One of the most wonderful things about living on or visiting Anna Maria Island is the fact that it’s possible to enjoy meals outdoors almost year-round. Sometimes I forget this, when it comes to eating on our own deck. I assume it’s either too hot or too cold. Then I walk by one of the popular restaurants and notice the outdoor deck is full. When given a choice, restaurant-goers seem to choose to sit outdoors, if at all possible. They must be hardier than I am at home. Sometimes that’s because the restaurant has made a few special arrangements to keep the customers comfortable.
For example, in winter, the breeze can be a major factor in making outdoor dining too cold, and so it’s obviously a good idea for a restaurant to erect some sort of barrier to keep the dining area from being cool. This could be in the form of plantings, or even a wall or plastic curtain. Another way to keep winter deck diners warm is with large heaters, which seem to be more and more prevalent at fine restaurants. The other day I enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the deck at the Sand Bar, and the heater really warmed the otherwise crisp air. It feels sort of decadent, but since we keep our house unheated as many days as possible, I suppose we can occasionally indulge in such a luxury when we go out.
Summer is a more challenging time to eat outdoors on the island. It’s not only the heat and humidity, but the bugs, which can be uncomfortable. We actually do not have as many bugs as I would have thought, but it doesn’t take many “no-see-ums” to interfere with the enjoyment of a nice meal. This is when the breeze can help local dining establishments. A place like Rotten Ralph’s, with tables on a deck right over the water, is unlikely to have many bugs. With this in mind, we have occasionally eaten a meal on our dock, instead of on the deck that’s part of the house, and I think it has made a difference in terms of insect bites. The temperature has also been cooler because of the breeze over the water. The restaurants that are right on Anna Maria’s Gulf Beach, such as the Sand Bar, the Beach House, the Gulf Front Café and Café on the Beach, are all more tolerable in summer because of the sea breeze.
People who live on Anna Maria Island have more occasions than most to pack up some food to go. One of the most obvious and appealing reasons to pack a picnic is to take it to the beach. Whether it’s to eat at one of the picnic tables at island beach parks, or to enjoy on a blanket under an umbrella, there is nothing more pleasant that eating at the beach.
Several times we have spontaneously thrown our supper into a large tote bag, and driven to Bay Front Park to eat at a table. Last year, this was where we enjoyed Christmas dinner, followed by a long, leisurely walk around the top of the island. Once, on New Year’s Day, we took a small brunch to the beach and enjoyed it on a park bench. Part way into the meal, an elderly man wandered over and asked if he could join us. The three of us sat side-by-side on the bench staring at the Gulf. We offered him a cookie, which he accepted.
Another island activity that often calls for packing a picnic is boating. Whether it’s sandwiches, or supper, there’s nothing as pleasant as eating a nice meal on the water, especially if the weather is pleasant. And if the weather isn’t pleasant, good food might be even more of a welcomed addition to the day. One day last summer we were sailing in Tampa Bay and the afternoon storms were worse than expected. We lowered the anchor and heaved to. As we sat below wincing at the lightning strikes, I was glad that I could offer some good food to help pass the time and distract us. We enjoyed Cuban and turkey sandwiches, watermelon, mango, grapes and brownies. If it had turned out to be our very last meal, at least it would have been a good one.
One of the most enchanting spots on Anna Maria Island is the old City Pier at the end of Pine Street in Anna Maria. The enchantment comes from the simplicity of the shoreline and the structure. It has not been “gussied up” as a tourist attraction, and it retains the authenticity of a place enjoyed by real people from all walks of life. There is a certain feeling of camaraderie among all those who stroll out the pier, whether to fish or watch others fish.
The City Pier Restaurant at the end of the pier is casual dining in atmosphere, but not in its standards. Friendly locals serve very good food. Most of the dishes are seafood, not surprisingly. The large glass windows give open views of Tampa Bay, over to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Immediately outside the window people are fishing, just feet away from the restaurant patrons. The feeling of being on the water is enhanced by the frequent, though minor, vibrations of the entire pier due to wave action.
According to Carolyne Norwood, in her book Anna Maria Island: The Early Days, 1893 – 1940, the City Pier was built in 1911. By this time the small town of Anna Maria already had 60 homes and several stores. The purpose of the pier was to accommodate steamers bringing wealthy tourists from Tampa and St. Petersburg, so it was built 776 feet out into the bay. Continue reading “Anna Maria Island City Pier” »