When Mike Gowan and Mike Quillen founded their first Gecko’s location in 1992, their goal was simple. “We just wanted a place for our friends to have fun,” says Gowan. The Mikes like to joke that many marriages probably started at the first Gecko’s (some may even have ended). As those marriages yielded kids, the concept became more family-friendly. Now, those kids are enjoying drinks at Gecko’s while mom and dad have a little more time and resources to enjoy the finer things. And, with Tripletail Seafood and Spirits, Gowan’s and Quillen’s original friends from ‘92 now have a more elevated concept in which to drink and be merry while still enjoying the hyper-local, Cheers-like vibe that helped the Mikes grow alongside their community.

The menu at Tripletail—appropriated from the Mikes’ prized acquisition of a Longboat Key staple, Dry Dock—offers diners fresh, Gulf-caught seafood in generous portions, and inspired cocktails made with premium spirits. Executive Chef Trae Peavey of Tripletail trained for several months at Dry Dock before bringing the menu over, all in an effort to ensure that even the appetizers strike the balance between decadent and approachable.

Bacon-wrapped scallops come topped with a drizzle of maple syrup, creating a mouthwatering trinity of briny, savory and sweet without distracting from the simple beauty of scallops seared to a golden brown on the top and bottom. A nice opening salvo of Tripletail’s Due South smoked old fashioned pairs well with the sweetness of the scallops’ maple syrup drizzle. Made with Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, honey, plum bitters and star anise smoke, the boozy cocktail gives off more of an island vibe than a traditional old fashioned made with whiskey.

The oysters Rockefeller feature gargantuan mollusks sourced from the Gulf coast of Louisiana, where the freshwater of the Mississippi River helps make these some of the biggest, most tender oysters money can buy. Peavey buries them beneath garlicky creamed spinach and bacon bits piled high enough to make you forget there’s ample oyster meat underneath. 

A citrus grouper dinner stands as the most Florida-centric dish. Gulf-caught and seemingly cornfed, the massive cut of grouper comes lightly breaded and sauteed. The dish would be good enough without any extra sauces or seasoning (on account of the black pepper and lemon zest in the breading), but the addition of a small ramekin of a beurre blanc sauce made with pineapple and orange juices introduces a sweetness and tang not unlike a piña colada mixer. A side of rice seasoned with cilantro, onion and turmeric adds a bit more tropical flair to the dish. Tripletail’s signature paloma spritz—made with Gecko’s Private Maestro Dobel Anejo tequila, rosemary syrup, grapefruit juice, lime juice and bubbles—pairs exceptionally well with the grouper. The citrus juices accentuate the lemon zest and beurre blanc while the smokiness of the tequila and dryness of the prosecco broaden and balance the overall flavor profile.

Two more notable dinner entrees continue the value-driven approach to fine food. The seafood pasta comes with not one, not two, but three different cuts of crustacean—lobster, lump crabmeat and shrimp--served over linguine. The menu offers a choice of a wine-and-garlic, tomato basil or Tuscan cream sauce, though the wine-and-garlic sauce (which perfects the rich and balanced savoriness of the best scampis) will likely win out more often than the others. The crab cakes entree features lump jumbo crab with an emphasis on jumbo. Buttery and formed with large enough chunks to put chicken on notice, the cakes announce loudly and proudly that portion control is for the birds. 

For Mike Gowan and Quillen and their restaurant group, Tripletail raises a glass to its longtime friends and customers. And, as those friends and customers have traded in their minivans for convertibles and their Disney weekends for Mediterrenean cruises, the underlying ethos is to give the people what they want: lots of food on their plate; heavy pours in their drinks; and a doting, friendly server that knows them by name.  SRQ    

Tripletail Seafood & Spirits, 4870 South Tamiami Trl., Sarasota, 941-529-0555, tripletailsrq.com.