For the region, a new seafood restaurant and raw bar is a welcome addition to Gulfport's already-lush cadre of eateries. For Fish Bar and Grille owner Mike Burke, though, it's a homecoming. The Boca Ciega grad (class of '79) has returned to the city he haunted in his teens — and he's also returned to the restaurant industry.
Burke, a retired AT&T executive, worked in the industry before taking an office job. He says he's glad to be back in a restaurant, and, according to his staff, who asked not to be named, he's doing it right.
"He's not cutting corners at all," one employee says.
True to what Burke told CL when he bought the former Peg's Cantina at 3038 Beach Blvd. S., he and his wife, Cathy, who hails from the Pacific Rim, are committed to local seafood. The clams come from Tampa Bay's Joe Island, and nowhere on this menu will you find salmon or cod. Burke says he won't supplement Florida grouper with Mexican grouper — when it's gone, it's gone.
"I buy what I can get from the gulf, and when we're out, we're out," he says. "I want to be the freshest fish house on the west coast of Florida. That's my goal."
He calls the style of food "Flor-Asian." The menu includes steamed clams, raw oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp, as well as more Polynesian-influenced seafood.
"We haven't served one steak yet," Burke says, pride in his voice.
Inside and out, Gulfport's newest dining spot feels right at home in the tiny seaside town. Burke says the character of the building factored heavily into his decision to buy the property. He wanted to create "an old Key West fish house."
Former Peg's patrons will notice drastic change in the outdoor dining areas. Gone are the tall grasses and foliage that obscured the outdoor dining area; in its place, Burke has created a tropical garden, complete with an old boat, crab traps and boat fenders.
Inside, the theme has gone from "craft beer" to "ocean." Local, marine-inspired art from artists like Kevin Letzkus adorn the walls. Look up, and a hammerhead shark gazes down at you.
But, you know, in a friendly way.