We're a casual couple. For example, my amazing wife Kristin simply requested I leave the office early last Friday so I could secure us stools at the bar of Star Fish Company in Cortez. We dined on super-fresh seafood served in cardboard boxes. Yep, that is how we blissfully spent Valentine's Day.
We continued our relaxed, romantic weekend by visiting Gulf Drive Café's Kokonut Hut around 11 a.m. Saturday with our French bulldog Tucker. Kristin enjoys shopping for him almost as much as he enjoys wearing her latest fashion find. Seriously, Tucker can practically dress himself at this point. On Saturday, he proudly wore a black shirt with a heart and arrow design framing the word "Loverboy." He was very popular at this relatively new but already popular destination spot on Bradenton Beach.
Tucker at our feet being loved on by pretty much everyone at the bar as well as plenty of passersby, I ordered a Bloody Mary ($7) while Kristin opted for The Floridian ($7). Unless you request something from the top shelf, The Kokonut Hut makes its Bloody Mary with a serviceable brand of well vodka - which is fine because you really don't taste the distilled beverage anyway - and Major Peters, my favorite of the mass-produced mixes. Our bartender, though, judiciously seasoned my drink with Worcestershire sauce, horseradish (by request) and squeezed lemon and lime wedges. Not nearly as good as the Bloody Mary masterpieces I make at home - secret ingredient: the English Prime Rib Rub from Penzeys Spices (1516 Main St., Sarasota) - but, then again, The Kokonut Hut offers a better view. Namely, the Gulf of Mexico.
The Kokonut Hut doesn't offer many signature drinks but the ones mentioned on the menu - and the wood signs adorning the support beams - are impressive. These are boat drinks that effortlessly manage to be refreshing and sweet without the slightest hint of the horrible syrupy quality that undermines the cocktails at so many other beachfront bars and leads to day-destroying hangovers. Our favorite, The Floridian, features Absolut Hibiskus,a floral-flavored vodka with aromas of hibiscus and pomegranate that goes great with grapefruit juice and a couple squirts of lemon-lime soda.
For craft beer enthusiasts, I did notice taps of Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing Company's popular Fat Tire Amber Ale as well as Tampa-based Cigar City Brewing's superb Jai Alai IPA. For more beach-y brews, The Kokonut draft selection includes Corona Light, Shock Top and Michelob Ultra. For the record, Kristin managed to get me drinking Michelob Ultra a while back and it has become my go-to "healthy" beer.
Speaking of healthy, let me tell you about the brunch we had Saturday. Usually at Gulf Drive Café, and now its adjacent sister spot The Kokonut Hut, Kristin and I split something. But for purposes of this column, I told her, we would each have to order our own massive dish. Kristin had the Skillet Breakfast ($10.99) and barely put a dent in it while I went with a Spanish omelet with bacon ($8.75) and devoured every single bite except the toast. I was too full to eat my toast.
The skillet comes covered with wonderfully crisp home fries, peppers, onions, thick and crunchy bacon, a generous amount of cheddar cheese, three eggs any style (Kristin went with scrambled) and a biscuit. Fulfilling my Bar Tab duties, I made sure to try each section of the skillet and it was awesomely decadent. Really, though, I recommend sharing it.
As for the Spanish omelet, I substituted ham for bacon because, well, I just really love bacon. Joined by onions, tomatoes, green peppers and covered with a couple slices of provolone cheese, this omelet, which also comes with toast and those killer home fries, hit the spot. Especially when dipped in the side of zesty salsa.
So, I'm stuffing my face and this smart, adorable, retired couple sits down next to us. We start talking - thanks to Tucker, he's quite the conversation starter - and it turns out they split their time between Cape Cod and Siesta Key but want to start spending more time at their home here in Southwest Florida. They like the casual, beachfront charm of places like The Kokonut Hut. We do, too.
Gulf Drive Café’s Kokonut Café
900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach; 778-1919; gulfdrivetiki.com