Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa, Fla.
Because of its location on the Gulf Coast, the Tampa Bay area is home to some of the best seafood available. If it swims, you can probably find it on a menu in Tampa, and it’s hard to do seafood better than Skipper’s Smokehouse, which doubles as a small concert site as well as a fine restaurant in the northern part of the city.
What makes Skipper’s worth the trip up I-275 is the wide variety of seafood available and the ways they serve it. One of its more famous meals is a blackened grouper reuben, served with the fish instead of the traditional corned beef. Other items you’re not likely to find elsewhere include conch fritters, crawfish tail, beer-boiled shrimp and alligator ribs. Along with that, Skipper’s boasts a fine selection of more common sea creatures, like catfish, crab and clams. They call it “Floribbean”, and it really works.
Those were merely the things I didn’t order, which tells you how diverse this menu truly is, and it starts with its soups. Skipper’s boasts three soups on the menu in the form of clam chowder, conch chowder and black bean gator chili, which I simply had to try. I had never had alligator before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect beyond the tired cliche that it tastes like chicken.
Alligator doesn’t taste like chicken. What it does taste like is a really good cut of pork, meaty, flavorful and delicious. When mixed with the black beans and spices that create a good chili, it’s a taste with a bit of a kick that shouldn’t be missed. The exception, of course, is if you’re trying one of Skipper’s other quality soups. My wonderful lady Amy McFann was with me on this occasion and had the clam chowder, which she said was one of the best she’d ever tried. I had one small taste (one of the many great things about having her with me) and can vouch for it, it’s really, really good. The chowder is similar to a New England clam chowder, with several spices that give it a great and different taste.
So, the entree you see at the top of this page? It’s the dish of choice at Skipper’s when you’ve got more than one person in your party and care to sample a large chunk of the ocean. Skipper’s Platter includes fried shrimp, oysters, gator tail, fish dip, calamari, catfish and hush puppies, plus two sides. It is the perfect sampler platter and is great for two people to enjoy. The squid is as meaty as you’d expect, the oysters have the perfect taste and texture, the shrimp is fresh and there’s the aforementioned gator tail, which has the same wonderful taste as found in the gator chili. The fish dip is the only forgettable thing about the platter, as it’s really just a small bit of tuna dip (or at least, that’s what it tasted like), but with a tour of the ocean on your plate along with fries, rice and black beans (or a different side, that’s just what we had available), one mediocre portion is totally acceptable.
Skipper’s might be known as an outside concert place to some extent, but that’s not the reason you come here. You come to enjoy fresh and different Gulf Coast seafood at a location that’s about as close to the ocean as you can get.
Time to go: Dinner, and go on the early side unless you want to possibly pay more for a concert. Skipper’s does bring in acts nightly, although they’re not really anything special. These are local guys looking for a gig, so it’s only going to cost an extra $5 if it’s concert night. However, it can be avoided.
Wait during my visit: Substantial. This place is definitely popular, and we actually had to go to the bar area to get our meal without waiting forever, which was necessary because Amy had to watch her beloved Kentucky Wildcats drill Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament that night. Did I mention how awesome she is?
Location: Skipper’s is located at 910 Skipper Road in Tampa, Fla.
Parking: Not easy, as the lot fills up, but there is some available.
Cost: Plan on about $15. Not cheap, but not bad.
Website: Skipper’s Smokehouse
Specialty items: Seafood, gator chili