SAFETY HARBOR — For some snowbirds and Floridians who hail from up north, Saturday’s Safety Harbor Seafood Festival at the city’s marina may have been missing a couple things.
Whole clam bellies, Maine lobster, steamers — steamed clams — were among the dishes named by G.O. Deraney, a New Port Richey resident who is originally from New England.
He also mentioned clam chowder, but then again, “that’s cold-weather food,” he said.
In fact, the biggest difference between eating seafood here versus the coastal northeast in early March is the conspicuous absence of snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
“We wouldn’t have alligator there,” Deraney added.
With clear blue skies over Tampa Bay and temperatures hovering just under 70 degrees, Safety Harbor’s marina was bustling Saturday afternoon.
It was a welcome transformation from Friday night’s event, with winds blowing 50-degree gusts off the water.
Families sat on the grass and on docks, eating Maryland crab cakes, coconut shrimp and big grouper fillets covered in crispy batter, all atop a bed of fries. The vendors that stretched from the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and the waterfront offered a multicultural smorgasbord of sea fare.
There were giant plates of yellow rice littered with shrimp and clams, Caribbean specialties such as conch fritters, Mahi tacos and crab wontons alongside piles of clam strips and popcorn shrimp.
One vendor across the street from the line of seafood stands beckoned people with free samples of beef jerky but appeared to get few takers.
Some of the offerings had to be shipped in, such as Maryland-based Laughing Crab Catering’s “award-winning” crab cakes.
Others, such as the fish tacos and shrimp salad rolls offered at Nantucket Bucket, came right from the Gulf of Mexico.
“We get it from the Sponge Docks. We get it from Clearwater,” said head cook Ed Brewer, who launched a downtown restaurant around the time of last year’s festival. “For the most part, it’s all local.”
Saturday’s free festival kicked off a series of spring events in Safety Harbor to be held over the next month, including the Bloom N Art Chalk Fest from March 21 to 23 and the Safety Harbor Singer Songwriter Festival, a ticketed music festival with craft beer and food trucks put on by the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center from April 4 to 6.