Sometimes the night calls for an impeccably slow-roasted Mahi filet basted in a delicately balanced array of exotic spices—the kind of entrée that pairs well with a glass of wine and a tailored suit or fine evening gown—which fortunate diners in the Sarasota area can find at any number of upscale eateries. But sometimes it begs for flip-flops and shorts and something a little more casual but just as tasty—something a little more deep-fried, calling out for an ice-cold beer to go with it. Fritters and hush puppies—they may not be the main course, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Lobster Fritters Bridge Street Bistro

The secret to a quality lobster fritter, according to Keith Daum, the recently retired chef and partner over at Bridge Street Bistro, is pretty simple: a lot of lobster. “It’s foolproof,” he says, and Daum should know, coming from lobster territory up north where he served sometimes more than 50 helpings of lobster fritters a night at a Martha’s Vineyard restaurant. The key is to let the ingredients speak for themselves and not let one overpower the other. Before frying, lobster is mixed in equal parts with a simple and thin tempura batter that will not glom up and dominate the lobster it’s supposed to complement. “I like to see them come out feathery and odd-shaped,” says Daum, “as opposed to a big ball of dough.” Confident in the result, Daum serves his lobster fritters with a simple lobster butter.   

Bridge Street Bistro, 111 Gulf Dr. S, Bradenton Beach, 941-782-1122.

Conch Fritters Casey Key Fish House

With popularity to rival the garlic shrimp or house-made smoked fish dip, the conch fritters at Casey Key Fish House are a regular sensation. Using fresh conch typically brought in from the Bahamas, the chefs at Casey Key cook up a seasoned fritter batter of flour, milk, onion, egg, bell peppers, garlic, lime juice and salt and pepper. “Sometimes we’ll even put in a couple drops of Tabasco sauce,” says owner Jim von Hubertz. “It gives it that extra flavor.” Mixing it all together, fritters are scooped out with something like a melon baller before being deep-fried to a golden brown exterior with a juicy interior. “Like any clam or shellfish,” says von Hubertz, “if you cook it wrong, it can get rubbery.” It may seem simple from afar, but it’s all about the timing.

Casey Key Fish House, 801 Blackburn Point Rd., Osprey, 941-966-1901.

Hush Puppies Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar

Served in a charming metal basket looking like something straight from the deep fryer and accompanied by a sumptuous and syrupy honey-based sauce, the hush puppies at Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar truly live up to their name—in that once they reach the table, everyone shuts their mouths and starts eating. Straddling the line between sweet and savory, the chefs at Phillippi Creek walk that tightrope like pros, giving the palate hints of each but never tipping to one side completely. With a hard crust effectively protecting the warm and moist corn-based center, it’s the hush puppy in all its glory as the repository of edible opposites.

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar, 5353 South Tamiami Trl., Sarasota, 941-925-4444.