Clearwater Beach restaurant brings local fish straight to your table.
Story by Rod Charles, Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
CLEARWATER BEACH, FLORIDA — Sitting on the white-hot sand of Clearwater Beach is a bright yellow restaurant named Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill. The person to thank for this legendary local hangout is Canadian entrepreneur and restauranteur Michael Preston, also known as Frenchy.
“Frenchy’s mother was French Canadian and she spoke to him in French,” says Alan Ebbert, vice president and general manager of the restaurant. Ebbert shared the story of Preston, the founder of Frenchy’s who moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan from Quebec City with his family when he was young.
“Michael grew up in a bilingual household, and his mother always spoke to him in French. So when his new friends heard him speaking French with his mom they started calling him Frenchy and the nickname stuck.”
After falling in love with Clearwater following a vacation with some friends, Preston chose to make the city his home in 1974. By 1981, after working his way in the restaurant industry and learning the ropes, Frenchy opened the Original Café (41 Baymont St) with a mission to serve the freshest and best quality seafood possible.
‘Fish from the Gulf’ a Big Draw for Florida Visitors
Well, the way I see it any restaurant anywhere in the world with a Canadian connection deserves my support, respect and appetite. There are many delightful items on this menu including the Hot Pressed Cuban ($7.95) and Buffalo Shrimp ($8.95), but I’m here for the Original Grouper Sandwich ($11.50), a culinary treat that has made this restaurant chain — and region — famous.
“Grouper is the fish from the gulf. In the ’50s and ’60s it was probably snapper but grouper became the predominant fish,” says Ebbert. “It’s kind of like a bass in a way, nice white meat. We have a bunch of fishermen who fish for it and they bring it into our seafood company. From there they filet it and ship it out to the restaurants and we cut it into dinners and sandwiches. We cook it, you eat it, and that’s our version of farm to table, except it’s sea to sandwich.”
It doesn’t take long for me to realize I’m in the perfect spot for a seafood lunch on one of the most famous beaches on the planet. Travel + Leisure recently named St. Petersburg/Clearwater as one of its Top Five U.S. Summer Trip Ideas, and USA Today readers ranked four area beaches (Clearwater Beach, Pass-A-Grille, Fort De Soto Park and Caladesi Island State Park) in its Top 10 in Florida, according to visitstpeteclearwater.com.
Perfect Spot for a Seafood Lunch
My choices are grilled, cajun or fried grouper. I order mine fried and I’m not disappointed. The sandwich is delightful, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside — cooked perfectly and topped with lettuce, tomato, provolone cheese and homemade sauce. It’s the perfect culinary treat for a beach getaway — flavourful, filling, a little sloppy and tough to grip but not heavy on the stomach. You’ll have no problem jumping back into the ocean after this meal.
“Our biggest dish is the grouper sandwich. Grouper grilled, also the grouper cajun — my favourite. We do jerk grouper, fried grouper, the original way,” says Ebbert, adding there is live music at the establishment seven days a week. Other popular items include: Sea Crab Soup (Bowl $6.95, Cup $4.95) and Garlic Crab Fries (Half Order $5.95, Full Order $9.95).
Ebbert explained that during football season, the live music gives way to Monday Night Football.
“I usually have a big 50-foot screen with speakers. It’s like going to the game, only you’re at the beach,” says Ebbert.
Monday Night Football on a 50-foot screen with speakers on Clearwater Beach? Looks like I have another good reason to return to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill.
MORE ABOUT FRENCHY’S ROCKAWAY GRILL
Address: 7 Rockaway St, Clearwater, United States
OTHER FRENCY’S LOCATIONS
Frenchy’s Original Cafe 1-727-446-3607
Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe 1-727-461-6295
Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe 1-727-441-9991
Frenchy’s Outpost Bar & Grill 1-727-286-6139
Menu and Prices
Super Grouper Sandwich $13.50
Original Grouper Sandwich $11.50
Grilled Grouper Sandwich $10.95
Cajun Grouper Sandwich $11.50
Buffalo Grouper Sandwich and Grouper Reuben $11.95 (supersized) $13.95