During this owner's lockout in the National Hockey League I've got my hockey fix in a few ways including playing, but I miss the feeling of going to a hockey friendly bar or restaurant before a Tampa Bay Lightning game.
First, know this about me. I am not Canadian. I grew up in Maryland and embrace polite people with a sense of humor, but I've also played ice hockey since I was 13 and to me, there's no better sport even if I can only muck it up in a beer league today. But my love for the game goes beyond that, reading plently of hockey history and have enjoyed a couple trips to Vancouver and Toronto.
You know who is Canadian? Eat Here and Beach Bistro proprietor Sean Murphy. Well, he's been an American citizen for 11 years.
By no means are Eat Here or Beach Bistro hockey bars in the sub-tropics. (I've seen one, and it's in Germain Arena.)
What Murphy has been able to do at Eat Here and Beach Bistro is to provide an experience for nice people who want a nice meal in three communities with the best beaches in the world. Having some hockey and Canadian themed items from a native of Nova Scotia is just a bonus.
That welcoming, ordinary Joe culture is even infused into the staff at Eat Here and Beach Bistro. Stefan Waiss, the Eat Here Sarasota manager, said Murphy's direction is to make Eat Here a casual atmosphere with great food, and the staff has to be equally as pleasant.
When Waiss looked through applications and résumés for the he looked for the right skill set, and sometimes that meant having to mentor someone who wants to improve their cooking or bar tending, but must have the right attitude.
"You can't teach someone how to be nice," Waiss said. Waiss said he even needed to be taught to dress casual and ditch the tie when he first came on board. That took all but three weeks for the tropical button-down shirts to appear, he joked.
So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Murphy was not only born in Canada, but he's stereotypically a nice, police and jovial Irish Canadian guy.
Murphy is trying to attract his Canadian brethren to his new Eat Here that will open in January at 240 Avenida Madera, Siesta Key just by virtue of location, telling our dining group how many Canadians frequent the key.
It's not like he has ignored the Canadian customer for 27 years. He does have a dessert at Beach Bistro called The Hat Trick that features three flavors of creme brulee and poutine frites at Eat Here. Look, Murphy could have mailed it in and just serve Timbits and butter tarts and just opened up a Tim Horton's on Siesta Key, but this guy has craft and even refines his fun. No wonder Murphy's Beach Bistro is in Florida Trend's Golden Spoon Hall of Fame and Eat Here is a Best New Restaurant in Florida.
Perhaps it was subliminal for Murphy to create a restaurant brand, Eat Here, with a simple red and white motif that's abbreviated EH, becoming like a code word for his Canadian customers.
Now, Murphy even created a cocktail preparing for the new location called the Beached Canuck with tequila, St. Germaine, champagne, lemon and orange juice, orange bitters plus a sugar and salt rim and a surprise.
"We wanted to make it a Canuck thing and sweeten it," Murphy said. "You know how tequila can be really, really harsh? We take the harsh edge off—there's some maple syrup in there."
Eat Here is an underrated happy hour spot, especially in Sarasota, with bar access straight from the parking garage and a rooftop area with live music and plenty of small and shared plates to help pace a night of celebrating. You'll get your value for sure. The chefs there are trained by the Beach Bistro chefs, and recently Murphy had the chefs switch off to learn the other restaurant's menu.
One of the key snacks is the homemade Cracker Jack that has a bit of a kick.
Americans and all nationalities already love his two other Eat Here locations in downtown Sarasota and on Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach plus of course, Beach Bistro. Murphy makes sure that you feel his Canadian pride at his restaurants.
Beach Bistro restaurant is perhaps the most hockey friendly restaurant without a TV that you'll find in Florida, which is great considering there's not exactly a lot of puck on the tube down here.
Walk into Beach Bistro's men's room and there are two paintings of Canadian hockey hero Paul Henderson scoring the decisive goal in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, signed by Henderson himself and one with a personal note to Murphy.
What does this mean to you who aren't much for hockey or Canadian history? The Summit Series was essentially the Miracle On Ice for Canada but with professional players from Canada playing this super group that ended with Henderson's goal in Game 8 with just 34 seconds left. Henderson is kind of a big deal in the Great White North. So knowing the magnitude of what that game meant, it's a great metaphor of watching a scene where an entire country is relieved while you relieve yourself. It's genius, really.
