The famous 18th- and 19th-century French gourmand Brillat-Savarin once wrote that he observed a diner consume 32 dozen oysters before he went on to eat a full dinner. A bit over the top? Probably. However, on a recent evening, when a server at The Château Anna Maria set down one of the restaurant’s extravagant seafood towers on my table, such gluttony didn’t seem so off the wall.
A multi-tiered display, the tower (it goes for market price, and was recently $135) is an elegant structure, with a metal foundation and ice for the masonry, all supporting a feast from the sea that includes poached Maine lobster, king and snow crab, shrimp and tuna. There are also raw oysters, although the tower is only home to six, not nearly enough to please Brillat-Savarin’s dining companion.
It’s difficult to imagine a better start to a special occasion meal with people you like. Clink oyster shells like you would with Champagne glasses and down the bivalves’ sweet and saline meat and liquor, before tearing into the crab, lobster and shrimp. The flavors are perfect—just the clean, pure aroma of icy seawater on a cold, clear day. (The tuna, sprinkled with sesame seeds and quickly seared, is fine, but gets lost in the shuffle.) As a rule, great seafood should be presented as simply as possible. The seafood tower shows why.
The Château opened in late 2020 inside the Waterline Villas & Marina property in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Owned by Buddy Foy Jr., and his wife, Jennifer, it’s an adaptation of a similar restaurant named The Château on the Lake that they started in a small town in upstate New York. The New York restaurant was featured on the Food Network show Summer Rush, which documented the extended Foy family’s efforts to manage the region’s intense seasonal tourist surge.
The idea of a château, a gilded country house, may seem at odds with life on Anna Maria, where a cheeseburger from Duffy’s Tavern in your bathing suit qualifies as fine dining, but the design makes it work. Chandeliers brighten the restaurant’s two dining rooms, which straddle the Waterline lobby, and fancy accents give the space a refined air. But it isn’t so fancy that you’ll feel embarrassed slurping on a crab claw.
Beyond the seafood tower, the restaurant specializes in meat, pasta and fish. A “chef’s cut” steak (market price, recently $59) is made with a New York strip rubbed with South African spices and grilled until it bears a crackling exterior, while the inside comes right to the temperature you like. A bowl of fettuccine made with house-made duck confit ($48), meanwhile, is too rich. The meat, cooked slowly in rendered fat, is intensely flavorful, and the pasta is served al dente, but the final package could use something bright or acidic to lighten the bowl.
The menu changes over time, but you’ll likely also find good fish entrées with species like black grouper and red snapper, plus ravioli and meats like pork and chicken. If the seafood tower doesn’t wear you out, order the grilled clams appetizer ($16). The clams come in a bath of creamy roasted red pepper broth, with nuggets of crispy pancetta and grilled corn.
The flavors on the cocktail menu aren’t as wild or imaginative as you might get at other craft bars, like the nearby Doctor’s Office, but the drinks are sturdy and satisfying. A smoked maple Old Fashioned ($17) tastes like fall in a tumbler, while “The Château” ($14) is more like summer vacation, with cucumber-infused vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lime juice and soda water. Like the seafood tower, they’re a great way to start a meal, any meal.