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The Gulf Coast is my paradise. Even while my feet were nestled in the warm Hawaiian sands of Maui, I found myself daydreaming of my beloved dune-covered wonderland. People aren’t drawn to our beaches for the great surf, which many of us know is nonexistent until a tropical disturbance threatens. They don’t come for the luxurious accommodations or world-class shopping. Instead, travelers are drawn to the natural beauty of our great coast—that, and the food. Now, I could wax poetic on reasons why this stretch of coastline can rival the best the world has to offer, but for purposes of brevity and in an effort to stay on subject we will stop at the eatables—more specifically my favorite haunt, Rusty Bellies.
Rusty Bellies is in a small town just outside Tampa, called Tarpon Springs. It’s located on one of the Gulf’s glorious bayous. Tarpon Springs is known for its historic sponge docks. Up and down the waterside street of Dodecanese (it’s also known for its Greek influence) you will find little shops with sponges overflowing in wire baskets and hanging around doors and windows like garland. At the end of this street you will come upon the crown jewel of this little coastal town, Rusty Bellies.
Once you arrive, grab a cold brew or a sweet iced tea and prepare for hush puppies served piping hot in brown paper bags. They are so delicious that you might just have to ask for more, although only the first round is on the house. Next, order a bucket (yes, a bucket) of Peel & Eat Gulf Shrimp cooked in a divine combination of lemon, olive oil, and spices. I have nearly burned my fingerprints off by hastily diving into the steaming hot crustaceans, and on more than one occasion at that. For the main course I stick with my favorite plate at Rusty Bellies—the Johnny O blackened grouper. My sides of choice? A southern girl’s favorites: cheese grits and cole slaw. Me oh my, my mouth is watering! For dessert either hang around for key lime pie or walk down to Hellas Bakery for some of the most extraordinary Greek confections you will ever taste—unless your mama is Greek of course.
One more thing, if wondering just how fresh the seafood is at Rusty Bellies, ask your waiter and I am sure he or she will be able to point you toward the owning family’s boats out back, bringing in the latest catch.
DeSantis vows more than $640 million to combat flooding, sea-level rise
TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - On Wednesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed bills establishing immediate and multi-year plans to tackle flooding and sea-level rise around the state.
DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1954 at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill in Tarpon Springs. The bill established the Resilient Florida Grant Program to fund local resiliency projects throughout Florida. The grant program allows the state to partner with local government to protect coastal communities’ infrastructure and residents.
"We are a very flood-prone and storm-prone state and we wanted to take action to help protect our folks," DeSantis explained.
The grant program will be administered by the Department of Environmental Protection, which will produce a resiliency work program with $100 million worth of projects annually. ꃞSantis says input from local and regional stakeholders will be important in understanding the needs of coastal communities including a priority list for the program.
The legislation also creates an academic partnership through the newly established Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation at the University of South Florida. DeSantis says the new hub incorporates some of the brightest scientific minds in flood mitigation. He added that it could make Florida a national leader in research analysis and integration in terms of integrating that with public policy.
The money to pay for the grant and the Flood Hub will come from the newly created Resilient Florida Trust. DeSantis says money deposited in the trust fund will be used as a funding source for the Resilient Florida Grant Program, flooding and coastal resilience and regional resilience. It will also cover the costs to operate the grant program including planning and development. The trust will also pay for administrative and operational costs for the Florida Flood hub for Applied Research and Innovation.
DeSantis says $500 million will be used to seed the Florida Resilient Trust Fund, which is on top of $116 million in DocStamp distributions that are being redirected to the trust fund. Plus, Senate Bill 2512 also directs another $116 million to Florida’s Water Sustainability and Accountability Trust Fund supporting the wastewater grant program.
"We’re really putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to protecting the state of Florida and particularly our coastal communities from the risk of flooding and storms," the governor insisted.
Last week, DeSantis made two visits to the Bay Area. In St. Pete, he signed the anti-vaccine passport bill into law. While there, he also signed an executive order suspending all city and county governments’ COVID-19 orders.
