About a month after Whitney's opened in January 2020, I drove up to the northern tip of Longboat Key to check it out. Photos of the space, a stylishly rehabbed and updated service station, had caught my eye, and the food, billed as elevated roadside diner fare with some luxe flourishes, sounded right up my alley. I grabbed a seat at the restaurant's casual bar, ordered a burger and a cup of coffee, and lingered for longer than I was supposed to on a workday.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and it took my wife and me more than a year to go back. What we found was a Whitney's that had changed since it opened. On my first visit, customers waited in line, ordered from a menu hung behind the counter and then grabbed a seat. Today, servers will whisk you to a table, bring menus directly to you and take your order like any other full-service restaurant.
It's not just the service that's changed, says Dean Defebo, the restaurant's general manager. "The menu has definitely evolved," he says.
While the focus early on was on brunch and other casual items, these days you can find an indulgent chilled seafood platter ($55), charred oysters ($18) and steak frites ($25), in addition to a grilled chicken sandwich ($15), a fish sandwich featuring catches from Cortez ($23) and fish tacos ($16), which remains the restaurant's top seller.
The burger ($14) is still excellent. Made with ground short rib, brisket and chuck meat, it features a medium-thick patty draped with cheese and other toppings and packed inside a soft bun. The fish sandwich, blackened, is another winner—a generous hunk of grouper (on the day we went), with an actual hit of spice—rare with blackened items around here. As for brunch, it's still served, but it's relegated to the weekends.
Plan on grabbing some drinks. The "Club Tropicana" ($13) uses a bourbon washed in coconut fat, plus rum, vanilla and bitters. It's tropical, but not sweet, and an excellent way to wind down on a Friday evening. The "Sarah Soda" ($13) is a fizzy concoction made with vodka and fruit juices. It's lighter and more refreshing than some of the others. You'll also find some good draft beers, frosé and plenty of wine and nonalcoholic options.
It helps that Whitney's is also just a beautiful place to be. "A lot of thought went into the details, into the whole look and feel," says Defebo. That effort has paid off. Lush landscaping makes you feel like you're on vacation, and the breezy air flow, made possible by tall garage doors left open most of the time, keeps you cool even on a sunny day.
The restaurant is located a short walk from the beach, and an outdoor shower will allow you to rinse off any sand clinging to your ankles and calves. When the weather's right, and you're with someone you love (or maybe just like), it's a place that's very hard to leave.
Whitney's is located at 6690 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, and is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more info, call (941) 383-4606 or visit the restaurant's website.