If that's not enough, Hall of Famer Tony Esposito has a personalized autographed message hanging right beside the Summit Series print.
I appreciate Murphy's humor, even with his names for his dishes as we've seen above. He's great at crafting stories for his restaurant and remembering the influence from his Uncle George, so naturally, Murphy is working to publish a cookbook.
Well, there's one item not on the menu that came to my plate and it's deserving of a name.
Murphy served us the sea bass wrapped in prosciutto garnished with a saffron-infused beurre blanc making the presenation like a filet mignon of the sea.
It was bold, powerful, yet had a touch of finesse and character that was definitely a game changer at the dinner table where several diners raved about that legendary performance.
That's why this dish needs to be called the Cam Neely. Neely, who played for the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins, defined what a power forward was—someone who could put up a fight while scoring 50 goals in 44 games. His career was shortened due to injuries, but the legend lives on.
Neely's place in pop culture beyond the ice rink was solidified in a moving starring a fellow Canadian Jim Carrey, 1994's Dumb & Dumber. Neely, who played a truck driver, was hit by a salt shaker from Harry, played by Jeff Daniels, at a diner.
Neely gets up wondering who hit him and confronts Harry. Then comes the line from one of the other truck drivers.
Neely is forever associated with being Sea Bass, and he kicks ass, and so does the sea bass dish at Beach Bistro. Now, Murphy is quite the food writer himself, evident by his creative menu descriptions and title, so I'm sure he has more refined options like Sea Bass ... Ass Kicked Care of Neely.
Maybe even his Nova Scotian smoked salmon from Tangier Sound can be the Crosby, but at that point, I'm getting a little carried away.
By chance, two folks in our party were from Ontario and raved about the food and one of the Canucks struck up a conversation with me and my guest about watching Corner Gas on Netflix as we dived into the Roberto's Farm Salad that featured a fruit sorbet plus a thymed vinagrette and a quail egg on the side topped with domestic caviar.
Murphy, with his stories for every dish, described Roberto as "an interesting man" who is actually a member of his staff. Sorry, Roberto Luongo—didn't mean to pump your tires.
Yup, Beach Bistro is that kind of place—refined food and top-notch service without having to feel like your conversations have to be elitist, as you're just footsteps from the beach and autographed photos and other documents are hung on the ceiling and walls. Look, you will spend quite a bit of money for a meal ($49 for Bistro Bouillabaisse for example) and not only does the food justify the price, but so does the coziness of the restaurant.
The food at Beach Bistro has a pound of fun in the presentation with dishes like Lobstercargots that are cooked in a miniatures crock with herbed spinach and seasoned garlic butter or a foie gras White-Castle-style slider.
Here's something really cool—try the Foie Gras, "Life, Liberty…" that comes from Hudson Valley and served on a brioche bread pudding, garnished with vanilla bean, Sauternes reduction, nutmeg anglaise and aged balsamic.
It's meant as a appetizer but has a very dessert quality to it served with the bread pudding and a dessert wine. Wouldn't you know, the dessert wine made a reprising role with dessert (of course) but so did the bread pudding with the lamb chops—I'm sorry, they're called The World's Best Lamb Chops—and some of the garnish with the Florida Key Lime Pie.
All of this is going on as the waiter is attentive, frequently replacing silverware, refilling drinks in a snap and making sure the ladies were served first, even placing rose pedals by their hands.
For the main course I opted for the U.S.A. Prime Beef Tenderloin prepared Charlemagne style accompanied with mashed potatoes and asparagus served like french fries in a glass, adding some fun to a fancy dish. The beef just melted in your mouth. At this point, I felt like I was a pro player who was enjoying his per diem dining at an award-winning restaurant.
At some point, my hockey fantasy food night had to end, and at this point, all I can do is pray that the NHL lockout ends in due time.
Hey, with the hospitable atmosphere and great service, maybe it's time for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Players Association boss Donald Fehr to break bread at the Beach Bistro to end this lockout.
But if it doesn't, I'll always have Eat Here and Beach Bistro to provide me with my fix of hat tricks, Cam Neely and Canucks.
Beached Canuck Recipe
Glass rimmed with salt and brown sugar
Stir with ice
2 ounce tequila
1/2 ounce St. Germaine
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp orange bitters
Add 1 ounce champagne
Garnish with orange peel and Canuck flag