Rusty Bellies - Recipes
Poki Bowl, Ceviche and crabcrakes all excellent Portions very large and for the price a bargain Poki bowl $10 ceviche $11 cheap for what you get
Grouper and mahi mahi very fresh and cooked perfectly
You can eat inside or outside
349 - 353 of 3,463 reviews
Jordan our server was just amazing. Oh, the food was great as always. We're there at least once a week. We come from Dunedin so on the weekend we go to the yep app to be put on the waitlist and by the time we drive there our table's ready. It is always a pleasant visit and we look forward to our next visit.
Over the past 15 years have gone to eat at Rusty Bellies but not eaten here for a couple of years and am very disappointed to the quality of food and the attitude of staff
Being sat on an outside table not overlooking the water as requested an inside outside table overlooking the bar
When you are served by a member of staff who did not really want to be there
Having members of staff chatting to friends and colleagues in the bar with their backsides right next to you
The fish was excellent but the rest including warm beer was a total let down
This place used to buzz great staff great conversation great food was it just a bad night I will leave that open to judgement but for tourists yes it's a must do for a local I am not sure now
Brian thank you for letting us know that you had a disappointing experience. We strive to give a perfect experience to all of our guests each and every day, especially to our local guests and neighbors. I would very much like to speak to you about your experience so we can rectify any problems we may have within our team. I am sorry we were not able to accommodate your request for a waterfront table but I am more concerned that your interactions with our team was poor. We hire and train the very best hospitality professionals in the area and work hard to provide them with an excellent place to work so they want to provide our guests with the very best experience. Please reach out to me at the restaurant at your convenience. I would very much like to hear about your time at Rusty Bellies and I hope we can earn a future visit to give you the dining experience you expected.
How do you make a frozen mango margarita?
This is personally my favorite way to enjoy a margarita but I didn’t always have a blender, so these are still a fun luxury for me.
The recipe below is for one margarita. The basic idea is 1 cup of ice and 1/2 cup of frozen mango per margarita. You can use fresh mangoes also, but I find frozen mango makes for a really creamy drink. And since we’re not using a sweetened juice in this version adding some agave adds a nice sweetness overall.
What even is crab bisque? It's an old-school creamy soup that's perfect for a special occasion. It's also easy as hell. Here's everything you need to know.
Where do I find seafood stock?
While you can make your own, it's not a fun task. We much prefer to pick some instead. It should be at your local fish market. We usually buy ours at Whole Foods.
Do I need to use seafood stock?
Nope. Fish stock is definitely preferable (it tastes best with the crab), but in a pinch, you can use vegetable broth.
Why is there flour?
After sautéing the veggies, you'll want to stir in some flour. It'll help thicken the soup to make it smooth and creamy.
Do I need an immersion blender?
No. But it's one of our favorite kitchen tools because you can blend soups directly in the pot. If you don't have one, a regular blender will work too. Just puree the soup in batches.
Does the crab get blended?
NO. That just sounds wrong, right?! It gets stirred right before serving.
Can I make the crab ahead of time?
You can make the base of the soup up to 3 days ahead. But hold off on adding the crab until you're planning on serving it.
Pour the vodka and lime juice into a copper mug, stainless steel mug, or collins glass filled with ice cubes.
Top off with the ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge. Serve and enjoy.
- It's hard to go wrong with your choice of vodka in this drink. Many budget-friendly brands make a Moscow mule as good as any of the premium vodkas. Pour your favorites and see which you enjoy best. is preferred in any cocktail, and it does make a big difference in this recipe, adding a nice sour kick to the flavor. For ease, squeeze the juice from half a lime or two lime wedges (to taste) directly into the glass.
Does Ginger Beer Contain Alcohol?
Contrary to the name, ginger beer is nonalcoholic, though the original British version did include alcohol. The majority of modern ginger beer is a soft drink and a spicier version of ginger ale that's typically made with real ginger. Good ginger beers can be drunk straight and make an excellent cocktail mixer.
Can You Make a Moscow Mule With Ginger Ale?
