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Bar Tab: The Waterfront Restaurant

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Waterfront 1 by WT

Bartender Erin Goodier made all of our delicious drinks, including the Mitcher In The Rye (left) and American Mule, at The Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

I don’t mean to boast, but when I placed my order, the owner, for everyone to hear, gave me the ultimate bar compliment.

“That’s a real man’s man drink,” he said.

Just replaying those words in my mind, which I heard Friday night at The Waterfront in Anna Maria, makes me happy; makes me brim with honor; makes me feel somewhat redeemed.

See, I recently shamed myself, in public, by ordering a Raspberry Vodka Collins. We were at a chain restaurant named after a fish that apparently has an abnormal amount of bones. When I ordered the drink, I pictured black raspberries creating a hue that while perhaps not manly, would not call into question my manliness or evoke memories of a drink favored by women in the 1940s. I was wrong. I’ve never seen a shade of pink that so loudly screamed “Barbie’s first cocktail!” Or, “Isn’t that what grandma used to always get at Bingo Land?”

“What’s that, a Pink Flamingo?” asked my father-in-law, barely able to breathe due a serious laughing fit.

A Pink Flamingo is a rum cooler, which a grown man might only get away with consuming while yachting in the Caribbean, if he actually owned and skippered the yacht. Order a Pink Flamingo at a certain bar in a certain unincorporated community in East Bradenton and you might be taken out back and stabbed. Luckily, we were in West Bradenton and only my pride was punctured for ordering the saccharine concoction my father-in-law dubbed the Pink Flamingo.

My mother-in-law laughed. My amazing wife Kristin laughed. Even our server, she laughed. After inhaling my drink of shame I had to slam three bottles of Budweiser just to regain the respect of my in-laws, my wife and our server. Oh, yes, we had a fine time at that place named after the Albula vulpes.

Waterfront HT archives

The covered front porch of the The Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria. HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVES.

But let’s get back to my consumption of a “real man’s man drink.” The Waterfront has been a beloved destination spot for many years thanks to tasty food, fine service, sunset views, craft beers and lots of classy wines that I pretend to know way more about than I really do. But when The Waterfront reopened last week with a fresh bar and newly acquired liquor license, it officially became our latest place to rave about to anyone within earshot at any and all social gatherings. Here’s why.

Owner Jason Suzor, the same dashing gentleman who praised my drink choice, has created a cocktail list that brings Manhattan chic to Manatee County without all the outrageous prices, lunatic cabbies, cruddy weather and lurking presence of Donald Trump.

Jason and Leah Suzor’s Waterfront Restaurant, with its original fireplace dating back about a century and beachfront cottage charm, makes you feel like you are hanging at a really killer house party. You know, the kind that you attend about once every five years and leave, more than a little tipsy, saying over and over how, “Everything was just fabulous!”

And that was our experience Friday at The Waterfront. We arrived around 7 p.m. and the bar area looked as if they might be giving away liquor. Luckily, we had been to The Waterfront a few times before and the assistant manager, Bill Hard, helped squeeze us into a couple comfortable stools.

I smiled at the cocktail list and decided to order the Mitcher in The Rye ($10), aka “A man’s man drink.” It’s Michter's Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey, Luxardo liqueur, orange bitters, rose water and lime zest served with a single, large chunk of ice in a rocks glass. Strong and sophisticated, it tasted like pure machismo; like something James Bond might enjoy if he weren’t fussing over the proper way to get his martinis.

Kristin ordered the American Mule ($8), which is basically a Moscow Mule, for those of you who know your classic cocktails, but with vodka made in the capital of Texas instead of the capital of Russia. In addition to Tito’s Handmade Vodka, the mule is mixed with fresh lime and ginger beer but the real cool part, literally and figuratively, is the rocks copper mug. That’s right, they serve their mule super trad in a copper mug that seems to keep the booze ice cold sip after sip and even, somehow, enhances the taste.

Considering we were in for an evening of full-immersion cocktail culture, I figured a minimum of three appetizers would be needed to keep us from doing anything stupid like dancing on the bar or ordering the equivalent of a Pink Flamingo.

We started with the House Smoked Pacific Salmon ($13) and could’ve safely stopped there but didn’t, because we had no idea it could feed a family of fourteen. Although we had two other dishes coming, we couldn’t stop noshing on the cured and pleasantly cold apple wood-smoked-in-house salmon with red onions, capers and dilled cream cheese served with the best crackers I’ve had in recent memory. For the record, the menu reads “flatbread.”

By the time we had stuffed ourselves with salmon, we were ready to return to the cocktail list. Kristin wanted to continue with another American Mule but I would not allow it. “You need to try something different so I can write about it,” I whispered.

“Fine,” she said, not as quietly.

Waterfront 2 WT

Bartender Erin Goodier made all of our delicious drinks, including the Hendrick's Garden (left) and Jalapeno Margarita, at The Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

I ordered the Hendrick’s Garden ($8). This cocktail takes the small-batch gin hand crafted in Scotland and beautifies it with nicely harmonizing slices of fresh cucumber, fresh lemon juice and fresh cilantro, the latter picked like all the other herbs used in the drinks from the mini-garden growing on the bar. I swore off gin for a time while living in Southern California because I thought it was making me mean. Turned out, the only thing making me mean was the 405 and all the people that used that hellish highway.

Kristin, who enjoys spicy stuff more than her Pink Flamingo-drinking husband, ordered the Jalapeno Margarita ($8). It’s a forward-thinking, well-balanced and really not too hot, concoction of el Jimador tequila, fresh lime, fresh basil, fresh cilantro and, yes, fresh jalapeno. “It looks as good as good as it tastes,” Kristin said, and then did her best not to share.

So, we’re trading – sort of – sips of round two when our second and third appetizers come out. I’ll start with a brief description of the Ahi Sliders ($15). They were the size of Big Macs. Rare ahi tuna, ginger and wasabi seared with tamari and sesame made into wonderfully plump patties. The huge chunks of fish, one for each of us, were served on crisp wantons with fennel slaw and seaweed. Yes, they were as filling as an over-sized burger but tasted about a thousand times better. I struggled to finish mine and even helped out with Kristin’s.

By this point, I had loosened my belt and maybe even unbuttoned the top button of my jeans to make room for the Baked Brie ($12). The French cheese I adore, almost as much as French fries, is wrapped in flaky phyllo dough, served with toasted almonds, red grapes and slices of tart green apples and generously drizzled with orange blossom honey, which I would gladly guzzle straight from the jar just like Pooh Bear.

We left The Waterfront satisfied and excited about a bunch of delicious-looking dishes I would like to consume once I can fit back into my pants. There are also more than a dozen drinks on the cocktail list, which all sound fascinating and in no way resemble a Pink Flamingo. In fact, I’ll be returning soon for the whiskey-filled Irish Peat, another “man’s man drink.”

The Waterfront Restaurant; 111 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria; 778-1515; thewaterfrontrestaurant.net

The Waterfront Restaurant
111 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria; 778-1515; thewaterfrontrestaurant.net

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo created what would eventually be called Bar Tab while working as a correspondent for the Herald-Tribune in 2003. He would continue writing about bars for Maxim, Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, OC (Calif.) Weekly and The Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune as a staff writer in 2013 and has happily returned to writing our weekly column Bar Tab. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: November 15, 2013
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