No street signs or even a plaque on a building direct you to Eliza Ann’s Coastal Kitchen. But if you ask a Holmes Beach local, you’ll likely be told it’s “right behind the Wells Fargo Bank.” That’s where the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club is located, and you’ll find Eliza Ann’s just off the lobby.
The restaurant is meant to serve out-of-town guests, but residents of this beach community have made Eliza Ann’s their own, too, as well as people like us who drove from Sarasota to see what all the buzz was about. Turns out that executive chef James Baselici worked at the Longboat Key Club Resort, Darwin’s on 4th and Louies Modern before heading for Holmes Beach to run the kitchen at Eliza Ann’s. Chef Baselici is particularly proud of his wood-burning grill and cast-iron cookware.
Kitted out like a contemporary bistro with bare wood tables (dish-towel napkins) and a few banquettes, Eliza Ann’s offers guests a view of the busy marina, swimming pool, a pretty, protected cove and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The big, open room features a stylish bar at one end and the open kitchen at the other. The place feels spacious, with a lot of glass, a polished concrete floor, and a ceiling so high so no one feels crowded. These features create a lot of hard surface, and the noise level can rapidly escalate when vacationers take over the bar for happy hour, which for tourists can occur any time of the day or night. Just go with the flow or ask for a table nearer to the kitchen section. The decor is spare and pleasant, relaxed and playful, with “bubble” interior windows to separate spaces. But don’t even think about wearing a beach cover-up and sandy flip-flops or looking like you spent the day on a shrimp boat. Eliza Ann’s is a fun place, but it’s also a nice place. Wine glasses are serious, and the white plateware is substantial and modern in design.
The menu skews Southern with a raw bar and plenty of New Orleans specialties, such as a thick andouille sausage gumbo with a spicy kick ($10). A lot of menu items are breaded or batter-dipped and fried, which is fine by me because that’s what Southern cooks do best. Buttermilk biscuits ($4), accompanied by traditional pimento cheese spread, can be ordered with anything. (The biscuit is probably a Mississippi recipe, because while NOLA can lay claim to extraordinary cuisine, any Southerner knows you have to get out of Louisiana and into Mississippi to get a high-quality biscuit.)
The menu has plenty of small plates as well as salads, sandwiches (New Orleans po’ boys aplenty) and tempting entrées, including daily specials, but the starters or small plates are so enticing it’s easy to order three or four and make a meal out of them. Hush puppies stuffed with blue crab are little flavor bombs served with comeback sauce that you can just keep eating until they’re gone. Fried catfish fingers at $13 are a good bet, and the clams casino at $10 even better (I had two orders). Oysters Rockefeller are a house specialty and an excellent choice. Lacquered barbecued shrimp look good and come with Worcestershire butter at $15.
In the entrée category, try local grouper prepared with pistachio and green olives for something different, buttermilk fried chicken thighs ($24), grilled sea scallops with lentil hash ($34) and a rich combo of petit filet mignon with a crawfish cake. It’s served with a country ham bordelaise, peas and melted leeks for $36. You can eat light at Eliza Ann’s, but you can also indulge hearty.
A good selection of wines by the glass or bottle—a lot from California and none extravagantly priced—is available. And, of course, the full bar means cocktails, beers and after-dinner drinks too.
Desserts are all house-made and some are downright fun, like the s’mores. The components are brought to the table family style and everybody makes their own for $15. Most desserts hover around $7, including a three-layer hummingbird cake (a classic right out of Southern Living), a Dutch Baby apple cake with caramel sauce and ice cream, gooey lemon cake (tangy-sweet curd in the middle) and banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
In the lobby near Eliza Ann’s and lining hallways of the Waterline are oil paintings by Cory Wright (priced $1,500-$2,500) that deserve to be appreciated. I suspect a lot of vacationers bring one back as a beautiful remembrance of their Suncoast trip.
Eliza Ann’s Coastal Kitchen | 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach | (941) 238-6264 | Full bar; reservations; handicapped accessible