Blackened Fish at JR’s Old Packinghouse Cafe and Tommy Bahama

Todays News

Pictured: (Top) The Tommy Bahama blackened mahi mahi tacos overflow with flavor, photo courtesy of Tommy Bahama. (Below): The Packinghouse blackened basa fish sandwich is spicier than your average blackened fish sandwich.

There’s something so satisfying in returning to places that I’ve loved. My family and I returned to the Sarasota area from Chicago in 2015, and we couldn’t be happier with that decision. This post marks my return to SRQ Magazine as contributing food writer and editor after a 16-year hiatus from its pages.

Sticking with the theme of returning to places I’ve loved, I picked two mainstays that I hadn’t visited in years: JR’s Old Packinghouse Cafe for a beery Saturday lunch, and Tommy Bahama for a sangria-y early Sunday dinner. What I found was a tale of two Sarasotas.

In terms of clientele, the joints couldn’t be further apart. The friendly regulars at Packinghouse loudly fling inside jokes across the room to the barkeep who’s slinging a mix of perfectly chilled beers. Tommy Bahama, meanwhile, takes in the tourists, some Longboat and Lido locals, and its share of preppy St. Armandsians. Its bartender wears an eponymous shirt and knows their way around a colorful garnish.

Each represents a piece of quintessential Old Florida. There’s a bit of unapologetic kitsch to both that make them part of the complete experience of living in and visiting this area. They are the two halves of Sarasota — Carhartt and khaki; FloGrown and Fendi; Budweiser and bougie.

To even the playing field, I opted for blackened fish at both — the blackened basa sandwich at Packinghouse (complete with a this-is-spicy warning), and the blackened mahi mahi tacos at Tommy B’s. One was served in a red basket with a pickle on the side, the other on an immaculate, bright white rectangular plate. One paired with a cold local lager from Big Top, the other with rather refreshing, keep-em-coming red sangria.

So close. Worlds apart. Different takes. Different approaches. Same outcome: Stuffed, satisfied, and thankful to be back in paradise.

Perhaps the three of us have more in common than we thought.

JR's Old Packinghouse Cafe, 987 S. Packinghouse Rd, Sarasota, 941-371-9358.
Tommy Bahama, St. Armands Circle, 300 John Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, 941.388.2888.

Pictured: (Top) The Tommy Bahama blackened mahi mahi tacos overflow with flavor, photo courtesy of Tommy Bahama. (Below): The Packinghouse blackened basa fish sandwich is spicier than your average blackened fish sandwich.

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