In our morning paper the other day my bride and I read a Reiley review of Island Grille & Raw Bar at 210 Madonna Boulevard in Tierra Verde. Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic ... one of the best food writers in the business of writing about food.
Intrigued by her article, I took a look at the Island Grille website. The Grille outgrew their previous location, so the owners built a new, grander structure back in August of 2016. This new place is spacious with indoor and outdoor seating. Island Grille is definitely not a rustic fish shack and one of the first things that caught my eye as we walked in was ... be still my thumping gizzard ... an oyster bar. And I mean a real oyster bar, with real oyster shuckers. I quivered with excitement.
Once seated, I couldn't help but be impressed with a series of panels with glass etchings adorned with images of snook, mullet, hog fish, a turtle and various other critters from the sea.
On the way to our table I had stopped to chat with one of the shuckers. He described the northerners as being a bit on the small side. He and I discussed the Gulf oysters for a moment, and then I was offered one as a taste test.
I watched as Ricky expertly shucked my oyster: top shell removed, the meat severed from the bottom shell, not a drop of the salty liquor was lost and the oyster wasn't dipped in a nasty bowl of water to wash away the flavor. The oyster on a half shell was handed to me and with great delight I consumed this sweet treat from Louisiana.
It is also a treat to discover a venue that serves oysters on the half shell shucked by people who have a clue as to the proper way to shuck and serve. I have only found one other restaurant along the Pinellas County Gulf coast that really knows what they are doing: our neighbors on Gulf Boulevard, the Salt Rock Grill. Back at the table, I requested a half dozen on the half shell.
My replacement tray came back rather quickly so I imagine the oysters were drained of water and liquor, placed on fresh ice and served. I ate them but they were not as sweet and flavorful as my gratis oyster at the bar.
Enough about oysters already! The next order of business was our entrees. The Belle requested the Chicken Cordon Bleu off the Early Bird menu. The breaded chicken was topped with sliced tomato, ham and Swiss cheese.
I was still in a seafood frame of mind so I chose a half dozen Chargrilled Oysters with chipotle lime sauce.
These oysters were prepared on the Island's chargrill and served hot with fresh French bread. I could detect the smokiness from the grill that had my mouth watering even before these mollusks were served. The sauce was tangy from the lime with a subtle piquancy from the chipotle peppers.
I finished with the Steamed Platter: 6 oysters, 6 clams, 6 mussels and 4 steamed shrimp.
When Jamie came by to see how we were doing I told her that we were D-U-N, done. Apparently I was mistaken because the next thing I knew, this appeared on our table:
Almost as sweet as the bread pudding was our final bill: all food and four adult beverages came to a very reasonable $91.49.
Service at Island Grille & Raw Bar was exceptional, The owners were not only present, but worked hard to ensure a smooth running operation; from supervising to serving, to picking up dropped debris. These are very "hands-on" people. We were impressed.