New Pass Grill: Mother Nature’s Gift to Sarasota

Todays News

Pictured: New Pass Grill and Bait Shop, known for its crowd-pleasing hamburgers, has been a fixture in Sarasota since 1929. Photo by Wes Roberts.

When The Great Gale of 1848 smashed into Florida’s west coast in September of that year, it impacted the coastline from Englewood to Tampa profoundly. Among Mother Nature’s local modifications following the storm was a new pass that divided what was then known as Pine Island, creating Lido and Longboat keys. Sarasota pioneer William Whitaker was likely too busy searching for his lost fishing nets, which he stored on the sandy beach, to come up with a better name for what is known to this day as…New Pass.

What does this have to do with food? If not for that 1848 storm, which is said to have brought tides as high as 15 feet to Tampa Bay, we may not have New Pass Grill. It offers a wonderful waterfront view, completely unpretentious, old Florida through and through. Around half of its clientele enter by land, the other half by sea, docking their speed boats, fishing boats and pontoons and disembarking with a singular mission that you can see in their eyes: Burgers, screams the fire in their eyes. Give me all the burgers.

On a recent Sunday, I invited my friend Sarah, a brilliant local writer and Kentucky native, to lunch and gave her tacos, sandwiches and burgers as options, secretly hoping she’d pick burgers. She did, and it marked her first trip to New Pass Grill, which in my estimation remains one of the area’s best spots for a mid-day, quick-service burger/beer/fries experience.

Though we arrived by land this time, I was taken back to some of my first experiences going there with my grandfather. Here on vacation at the time, we’d be on the hunt up and down the Intracoastal Waterway for snook, sheepshead, mackerel, pompano and mangrove snapper (with cash prizes for the first, biggest, and most fish caught). He’d take us to New Pass Grill to break up the day and, if we had been unlucky anglers, we’d re-up our bait for the trip back to Siesta Key.

I remember the thick burgers, the ice cold drinks and marveling that people live like this every day. I was hooked. I can trace my lifelong infatuation with Sarasota to experiences like this. The ability to dive into a perfectly seasoned patty, made to order with all my favorite toppings (the works!), cooked precisely to temperature, nestled in a fresh, toasted bun — all while watching soaring seagulls, pelicans at play, and listening to fellow fishermen swap stories.

The original business opened in 1929, and Jonathan and Janean Sisler took it over in July 2020, promising to hang on to its simple charm, including the New Pass Burger.

Fortunately, there are plenty of places in Sarasota and Manatee counties where you can grab a really good burger. And there’s no shortage of spots where you can drink in the natural beauty that surrounds us. But to have both in one place? That’s something special.

Sarah and I caught up, and I admired how cold they kept the tall boy can of Landshark Lager, which ideally complemented my cheeseburger and an order of their crispy, battered French fries. As group of party boaters pulled up, they called out to a pair of wading fishermen, “Any luck?”

“Nah,” answered the fishermen, who were surely hoping to pull from the pass the same types of fish that would have found Whitaker’s nets nearly 175 years ago.

I had to disagree. Devouring New Pass Grill burgers, engrossed in good conversation, a cold beer in hand, surrounded by all this natural beauty … how could you not feel lucky?

New Pass Grill & Bait Shop, 1505 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, 941-388-3050

Pictured: New Pass Grill and Bait Shop, known for its crowd-pleasing hamburgers, has been a fixture in Sarasota since 1929. Photo by Wes Roberts.

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