Many people, including bartenders, have been making the Moscow mule with ginger ale or citrus soda for years. If you want to keep it authentic, then this cocktail requires ginger beer. Technically, if you pour ginger ale, you're making a vodka buck. It's a vodka press with lemon-lime and club sodas, and club soda alone makes it a vodka soda.
What Is the Best Ginger Beer for a Moscow Mule?
There are many impressive ginger beers to choose from today. The options are increasing all the time, thanks in large part to this particular drink. Each brand varies in the ginger's intensity as well as the sweetness. Some have a softer spice reminiscent of ginger ale, while others are very strong and unforgettable. Two ginger beers that were developed specifically for cocktails are Q Ginger Beer and Fever-Tree Ginger Beer. Both make an excellent mule and fall right in the middle of the extremes.
How Strong Is the Moscow Mule?
The average Moscow mule is fairly tame, though it will vary with more or less ginger beer. If you pour an 80-proof vodka with 4 ounces of ginger beer, the alcohol content is just 11 percent ABV (22 proof). In general, it's equivalent to the average glass of wine.
20 of Tampa Bay's favorite food, drink and culinary experiences
W elcome to our table, which we've set with local seafood, ethnic traditions and contemporary tastes, among them jazzy hot sauces and chocolates almost too pretty to eat. • The food that makes Tampa Bay different from Green Bay or San Francisco Bay has as much to do with geography and climate as it does with immigration and a seasonal population that comes our way when the snow flies elsewhere. Cuban, Spanish, Greek and Southern accents figure prominently, as does seafood, which swims and scuttles abundantly in our waters. We eat fresh citrus and plump strawberries when the rest of the country shivers. We are awash in ingenuity, which has sent our bloomin' appetizers and legendary wings to people all over the world. • Today we celebrate 20 Tampa Bay food favorites, not the least of which is the tough-on-the-outside, sweet-on-the-inside stone crab. Ours is by no means an exhaustive list but it's a good place to start. • Dig in on Pages 4E and 5E.
Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
Twenty of our favorite food,
drink and culinary experiences
Forget the argument about whose Cuban came first, just make sure you take a big bite out of our most iconic sandwich, born in Ybor City and pressed in every corner of the Tampa Bay area. There are plenty of places to get good ones: the Columbia restaurants (columbia restaurant.com for locations), Floridian Cuban Sandwiches (4424 W Kennedy Blvd. finestcubansandwich.com) or Brocato's Sandwich Shop (5021 E Columbus Drive brocatossandwich.com), both in Tampa. That funky little convenience store across from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is famous for its Cubans, too. No matter where you order one, it has got to be pressed and it must be made with baguette-style Cuban bread layered with roast pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and a slice of dill pickle. We don't care how they make them in Miami — that's the Tampa Bay way.
Drinks with a View
Head to St. Pete Beach for the six-rum Voodoo Punch at the legendary Hurricane restaurant (807 Gulf Way thehurricane.com). Sit on the rooftop bar and watch the sun set. You're not likely to find a better place to toast the end of the day. By the way, the rums are all Cruzan (citrus, pineapple, mango, banana and coconut, with a floater of dark aged rum), plus cranberry, pineapple and orange juices. It comes in a 32-ounce bucket. Designate a driver. In nearby Gulfport, possibly the funkiest town in the bay area, O'Maddy's (5405 Shore Blvd. S omaddys.com) sounds Irish but celebrates the tropics with its full menu of umbrella drinks. Try the Gulfport Guava Breeze (guava rum, pineapple, orange and cranberry juices and a splash of lime) on the outside deck. For something more tony, head to Armani's on the 14th floor of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay hotel in Tampa (2900 Bayport Drive grandhyatttampabay.com) just off the Courtney Campbell Parkway. Sunset here is romantic and dramatic.
The deep-fried onion bloom has many copycats now but it's a local original, having sprung from the test kitchens of Outback Steakhouse, a chain born and nurtured in Tampa. There are lots of devotees of this sinful appetizer. Many locations: Go to outback.com to find one closest to you. The wings at Hooters, the chain founded in Clearwater, are also an iconic Tampa Bay food. People love them even if they do feel sorry for the Hooters girls in their shiny panty hose and horribly short shorts.
