APOLLO BEACH -
U.S. 41 in Apollo Beach isn't exactly restaurant central. If you scout the popular South County road for eateries, you won't find a wide selection. There isn't even a sign directing traffic down Apollo Beach Blvd. to what may be the town's best-kept secret.
Circles Waterfront Dining isn't the kind of place that needs attention. It's a little secluded, in a quiet, residential area. It feels a little excusive, a pricy neighborhood hangout, a place where patrons dock their boats at the marina. Newcomers are welcome, but most first-timers find the restaurant after a recommendation from a friend.
In fact, the owner doesn't believe advertising is necessary. A recent visit proved he's right. The place was packed - on a Wednesday night.
Once we found the restaurant and nabbed one of the last parking spots, we had a little trouble figuring out how to get in the place.
One door led to the bar, and a path led to a tiki bar. We quickly found the main dining room but settled on outdoor seating. The weather was nice and the waterfront table was the perfect way to soak up the relaxing ambiance.
We started with Buffalo Shrimp. The lightly battered jumbo shrimp were coated in buffalo sauce and served with bleu cheese dressing. The menu said "spicy" but even the sensitive palates among our group enjoyed the shrimp. There are 17 appetizers to choose from, including crab cakes, grouper bites and onion straws.
For entrees, we went with the Nut Crusted Grouper, which was rolled in mixed nuts and topped with Thai chili beurre blanc. It was served with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. The fish was fall-apart tender, kept together by the nuts.
The spice was the perfect amount of hot, and the rice had a creamy sauce that offset the spice.
We also tried the filet mignon, with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. The tender cut of meat was grilled to perfection. The vegetables were fresh off the grill and went great with the creamy mashed potatoes. Other entrees include crab-stuffed grouper, seafood bouillabaisse, Black Cherry Duck and Chicken Marsala. There are a few vegetarian options, too.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a children's menu. Options included kid favorites, such as pasta with marinara sauce, a cheeseburger and chicken fingers. Prices were reasonable, ranging from $3.50 to $6.95.
For dessert, we tried the Key lime pie, and the preschooler had chocolate ice cream. The raspberry sauce drizzled on the ice cream was a great way to make the dessert a little more special.
The service was good. Our server was attentive and knowledgeable of the menu.
Don't confuse this restaurant with the well-known Circles in South Tampa. The two are not related. The owner of the South Tampa location helped the Apollo Beach restaurant owner get started 11 years ago, and that's why the names are similar.
Manager Michael Takacs said Circles strives to be everything the neighborhood needs. The inside bar offers a place to watch televised sports and hang out with friends, while the main dining room is nice for a quaint dinner. The tiki bar features live music on weekends.
Circles Waterfront Dining
BOTTOM LINE: Quality steaks and seafood in a relaxed, waterfront setting
WHERE: 1212 Apollo Beach Blvd. Apollo Beach
HOURS: lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner: 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
CREDIT CARDS: All major
CHILDREN'S MENU: Yes
ALCOHOL: Full bar and wine list
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
PRICE: Entrees range from $16.95 to $28.95
CALL: (813) 641-3275