By Deborah Bostock-Kelley

Chef Doug Bebell can’t wait for life to return to normal at Mystic Fish. During this unprecedented time, this beloved restaurant is doing everything possible during the pandemic to make dining not only the extraordinary experience you’ve come to expect but an extremely safe one. From following CDC guidelines for indoor seating capacity and guest spacing to deep sanitization between guests’ visits to servers and guests in masks, every precaution for customer and staff is being employed. 

For guests still hesitant to enjoy a meal inside the restaurant, socially-distanced outdoor seating is available, as well as convenient curbside Take Away. Guests can call in their orders, pay over the phone, and the meal is placed in the back seat or back of the car, with no contact required.

Though a few items are currently missing from the menu, by October, Chef Doug hopes to have resumed a full menu and to have redone their wine list. 

“We hope to have the regular menu back into full swing in October,” he said. “Right now, we have summer specials and curbside takeaway specials available only on Monday through Wednesday.”

These decadent take out specials include a Korean Boneless Short Rib braised in brown sugar, soy, garlic, sesame, red pepper flakes, scallions and served with rice and vegetable;  Chicken “ de Chevre,” a marinated grilled chicken breast topped with a French goat cheese, dried tomato, fresh basil finished with lemon butter and served with rice and vegetable; Sauteed Pork Chop “ Milanese,” a prime prairie fresh pork loin chop pounded, pan-fried with a Parmigiano-Reggiano panko crust, and served with baby arugula salad and lemon, or Shrimp and Chicken “NOLA” Pasta, Cajun seared shrimp and grilled chicken over linguine with an alfredo sauce and roasted red bell peppers, and served with a vegetable.

If its namesake is more your style, the take out special menu includes a Baked Cod “Mediterranean,” a succulent, flaky cod in a saffron – vegetable broth with rice and a vegetable.

Opened in 2001, despite its luxurious surroundings, Mystic Fish is not stuffy. It has been gifted with 5-star reviews not only about the food, the impeccable service, but for the friendly, relaxed, fun, and want-to-hang-out atmosphere.

Everything you see upon opening the heavy ornate wooden doors makes you think dining in such luxurious surroundings is going to cost a fortune. 

The décor features 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, bar and Italian fossil lined booths, and teak wood tables draped in white linen tablecloths.

But you’d be wrong.

Despite the extravagant description, when owner and executive chef, Doug Bebell and his partners opened Mystic Fish in 2001, he partnered with Fishbone, a Gulfport artist with the end goal to design a relaxing restaurant for the gathering of family and friends, a romantic date night, or a soothing night-cap. 

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 reasonable price. In 2001, nothing like his vision for serving an affordable high-end product existed in North Pinellas, and today, nineteen years later, he still is the leader in delicious, innovative meals.

“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.”

When you finally take the opportunity to discover the hidden gem in a strip shopping center on Tampa Road, be prepared for not just a delicious meal and a diverse menu that caters to every taste preference and age – from millennial to senior citizen – but an experience you won’t soon forget.

“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,” said Chef Doug. “I would have never have imagined this is where we’d be in 2020. It’s crazy. We’re waiting for people to find their comfort zone. Eventually, they will back come out, so we will do whatever is needed.” 

For a menu, directions, and more information on Mystic Fish, go to www.mystic-fish.com. Mystic Fish is located at 3253 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor.  Hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday -4-8 pm and 4-9 pm Friday and Saturday. Takeout and Curbside Take Away is available from 4-8 pm. Seating is at a limited capacity, and reservations are recommended. Make your reservations and place your takeout orders by phone as early as 2:00 pm by calling 727-771-1800.