On the cover: Florida's favorite hard-shelled crustacean is best eaten as the locals do: chilled with a mustard dipping sauce. But it isn't unheard of to dip the sweet claw meat — chilled or warm — in melted butter. Stone crabs, harvested Oct. 15 to May 15, meet us on the table and live to swim another day. During the season, anglers haul them up, yank off one claw and throw them back to grow another. In season. Frenchy's Cafe (41 Baymont St., Clearwater Beach frenchysonline.com), along with its other beach restaurants, hosts a season kickoff fest every October. The Frenchy's franchises are among the best places to crack some shells.
Citrus made Florida famous and we love our juice so much that we aren't averse to taking a drive to buy it fresh. Citrus Place (7200 U.S. 19, Palmetto) in Manatee County is our favorite spot for fresh-squeezed juice made from an ever-changing melange of navel, temple and Valencia oranges mixed with honeybell and honey tangerines. It's not citrus season yet so the squeezing and sipping happen in late fall and winter, the best time of the year in the Sunshine State to savor the weather and the juice.
Saturday Morning Market
Tampa Bay's premier outdoor market springs up in a parking lot on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays from early October through late May. Outdoor markets have multiplied all over the bay area in recent years but the Saturday Morning Market, which is 10 this year, has grown into quite the place for people-watching and noshing. Of course, there is produce, fresh fish and luscious baked goods, but we like to pull up a chair, listen to live music and eat crepes or empanadas or even slurp homemade soup from the vendors, of which there are 130 each week. It is the place to be on Saturday in St. Petersburg. The market is at 100 First St. S next to Progress Energy Park.
William Dean Chocolates
Belleair Bluffs chocolatier Bill Brown is making a splash with his exquisite hand-painted and stenciled artisanal chocolates. His truffles made it to the big screen this year with a cameo in The Hunger Games. Since opening in 2007, he has won nearly every award there is to win in the chocolate world, recently receiving his third consecutive "grand master" award at the 2012 Best Chocolatiers and Confectioners of America Awards. Accolades are nice, but give us a pear and ginger caramel and an improbably delicious truffle of port with fig and plum, please. William Dean (2790 West Bay Drive williamdeanchocolates.com) is named for Brown's father and grandfather.
With nearly 7,000 labels and 500,000 bottles, Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa (1208 S Howard Ave. bernssteakhouse.com) boasts one of the largest wine cellars in the world. To toast a special occasion, and there's a lot of that here, diners can choose from 200 sparkling wines. Take the kitchen tour as part of your meal and you'll get a glimpse of some of the wine. It's an impressive sight and interesting when you know there is more at a nearby warehouse-cellar. Meal- ending indulgences in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room can be accompanied by one (or two) of 300 Madeiras, ports and sherries.
On the Pinellas County side of the bay, the grouper sandwich dominates, most residents being loyal to their favorite grouper guru. The best ones let the snowy white fish shine, but you'll find them dripping with melted cheese and other sloppy condiments, too. One of our favorites is the battered and fried grouper sandwich at Dockside Dave's Grill in Madeira Beach (14701 Gulf Blvd. davesdockside.com). It is simply dressed with tomato, lettuce, white onion and piled on a soft roll. Ah, Tampa Bay on a bun.
The sushi dedicated to our little bit of Florida is fried grouper, mayonnaise and seaweed rolled in rice and sesame seeds. Not traditional, but tasty just the same. You'll find it at most restaurants that serve sushi.
Plant City fields burst with the red gems in February and through the spring. The Hillsborough County town boasts a festival that pays tribute to the sweet fruit, attracting thousands of people and some pretty good country acts, too. (Next year's is Feb. 28 through March 10.) We like to line up at Parkesdale Farms (3702 U.S. 92 W parkesdale.com) for the mile-high strawberry shortcake when the winter berries are in season. The fruit is fresh but the whipped cream might just as well be the main event.
