Legend has it that during a high-stakes poker game, Johnny Leverock threw down the winning hand and won a 7-acre Tampa Bay oyster bed. The bed held a surplus of oysters—15,000 bushels a year—leading Johnny to open up his own oyster bar in 1948, which served the seafood-centric recipes his wife Bertha had perfected. Years later, new owners dubbed the eatery Leverock’s Restaurant in homage to the man, keeping the same clam-chowder recipe served on the original menu in 1948. Other standouts include sesame-seed-crusted mahi-mahi, north Atlantic snow crab, and housemade bread pudding. In line with the maritime theme, oversize fish hang from the ceiling in the dining room, and floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views of Palm Island and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Visani Restaurant & The Comedy Zone set the stage for comedians from throughout the United States to fill the rows with uproarious laughter every Saturday night. Guests can munch on an appetizer platter of mini meatballs, fried mozzarella, and bruschetta before a main course of hard-boiled comedy is served at 10 p.m., which leaves ample time to warm up guffaws throughout the day. Upcoming acts include Tony Tone, an impressionist who has appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam and Cedric the Entertainer's DVD The Starting Line Up 1, and James Sibley, an observational comedian who has appeared on My Name Is Earl. Unlike an elitist ATM, the 200-seat theater operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so reservations are recommended.
At Sweet Cravings, dairy denizens crown cones with scoops of Working Cow ice cream, a local company that hand-blends confections in small batches. The aroma of sizzling batter inundates the cheerful, yellow-walled shop as the staff whips up fresh waffle cones. Sweet Cravings's old-fashioned batch freezers preserve the palate-pleasing smoothness of such premium ice-cream flavors as butter pecan, carrot cake, and fudge brownie delight. Soy-based ice cream and italian ice sate the sweet-tooth cravings of the dairy-free sector, and sugar-free scoops and frozen yogurt keep waistlines trim for graceful dives through rapidly closing elevator doors.
Eating at Bimini Bar & Grill is an immersive experience. The waterfront restaurant overlooks Casey Key, and guests sitting in the restaurant's second level?The Overlook Grill?are well equipped to view it. The water serves as obvious inspiration for the restaurant's menu, which features locally-sourced, seasonal seafood. Starters of hot crab dip or New England clam chowder lead to pan-seared ahi tuna, its halves encrusted in wasabi and garlic ginger. Fish tacos champion filets of grilled fish and fresh cabbage slaw, while friend shrimp rest atop a 10" hoagie roll for a po-boy.
Downstairs, a casual, nautically-themed space called Bimini Bar pours libations. Draft beers accompany bites sourced from the full menu, available in regular and small-plate portions. The bar hosts live music several nights a week, and on other nights revelers might find karaoke, televised sports, or a paper-airplane relay.
Closer to the Vine's menu of café fare collects an assortment of light bites, sandwiches, coffee, and microbrews. Customers can scarf down a vegan panini filled with hummus and marinated portobello mushrooms ($7.95) or savor a smoked-salmon plate accompanied by cream cheese, cucumbers, and capers ($9.95). For patrons with reservations on Friday and Saturday evenings, beer-based cheddar fondue ($10) awaits dips from fresh vegetables, and semi-sweet chocolate fondue ($15) coats the bittersweet reminiscences of granny smith apples. As they sink into sofas or admire Floridian sunsets from an outdoor perch, diners can wash down solid grub with pours of wine from the diverse menu including selections from New Zealand, Chile, and Napa Valley, or opt for a microbrew, cup of coffee, or tea. In addition to offering complimentary WiFi, Closer to the Vine hosts local musicians every Friday and Saturday night and always welcomes visits from canine companions with water bowls, treats, and scratch 'n' sniff translations of the Wall Street Journal.
On any given day, you might see Big Water Fish Market's seafood specialists on the docks dotting Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf Coast, buying catches straight from the boat. They haul these bounties back to their chilled display cases, then scrawl the day's selection across the store's blackboard. Big Water's staffers concentrate on local fresh fish and shellfish, taking a special interest in grouper, snapper, and mahi-mahi. Besides these catches, they keep freezers full of imported shipments, from sushi-grade yellowfin tuna to snow crab that, ironically, has never actually seen snow. For those who don’t want to wait until they get home for a tasty seafood meal, the shop’s deli fries, grills, and blackens various fish.