NAPLES — It's that time of year again, when foodies everywhere polish our double-jaw crab crackers and make quick work of shellfish anywhere we can. There is nothing like a shellfish tower — toppling over ice with massive quantities of lemon, cocktail sauce, the almighty mignonette, or whatever other delicious sauce strikes a fancy.
A chilled shellfish treat is just too good to pass up. What I found at the newly renovated Tierney's Tavern & Claw Bar is a lot more than just seafood, including some unlikely landlubber favorites. The bar is part of the Bay House, one of old Florida's staple seafood waterfront haunts. A recent makeover preserved the best of the North Naples restaurant and added some new features including new tables and chairs, lighting and other elements. The Bay House is still a very nice place to dine, but one great thing about Tierney's Tavern & Claw Bar is its casual vibe. How nice it is to be able to grab some fresh shellfish with a cold beer or crisp Sauvignon Blanc in your Bermuda shorts and flip flops.
I fell instantly in love with the Tierney's Tavern menu. For starters, the presence of several Lowcountry dishes both surprised and delighted me. At the sight of two very special words — pimento cheese — I was thrilled to find that the aged white cheddar pimento cheese comes to table in a little mason jar for just $4. I'd go back to Tierney's just for that any time — being able to grab a haute gourmet redneck bite like pimento cheese and a cocktail for $10 is my kind of appetizer destination.
The pimento cheese wasn't the only thing that called me fondly back to my roots in the Carolinas at Tierney's Tavern & Claw Bar. Southern-inspired cuisine has always been and will always be my favorite, and it's a rarity here in Naples. The cooking style at Tierney's reflects many beloved Lowcountry dishes, with a hearty dose of seafood served in varying forms.
It was only natural to begin the meal with a shellfish platter that had a few more surprises — like house pickles and multiple sauces for dipping. The shrimp and lobster is served with preserved lemon mignonette cocktail sauce, while the chilled whole New England lobster is served with drawn butter or remolaude. Scrumptious!
The kettle dishes are also worth the trip — a few favorites include the mussels at just $12 and oysters Rockefeller stew at $15. The Beaufort stew, another throwback to memories of the Coastal Carolinas is a bit pricier at $22, but is prepared with shrimp, crab, sausage, corn and potatoes. It's heartier than the rest and with crispy, crusty bread for dipping is a great entrée for the one truly chilly day of the year when it actually feels like the seasons are changing in Southwest Florida.
The flatbreads are cooked well, crispy and large enough to share with the table, and I was excited about the fig, buttermilk blue cheese, caramelized onion and country ham flatbread. However it went overboard with the blue cheese and the fig, which drowned out the other flavors entirely. If you go, try the pimento cheese and pulled pork or goat cheese, spinach and artichoke or ask the kitchen to take it easy on the blue cheese and fig.
My favorite item on the menu has to be the "claw bar for one" at $20. When I'm craving shellfish, two things factor into getting it: 1.) How much available credit I have on my American Express (a couple of claws are never enough) and 2.) how far am I willing to go to get it. This dish is the only affordable shellfish presentation I've found lately that contains enough to satisfy on a budget. The claw bar for one comes with three cold water oysters, one snap-and-eat Jonah crab claw, two Gulf shrimp, marinated blue claw crab claws, house pickles and two sauces. With crackers or bread, it really is filling and you don't feel like you're being fleeced, i.e. when you spend $30 for two claws of something.
For non-shellfish foodies, there are equally as many tasty dishes, and my favorites are all appetizers. The BBQ shrimp and grits is just $14 and plenty large enough for an entrée if your table is sharing a couple of appetizers and the Andouille sausage is tender and flavorful. A couple of notches up on the price chain is the smoked kielbasa at $18, but this flavorful meat is paired with sweet potato spaetzle, Creole mustard and pickled cabbage. Lastly, the sea BLT is divine, divine. It's $18 but trust me, this lobster, shrimp, crab, corn, bacon and fried green tomatoes, another nod to the Lowcountry cuisine you'd easily find in places like Charleston, is worth every penny.
Then there is the atmosphere. I enjoy eating at an upscale bar because I love music, and the atmosphere is typically livelier. That is the case at Tierney's Tavern & Claw Bar. I'm telling my age here, but dining on shellfish, enjoying an impossibly crisp, tart New Zealand Sauvignon blanc and hearing the live band playing the Looking Glass shag hit "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" from 1972 is to recall the days when the most important decision I had to make was which outfit to wear on the boardwalk.
There are a lot of things that make coastal living so fabulous, and the abundance of nearby shellfish purveyors and restaurants is at the top of my list. The easy nature and affordable luxury of shellfish is what makes Tierney's Tavern & Claw Bar a new favorite.
IF YOU GO
Tierney’s Tavern & Claw Bar
■ Where: The Bay House, 799 Walkerbilt Road, off U.S. 41 North on Cocohatchee River, North Naples
■ Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (Bay House open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. for dinner)
■ Reservations: Recommended for dinner
■ Information: 239-591-3837; www.bayhousenaples.com/tierneys-tavern-claw-bar.php