The Canopy Bistro and Bar in Ellenton Serves Up Cozy Comfort Food

Good Bite

Pictured: A lavender lemonade at The Canopy Bistro and Bar. Photo courtesty of Laura Paquette.

Amidst the grocery stores and gas stations lining U.S. Highway 301 lies The Canopy Bistro and Bar, a tranquil neighborhood oasis. The cozy historic building and its shaded lawn beckoned to Manatee County native Whitney Watson, who drove by the property when it was an old dive bar and envisioned its future potential. When it went up for sale, Whitney and her husband Matt Watson purchased the property, which they run with their daughter, Rachel Penico.

“I’ve been in the service industry a long time,” says Whitney, who owned a hair salon before opening The Canopy in February 2020. “I always enjoyed cooking and having people over for big dinner parties,” she adds, “so owning a restaurant looked like a lot of fun.” According to Whitney, the building has been a feature of Manatee County since 1953 and has lived multiple lives as a bar and gas station. “It needed love,” says Whitney, who kept the historical features of the building intact, like a Carnegie Steel beam which she estimates to be over a hundred years old. The family added a more upscale, garden motif to the property, rebranded it and cultivated a menu focused on comfort food.

“We get a lot from a local produce stand and Detwiler’s Farm Market,” she says. Because the restaurant opened two weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the family based their menu around fresh and versatile items that they knew could be used in a variety of dishes and wouldn’t go to waste. Three years later, they maintain the same commitment to freshness in every dish.

Some of the most popular items are the bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos, the classic pub burger and a variety of flatbreads. The menu features tasty, sharable bites, like the crispy pub tots, which come drizzled with beer cheese, ranch dressing and sriracha mayo. Bacon crumbles and red onion bits add crunch and depth to the addictive appetizer. The Canopy also smokes its pork and beef on-site, and the beef brisket slow cooks for 12 hours, resulting in a tender texture and peppery flavor highlighted in dishes like the street tacos. Aside from food, The Canopy offers a variety of cocktails and mocktails mixed by Rachel Pineco. Both beautiful and refreshing, the drinks, like the lavender lemonade which comes garnished with a flower and dried lavender, complement the restaurant’s botanical decor.

Indoors, guests mix and mingle at the bar and unwind at tables by the windows. Outdoors, they relax under shady trees over a game of cornhole. The attentive staff makes all guests feel like they’re at home, whether they’re regulars or out-of-towners in need of recommendations for local day-trip activities. “Customers have told me that it’s like Cheers,” says Whitney “and we’re just your friendly local place where people can come and hang out.”

The Canopy Bistro and Bar, 3503 US-301, Ellenton, thecanopybistroandbar.com.

Pictured: A lavender lemonade at The Canopy Bistro and Bar. Photo courtesty of Laura Paquette.

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