It’s probably not easy being a seafood restaurateur on Anna Maria Island during the height of tourist season and only serving fish that arrived earlier that day from the docks of nearby Cortez Village. But that’s the policy of owner Adam Ellis at Blue Marlin. And it’s one of the many reasons you will want to visit the Bradenton Beach dining destination that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Blue Marlin for Grouper Fulford, Blackened Fish Alfredo, Thai Nuggets
121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach
Black grouper – which many would argue is superior to the similar red, gag and scamp grouper species that populate our Gulf waters – was the only fish on the menu recently at Blue Marlin. We learned this shortly after being seated in the cozy outdoor Trapyard of the Bradenton Beach restaurant, which also occupies the adjacent historic cottage on Bridge Street. “Anywhere you see another kind of fish on the menu, just substitute it with black grouper,” our server said.
So instead of starting your meal with the Thai Snapper Nuggets, you go with the grouper version ($24), the lightly fried cuts of fresh fish augmented by a sweet-heat cilantro dressing jumping with red onion and jalapeno. It will be difficult not to give your full attention to those tasty nuggets but also consider starting your feast with the fish spread ($16). Made from rich, fatty Cortez mullet, it brims with a smoky savoriness that recalls premium beef jerky. By the way, that fish dip I’m still craving weeks after first bite is made by Mike Norman, the Anna Maria Island real estate mogul and former commercial fisherman who I’m told wears many hats.
Steak enthusiasts will also want to sink their teeth into the Filet Ajillo ($25). The supple slices of seared beef are presented on a bed of greens with olive oil and bright red pepper flakes joined by slivers of fresh garlic, a wedge of lime for squeezing and garlic bread to sop up any remaining marinade. Blue Marlin’s bowl of clams is another appetizer option to seriously consider. Steamed in white wine and garlic butter, the Tampa littlenecks are garnished with seasoned bread crumbs and smokey bacon, making the broth every bit as appealing as the tender and briny mollusks.
There are plenty of exciting entrees on the menu at Blue Marlin. The most essential, though, is the Grouper Fulford ($42). Named after Cortez fishing legend Thomas “Blue” Fulford, whose family co-founded the village in the 1880s, it’s fish à la Française with a Florida twist. Egg-washed and sautéed with lemon butter, the ridiculously fresh, plump fillet of moist, flaky grouper arrives golden brown with crunchy bits of garlic parmesan bread crumbs. It’s the kind of dish every self-respecting seafood fan must try at least once. Be warned, though, after having your grouper Fulford-style, most other grouper presentations will amount to bland disappointments.
If you’re in the mood for pasta, be sure to order the dish that takes those daily cuts of fish (the grouper was again superb) and dusts them with a vigorous blackening before placing the protein on a mound of linguini and delicate alfredo sauce crowned with a pool of bright green basil pesto ($32). Prefer sweet to savory? We spotted a whole lot of grouper coming out wrapped in a crushed pretzel and pecan crust with honey butter that I will definitely be trying for an upcoming edition of this column.
Blue Marlin offers lots of stone crab dishes, which I’ve written about previously, and also serves several salads and sandwiches including a version each featuring the “GLT,” which is Fulford-style grouper with fried green tomato and mixed baby greens. I’ve somehow never had the GLT and that, too, must soon change. I have however, devoured Blue Marlin’s burger, with smoked gouda and a bacon and onion marmalade, and it’s among the best in Sarasota-Manatee.
Thanks to owner Adam Ellis’ strict policy regarding only serving fish delivered basically to his waterfront doorstep in Cortez that morning, you never really know what will be on the menu at Blue Marlin. Of course, you do know it will be authentically fresh, expertly prepared and should result in some of the tastiest seafood you’ll find anywhere. Who knows? You might even be turned on to a different kind of fish than the one you typically order.
Pleasant surprises come in the form of dessert, too. The other night we ended our evening with a glass of the delightfully well-balanced Argentinian dessert wine Santa Julia Tardio Late Harvest Torrontés ($10) paired with a slice of a Key lime pie given a guava makeover ($12). The tropical tweaking worked brilliantly, making me rethink what exactly should be the essential ingredients in Florida’s official state pie.
Blue Marlin is at 121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. For more information and to make a reservation, which are highly recommended, call 941-896-9737 or visit bluemarlinami.com.