Michele Northrup of Tampa is one saucy sister. Her clever Intensity Academy hot sauces have won fans across the country. The local entrepreneur has done well nationally in competitions, including the annual Fiery Foods Competition. Among her tongue-tingling mixes are Sweet Chai Chili and Carrot Karma Hot Sauce. She also makes a mighty fine ketchup called Chai Chipotle Chup. They can be purchased online and at several bay area stores (Duckweed Urban Market, 305 E Polk St. in downtown Tampa, and Garden of Eat'n, 3401 S West Shore Blvd., also in Tampa, are two.) For a list of locations and products, go to intensityacademy.com.
Okay, Tony's Seafood Restaurant in Cedar Key in Levy County is not officially in the Tampa Bay area but when you have something this good, this close, you just have to jump in the car. For three consecutive years, Tony's chowder, full of Cedar Key clams, took first prize in the Knorr Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., beating out its New England challengers. Tony's chowder is silky, chunky and worth the drive to the restaurant at 597 Second St. The soup is also available online (tonyschowder.com).
Get your Zorba on in Tarpon Springs at any number of Greek restaurants along the Sponge Docks. We're partial to the avgolemono soup and youvetsi, the lamb and orzo dish, at Mykonos (628 Dodecanese Blvd.). You can get saganaki — the flaming cheese appetizer — everywhere. Order it just so you can hear the staff and knowing patrons shout a celebratory "Opa!" as the flames go high. For sweets, and there are many, we head to Hellas (785 Dodecanese Blvd. hellas-restaurant.com) for an assortment of baked treats, among them kourambiethes, the powdered sugar shortbread, and koulourakia, butter cookies with sesame seeds. Baklava, too.
You'll be flapping your wings when you take a bite of this delectable Southern treat at Wright's Gourmet House in Tampa (1200 S Dale Mabry Highway wrightsgourmet.com). The banana layer cake is laced with pineapple and nuts, then slathered with cream cheese frosting. Eat it all year but order the seasonal Chocolate Peppermint cake for the holidays. Lots of delicious sandwiches, too, but we love the classic grilled cheese sandwich, which takes 15 minutes to prepare.
The craft beer scene has exploded in Tampa Bay in the last few years, with some brewers opening their own tasting joints and making their small-batch beer available in bars, too. Among the newest are Seventh Sun Brewing Co. in Dunedin (1012 Broadway St. seventhsunbrewing.com), specializing in Belgian-style beers and IPAs, and Barley Mow Brewing Co. in Largo (518 West Bay Drive barleymowbrewingco.com), which pours its flagship black IPA, the Unkindness. Another new beermaker is Three Palms Brewery, which offers tastings at its Tampa brewery (1509 Hobbs St.) on select dates. (Go to threeplamsbrewing.com to find out.) Three Palms debuted its first beer, the Queen of Wheat, Aug. 3, and will release a hefty red beer, Ruby Pogo, soon. The brewery plans to open its own tasting room by the end of the year. Rapp Brewing Co. in Seminole (10930 Endeavor Way rappbrewing.com) has a tasting room where tasters can sample ales and lagers, plus sour beers and high-gravity beers.
Need more proof that beer is taking over the Tampa Bay area? Westchase-born World of Beer continues to open outlets across the nation, with about 25 serving cold ones now and more opening soon.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in Pasadena (1350 S Pasadena Ave. tedpetersfish.com) knows what to do with the fish caught in local waters, especially those that aren't usually brought to the table grilled with fruity salsas. That would be kingfish, mullet and amberjack. Ted Peters smokes them and you can buy them that way or in a delicious fish spread. The smoked fish spread with saltines is good, the salmon is excellent, the mullet is an intensely fishy, acquired taste. Ted Peters also produces fabled cheeseburgers and German potato salad.
This tiny citrus fruit is an odd duck for sure. But it's our odd duck, grown in groves in Pasco County. You can pop the thin-skinned fruit in your mouth, eating the whole thing, including the slightly bitter seeds, or you can use them in baking. An annual January festival in Dade City (kumquatfestival.org) celebrates the kumquat with cookies, smoothies, ice cream, marmalade and even kumquat salsa. Oh, and there's a crowning for the young kumquat king and queen.
