The Rod and Reel Pier is home to splashy sunsets, tangy tuna and simple, straightforward fare served in generous portions.
By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer
On one of the recently perfect Anna Maria Island nights, our ambition was simply to find a casual dinner and a sunset. No problem. Turning onto North Shore Drive we noticed a pier that was buzzing with diners, fishermen and families. We walked down the creaky wooden pier, climbed a flight of stairs and stepped onto the deck of one of the most lively-looking, bar-cum-restaurants, Rod and Reel. With a panoramic view that included not only the sunset but the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Egmont Key, a dolphin or two and lots of fresh salty air, here was a casual vibrant spot with a friendly crowd. An uncomplicated seafood restaurant with very simple promises. Keep the food straightforward, rustic and reasonably priced. Cook it to order. Serve plentiful portions. Be nice. The result is highly satisfying food, fresh and flavorful. People like this place, recommend it and don’t mind the nightly long waits for a table.
According to their menu, Rod and Reel has "traditional fare, local favorites and our famous fresh catch specials.” It also has casual prices. Only the oyster and scallop dinners were priced above $15. The choices are so tempting and so lusty that it is entirely possible to go with a small crowd and end up ordering two-thirds of the menu. We did. Among our favorites were a load of jalapeño poppers stuffed with cheddar or cream cheese, a sweet and tender dish of fried clam strips and homemade crab cakes. The fried fish n’ chips dinner is gargantuan. And that was the small portion! Peel-n-eat shrimp were a free-for-all-competition between fingers and forks. However, the all-time favorite was by far the ahi tuna special.
Ahi refers to two species, bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna. The yellowfin gains its name because the soft dorsal, anal fins and finlets are bright yellow in color. Although yellowfin tuna are smaller than bluefin tuna, they are certainly not wimps. Tipping the scales at as much as 400 pounds, yellowfin are known to put up such a good fight that the Hawaiians named them Ahi, meaning fire. The yellowfin tuna is one of the most powerful and magnificent large fish in the ocean. With its perfect symmetry, massive tail, and torpedo shape it is capable of huge speeds to capture its prey and escape becoming dinner for the mako and marlin. But not us!
Most of us do not need another seared tuna recipe but I can’t resist sharing Rod and Reel’s. When I am cooking for myself or if there are just the two of us I like to do this last-minute-flash-in-the-pan cooking of tuna. It requires just enough preparation to make me feel as if I am making a home-cooked dinner but not so much as to wear me out before I even begin eating. As it gets cooler I don’t mind giving the grill a rest and warming up the oven. I pick two 6-8 ounce steaks (Rod and Reel serves 10 ounce portions); slice off a couple pieces for my daughter, Franceska, to eat raw, dipped in soy sauce. Picked up with chopsticks, these slices help her hang around the kitchen long enough to set the table and tell me about her day at school. To cut the tuna easily, make sure you have a sharp knife and either rub it on a lightly oiled paper towel every so often or spray it with olive oil cooking spray.
This is an exceptional, although not fancy tuna dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put a half cup of sesame seeds on a small pie pan and toast for a couple minutes until the seeds are browned but not scorched. Finely chop the seeds, add salt and pepper to taste and keep the oven on. Next mix your favorite teriyaki sauce with a bit of freshly grated ginger, a splash each of balsamic vinegar and white wine and sweeten to taste with a drizzle of honey. Coat the tuna steaks with a tablespoon or two of the teriyaki sauce mixture and roll the steaks on all sides in the seeds. Now would be the time to "turn on" the tuna with a sprinkle of chili pepper, a dusting of wasabi or extra fresh ground pepper.
Start with a non-stick pan and heat to medium high, add a dash of oil if your pan isn’t Teflon or you think you need to play it safe as far as sticking goes. Carefully sear the steaks about one minute turning on each side all the while taking care not to burn the crust. The tuna will lose its rosy transparency becoming suddenly caramelized and shiny brown. Place the pan in the hot oven and cook for two or three additional minutes so the fish is rare but warm in the middle. Slice crosswise into one quarter inch slices and divide between two plates, overlapping the slices. We love eating the fleshy slices of tuna that is scarcely cooked but crunchy on the outside and soft, springy - pinkish red in the middle. Rod and Reel serves their tuna special with a choice of sides but we are happiest eating ours with a crispy salad of fresh greens.
Rod and Reel
875 North Shore Drive
Anna Maria Island