A while back, we met one of my wife’s best friends for lunch at St. Johns River Steak & Seafood (https://stjrss.com/), a lovely restaurant near where she lives in Sanford. My wife and I had never been there before, but the biggest draw was being able to sit outdoors on the huge covered patio overlooking picturesque Lake Monroe on a glorious spring day.
My wife and I shared a bowl of gumbo ($9), which looks very small due to the large bowl they served it in, with just a small space in the middle. The rich, thick, spicy, tomatoey stew contained chicken, shrimp, crawfish, and andouille sausage, and I think I liked it a lot more than my wife did.
I also ordered gator bites ($15) for the three of us to share. Gator is almost a novelty food. I don’t know anyone who loves it, but when people see it on menus, especially in casual seafood restaurants in places like Louisiana and Florida, we feel obligated to order it, I gar-ron-tee. Maybe it’s an “eat them before they eat you” defense mechanism, or a way to prove our local “Florida Man” bona fides. Anyway, these were chewy and chickeny, as gator bites usually are. I think we got them grilled, but you can also get them fried or blackened.
All three of us were in the mood for grouper, which is one of the finest fish you can eat. A surprising amount of local seafood restaurants don’t offer grouper on their menus, and some others sneakily serve other, lesser fish, even when they advertise grouper. We figured we were coming to a place that would treat us grouper groupies right.
Our friend ordered a Caesar salad ($9) with grouper added on (I can’t find my receipt, but some of the other protein add-ons were $9, or it might have been whatever “market price” was that day).
My wife ordered the fried grouper sandwich ($18.50) and upgraded to a side of Sidewinder fries (an extra $2). The regular sides that come with sandwiches are house-made chips or cole slaw, but we both love Sidewinder fries. They might be some of my favorite fries ever. It came with lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions on a lightly grilled brioche bun, but since I love sandwiches and my wife doesn’t, I took her bun and vegetables to turn my own grouper (see below) into a sandwich.
And I got a blackened grouper entree ($27) with two sides: rich and creamy macaroni (really penne pasta) and cheese, and terrific onion rings. RING THE ALARM!
Sadly, all three of us thought our grouper was a little dry. Mine reminded me more of a denser fish like mahi, and was less flaky and buttery than grouper I’ve had elsewhere. But the two sides were top-notch, and I really enjoyed them.
Sanford’s food scene is really blowing up with wonderful restaurants and hip bars and breweries in the quaint downtown area. There are so many choices, it can be hard to choose. We used to always end up at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, and last summer I discovered Christo’s wonderful diner and their legendary Greek nachos. But it is nice to know about a seafood option too, moments away from that main drag on First Street, and with that gorgeous patio and lake view. I can’t decide if I would give the grouper another try when I inevitably return to St. Johns River Steak & Seafood or branch out to another favorite like soft shell crab or even jambalaya. However, I would definitely get the onion rings, mac and cheese, and Sidewinder fries again… and probably leave the gator to first-timers.