.

The Grouper Reuben also included a very large, perfectly prepared piece of grouper with the traditional Reuben ingredients. Served with coleslaw, french fries or the red beans and rice, the sandwich was a plentiful entree.

A return visit to The Wharf for the weekend fresh oysters is undoubtedly in the works for Ample Bites and our visitors.

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