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Cheap Eats: New Pass Grill & Bait Shop

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Saturday afternoon, mid-afternoon, an angry sun dominating a cloudless sky, and Eating Companion and I are stuck in traffic with some friends on John Ringling Causeway in a rental car with New York plates. (Our car’s getting some body work done; EC’s fault, sore subject.) We’re five deep in what is euphemistically considered a “compact car.” The other cars on the road all seem to be going through the navigational equivalent of an epileptic fit.

We’re headed out to New Pass Grill & Bait Shop, a fixture of the fishing community and a truly novel place to grab a burger on your lunch break if you’re out that way. I’ve been meaning to get out to NPBS for ages, but as many of you know life has a way of getting between you and a hot burger on the bay.

We park up front, at the base of the New Pass Bridge, just a few hundred yards from Mote Marine, the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and the legendary Old Salty Dog. There are about as many cars parked out front as there are boats docked out back. Piling out of the car, EC casually mentions that we could have taken his step-dad’s boat out today, that his step-dad had offered, and gee wouldn’t that have been nice.

The place has that weather-beaten look of our own childhood’s neighborhood bait shack. There are a dozen or so tables waterside, and one or two that must actually be basically under water on exceptionally high tides. You can tell which diners arrived via car and which via seafaring vessel by the Croakies and the length of their hat’s bill.

We step up to the window and order some Cokes and a bunch of the staples: a bacon cheeseburger ($8.99 with fries); a fried fish sandwich ($6.49); a grilled chicken sandwich ($6.29); and a clam basket ($8.69). We also add today's special at the last minute, a fried clam po’ boy. Most of the menu items are described briefly, with some juicy declarative following: “Delicious!” “Outstanding!” “Don’t forget the ketchup!” “The fisherman’s favorite!”

We grab a picnic table right at the water’s edge, enjoying our particularly lovely fountain Cokes with our feet in the sand and/or water depending on the side of the table. A seagull is in the shorebreak wrestling with a piece of butcher paper that must have some really tasty morsel on it, as the bird is just not giving up.

The food takes a while, but no one seems to mind. EC hears our name called and heads back up to the shack to retrieve the order. It’s a significant amount of food, piled in a cardboard box. Fried food smells amazing almost always.
EC busts open the clam basket while everyone is sorting out the sammies. The clams are standard, deep-fried, heavily breaded. The fries are crisp, seasoned lightly, delicious. Cocktail sauce is decidedly inferior to tartar sauce, but none of us care enough to get up and go get some.

The po’ boy is delicious, a pile of the very same fried clams as the basket piled on top of crisp lettuce, tomato and onion, with a special sauce that tastes somewhere between remoulade and tartar. The bread is a nice, dense white hero roll.
The burger is also fairly impressive, if only for its perfect banality. It’s simple, no frills, no risks. The bacon is crisp, the burger cooked medium-well. It’s a good, basic burger. Same fries as the basket. Delicious.

The chicken sandwiches are fairly unremarkable, both the cutlets a little dry, a little flavorless. They end up half-eaten, their owners vying for bites of the po’ boy.

The fried fish sandwich is a testament to the wonder that is cod. If done right, as it is here, it’s fluffy and light and mild, sturdy enough to withstand some chomping without crumbling into a mess. It’s served on a kaiser roll, with ample amounts of tartar, and the aforementioned crispy veggies.

New Pass Bait Shop is a novelty spot with great, simple Florida food. We head back to the car. EC and I stare longingly at a family of five pulling up to the dock in a beautiful Boston Whaler. We should have taken the boat. Fried food and seasonal traffic don’t mix.

Last modified: September 13, 2013
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