Anna Maria Oyster Bar
At this time of year, when the air is hot and thick, that we look for someplace cool and dark. As dinnertime approaches, nothing can seem more pleasant than a comfy booth at Anna Maria Oyster Bar. From the outside, it looks like a rather standard local restaurant, typical of the plentiful good eateries in the Cortez area. But open the doors and it is all beach, with driftwood paneling and dolphin stamped lighting fixtures. Life preservers, brightly painted fish, model sailboats and crab traps share the focus here with an unexpected visual centerpiece: a roll of paper towels (decorated with a red bobber) suspended from a white metal clothes hanger over each big comfy booth.
You can also sit at the fully stocked bamboo tiki bar and watch the muted televisions or claim a stool at the counter and enjoy looking at your meal being cooked in the squeaky clean open kitchen. But no one is coming here for the decor. They are coming for seafood that is piled high on trays marching past each table.
A lively place, with a young and jovial staff, the food is hearty, plentiful with something for everyone. You will not go home hungry with dishes like quesadillas filled with seafood, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses; blackened tilapia smothered in Creole lobster sauce or all-you-can-eat fish and chips. The oysters are briny and sparkling, although July isn’t spelled with an "r," and the mignonette sauce sharp and bracing. This is also the perfect spot for young families, as no one will notice children acting like children. The children’s menu items are charged an unusual way: by the child’s height. Only a penny for every inch.
High in protein, low in fat and rich in vitamins and minerals, seafood fits the bill for many health-conscious diners. It is the food that signifies youth, beauty and health and it is hard to think of fish as anything other than wholesome. Red meat consumption is down and seafood demand is spiraling off the charts. When I order a filet mignon, I know I am succumbing to nothing more than indulgence. When I order seafood, I feel like the benefactor of good things, no matter how much butter and cream it is cooked in.
A simple Mediterranean inspired Basa Roma, has become a signature dish at Anna Maria Oyster Bar. If you see it on the special’s menu, don’t miss it. Basa is in the catfish family and native to Vietnam. But why not substitute fresh local catfish from Lake Okeechobee?
Lake Okeechobee is the second largest lake entirely within the continental United States. It is 700 square miles large, in the midst of the historic Everglades, and is full of bass, bream, black crappie and catfish. Catfish – the name stuck because of feelers on their jaws that look like cats’ whiskers – live in shallow salt or fresh water and hang out near the bottom. It is this bottom - feeding preference that have given catfish a bad rap as a down-home "Cracker" kind of fish typically associated with cooter (turtle), frogs’ legs and gator. However, unlike most farmed fish, which are kept in waters that can be polluted or stagnant, Lake Okeechobee farmers fence off areas of the lake for raising catfish to send to the markets and restaurants. The waters are clean and as close to a natural habitat as possible and the fish are delicious. Anna Maria Oyster Bar’s recipe with tomatoes, basil and capers is intensely flavored, swiftly - put - together and it is a perfect foil for the fish’s rich, sweet flesh.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar
6696 Cortez Road W.
Sun.-Thurs.11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Basa Roma for one
5 - 7 oz firm white fish filet
1 tsp fresh chopped basil
1 tsp oil
1 lemon wedge
1 tbsp capers
1 oz white wine
2 oz diced tomatoes
One-quarter cup flour
Dust basa, catfish or fish of your choice in flour Sauté in oil about 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove fish and set aside. Add capers, tomatoes and basil in pan and heat. Deglaze with wine and squeeze lemon in pan. Place topping over finished fish and serve on a plate with lemon garnish.