Monday, April 27, 2015

Hello, Clearwater : An Evening at Sugar Sand Beach

This past weekend we happily dog/house sat for a couple of friends. After all, they watched Cali for three weeks while we were in California! The least we could do was take care of their (big!) beloved goldendoodle Nelson for three days. But before dog duty began on Thursday, the hubs and I journeyed to Clearwater for a midweek date night that consisted of a quick calligraphy photo shoot on the beach, a low-key dinner at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, a look at some amazing sand sculptures at the annual Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, followed by a moonlit walk on the shore.

Grouper is a local favorite here in Florida and Frenchy's is known to have some of the best around. The popular eatery has several outposts in Clearwater but Rockaway Grill is the largest, and right on the beach. Even though it was a Wednesday evening, there was a 20-minute wait to get a table and while we didn't get a spot on the open-air, beachfront patio, we did get front-row seats to the night's live band. (It would have been wonderful to see the sun set over the Gulf, but perhaps it was best we weren't on the patio since, while we waited outside the restaurant for a table, a gull pooped on my arm! That's good luck, right? Fortunately, there was a beach shower right next to us. Phew.)

When eating at a restaurant for the first time, I like to try what the establishment is known for, the house specialties. Having done a little research beforehand, I knew exactly what to order at Frenchy's. The hubs and I split a half-order of the Garlic Crab Fries, since Alton Brown described the beer-battered frieswhich are tossed in garlic butter and parsley and topped with garlic aioli, Old Bay and snow crab—as "food crack." For our entrees, the hubs had the grilled Mahi Mahi Sandwich while I had to have the fried Grouper Sandwich (hold the provolone). I washed it down with the dangerously delicious Rum Runner, a frozen crimson concoction made with Virgin Island Dark and 151 rums, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy and tropical fruit juices. It was good and strong. While G and I often dine out at high-end restaurants and we tend to cook gourmet fare at home, it was fun and kind of refreshing in a strange way to eat low-brow grub like fried fish sammies.

After dinner, we headed over to Pier 60 for the main event: the Sugar Sand Festival, named for Clearwater Beach's nickname. The sand there is so white and soft and really does look and feel like sugar! But what's more impressive is what master sand sculptors can do with it. This year's festival featured a fairytale theme. As G and I walked through the 21,000-square-foot exhibit tent, we were in awe at the size and great detail of the sand sculptures, created with more than one thousand tons of sand. And, having grown up on Disney and fairytales, I truly enjoyed the enchanting subject matter. Because we visited after sundown, changing colored lights helped illuminate the sandy scenes; not always great for photo-taking, but it did add to the festival's fantastical feel.

I couldn't let us leave the beach without a quick moonlit stroll along the shore. Clearwater Beach is truly beautiful and I can see why it is such a popular place to live and vacation. 

Hopefully we can make one more trip to Clearwater before we leave to explore more of what Sugar Sand Beach has to offer.

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