It hardly sounds like a Florida thing since it's candy and the humidity that plagues us for a large part of the year makes production difficult for candymakers here. But Lisa and Jim Schalk have mastered the craft with their Toffee to Go in South Tampa (3251 W Bay to Bay Blvd. toffeetogo.com). They do just a few things, and they do them well: chocolate macadamia nut toffee, milk chocolate almond toffee and dark chocolate pecan toffee, all from family recipes. You won't taste any fresher toffee around.
Seafood is a favorite food in Tampa Bay. It's best when you can get it fresh, but when we don't catch it ourselves, we head to Pelican Point Seafood in Tarpon Springs (933 Dodecanese Blvd.). The market backs onto the Anclote River, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico, and the boats pull up there to deliver the catch. On a recent day, there was an impressive lineup of fresh whole fish, including mangrove snapper, and there's always plenty of shellfish. The head-on gulf shrimp do double duty, the shrimp themselves delicious when roasted or grilled, and the shells and heads the building blocks for seafood stock. Helpful, knowledgeable staff. Bring a cooler and they'll ice down your purchases. If you need a snack, stop into Rusty Bellies restaurant next door for a cup of stone crab bisque.
Times staff writers Janet K. Keeler, Laura Reiley, Elizabeth Behrman and Jay Cridlin contributed to this report, which also includes information from Times files.
How to make Hush Puppies from scratch
This Hush Puppies recipe is easy to make and only require a handful of basic ingredients.
- First preheat your oil.
- All the ingredients can then be added to a mixing bowl together and whisked together until a thick batter forms.
- Small balls of batter are dropped into the oil and fried for a few minutes until golden brown.
- The balls of fried batter are then drained onto paper towels and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper (although this is optional).
- Honey is combined with chili sauce to create a sweet and spicy sauce and drizzled over the hush puppies. We love the combination of sweet, spicy and savory all mixed into one, but they are also delicious on their own.
Here are some tools we love for this recipe:
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1/2 cup triple sec
- 1/3 cup frozen lemon juice concentrate
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 jar, 10 oz, maraschino cherries (do not drain the cherry juice)
- 1 bottle, 750mL, dry red wine (try Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot)
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 lime, sliced
- 1 orange, sliced
TIP: Make it your own: Change up the fruits you add and pick your favorite red wine (readers recommend Tres Picos brand garnacha wine). Some of my favorite ways to add a fresh fruit splash to Sangria is sliced apples and strawberries.
Rusty Bellies - Recipes
We stopped here for drinks before dinner, and were quite pleased. The bartenders obviously took pride in mixing good quality drinks, and their recipes were good. With this setting, they don't have to try this hard. The fact that they did, says a lot about the quality of the staff.
The only minor criticism is that the place might be kept a bit cleaner, but being on the water, I know that is almost impossible. Just know that it is going to look a bit "dive-y"
Thanks for the review John. We will work even harder to keep up our little end of the sponge docks.
619 - 623 of 3,463 reviews
The ambience has the feel of an old time fish house., Our server, Heather couldn't have been more pleasant and helpful. Although she was new, she knew the menu like a pro and made our evening out very enjoyable.
Thanks Steve! It was our pleasure to serve you. We are very proud of Heather and all of our service team. We hope to see you again soon.
We went later on a Sunday evening and were still told to expect a 45-60 minute wait. This was fine (and it didn’t take that long) because the weather was beautiful and they had live music, comfy chairs and an extensive drink menu in their patio area. The coconut shrimp appetizer is like a dessert in itself but the fresh blueberry cake dessert. a perfect blending of flavors that wasn’t overly sweet but was over the top delish! E. Sea Rider main entree of grilled shrimp, scallops and fish choice was fresh, hot and tasty. Reasonably priced menu all around. Good selection and price for the kid’s menu as well. Waitress was very prompt, friendly and accurate and casual atmosphere was just what we were looking for. Worth a visit and the wait!
Thank you for joining us for a Sunday afternoon. We look forward to seeing you again!