By Deborah Bostock-Kelley
You’ve probably driven past Mystic Fish Seafood Grill and Bar in the strip shopping center on Tampa Road. When you finally take the opportunity to enjoy a meal there, be prepared for a feast not only for the palette but the senses.
Open the heavy ornate wooden doors and you are greeted with a dropped ceiling, 1,200 hand-laid, iridescent Mexican abalone shells border, three saltwater aquariums, horned lit sculptures made from reel-to-reel motion picture film and hand-blown wall scones from Chicago, and three-dimensional swimming cuddle fish carving on the left wall. Stained glass windows and unique light fixtures allow for softer light around the whole dining area and bar and Italian fossil lined booths, and teak wood tables draped in white linen tablecloths.
Despite the luxury description, when owner and executive chef, Doug Bebell (and his partners opened Mystic Fish in 2001, he partnered with a Gulfport artist named Fishbone to create a casual restaurant for the gathering of family and friends, a romantic date night, or a relaxing night-cap. The talented artist sketched the fish logo and began the design of the beautiful interior.
“Fishbone was like a wandering Bohemian. He drew up Mystic Fish,” he said. “In hindsight, we might have named it something different because we are about 60% local seafood and 40% other – lamb, duck, steak, bison and Buddha bowl for vegetarians – not just a seafood restaurant.”
Doug stressed that Mystic Fish was never intended to be a posh restaurant, simply a friendly casual place where high-quality food was served in beautiful surroundings at a decent price. In 2001, nothing like his vision for serving an affordable high-end product existed in North Pinellas and today, eighteen years later, he still is the leader in delicious innovative meals.
“We thought North Pinellas needed something special and this was it,” explained Doug. “There’s not else like this around here. You’d have to go to Tampa and then you’d be paying twice as much. We’re very fair priced. We don’t mark our wines or cocktails up. It’s not just about making money – we want our customers to have an experience. Take our bison, for example. It’s not about margins with us. We’ll serve a prime steak at a price everyone’s afraid to charge in Pinellas County. It’s about flavor, about giving the customer what no one will give him whether they don’t have that luxury or they don’t want to take the chance, and about giving the customer a great meal at a great price.”
Doug is proud that his restaurant is environmentally-friendly, doesn’t serve any fish that is over-fished and stays in tune with trends.
“We try to stay with our ahead of the trends. We are venturing into the meatless age and I think eventually in the next 10 years, at least 50% of the menu should be meatless because people want to eat healthier.”
The full liquor bar at Mystic Fish offers high top table service and impeccably mixed drinks, all-American craft beers and a stellar wine menu that won’t break the bank.
“We’ve beefed up the bourbons. We have Blanton’s, Woodford Reserve. We’re doing some smoked cocktails now and we’ve been bringing in Mescal Tequila, which is a smoked tequila,” he said.
Awarded a Certificate of Excellence for consistently earning excellent reviews from customers on Trip Advisor, Mystic Fish pairs a mouth-watering menu and rotating seasonal features with an extensive wine list, delicious cocktails, tasty desserts and excellent customer service that I and two guests got to experience first-hand. Each signature entree is served with salad, vegetables and a choice of potato or rice.
The three diners in our party started the meal with a small plate that looked as amazing as it tasted. Crab stuffed artichoke bottoms were complemented by baked parmesan, cream cheese, and chive. Following that delicious appetizer, we enjoyed Calamari Frites served in a metal tin with a tasty side of roasted red & banana curry pepper aioli.
As I do not eat red meat and having never tried grouper, I decided to take the wait staff’s suggestion and indulge in a special menu selection – a grouper filet in sweet Thai chili sauce, a tangy slaw, and a side of buttery potatoes and green beans and carrots. The filling meal did not disappoint.
If you are a meat lover, Mystic Fish has a wonderful choice of rib-eye steak that is distributed from Halperns, which is a leader in sustainable agricultural practices. Another diner in our party enjoyed a small plate menu item for a meal – a 4-ounce petite filet tantalizing with melted gorgonzola, lobster meat, and herb garlic butter.
The final dinner sampled the 6 ounce Maple Leaf Duck Breast with an apricot –curry sauce with sliced strawberries. It too came with a side of potatoes and vegetables. If the statement is true that you eat first with your eyes, Mystic Fish knows the secret of how to make a truly beautiful presentation that rivals the taste.
Though no room was left, we decided the Sweet Finish menu had too many temptations that we couldn’t resist. We ordered three desserts to share – rich flourless chocolate, a succulent white chocolate bread pudding, and a creamy French vanilla ice cream. They arrived at our table with a sweet oatmeal crisp atop the bread pudding and ice cream. Needless to say, our sweet tooth was satiated in the very best way.
If guests are looking for an experienced and not just a meal, whether trying the 16 ounce New Zealand Eight Bone Rack of Lamb in Dijon-Guinness demi-glace, the Poke Bowl with a spicy sesame-ginger ahi tuna paired with jasmine rice, edamame, avocado, spicy hijiki – togarashi aioli, and pumpkin seeds, the Bouillabaisse of lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and fish in saffron broth to the famous customer-favorite hogfish and everything in between, the diverse menu will appeal to every taste preference and age – from millennial to senior citizen.
“Though we are in a strip mall, once you walk in and the door shuts behind you, it’s not like you are in a strip mall anymore. People may assume we’re fancy because of the white table cloths, but we’d rather not be fancy. We’re your casual neighborhood restaurant. We pride ourselves on our service and our food. Our rating on all the sites we are on is top-notch. We know it’s all about our customers.”
For the full menu, directions, and more information on Mystic Fish go to www.3bestchefs.com. As reservations are highly recommended, diners can call 727-771-1800. Mystic Fish opens daily at 4:30 p.m. The bar and high top tables offer drink and small plate specials all night long. Happy hour is daily from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Stone crab season begins October 15 through May 15. Mystic Fish is located at 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor.