Tide Tables makes seafood splash in Cortez

acastillo@bradenton.comMarch 22, 2014 

CORTEZ -- On a recent afternoon at Tide Tables, a comforting breeze made its way through the restaurant's open doors. In the back, patrons soaked chunks of seafood in sauce while pelicans flocked nearby.

There's no doubt that the restaurant is at a prime location -- by the Intracoastal Waterway.

"I said if I would ever do this again, it would be on the water," said co-owner Bobby Woodson, who opened the restaurant a few weeks ago with his wife Gwen Woodson and business partner Karen Bell. In late Oct. 2013, Woodson and Bell were approached by the nearby trailer park's owners, who also own the land the restaurant sits on.

"They knew it was a little piece of gold sitting here," Gwen said, adding that the trailer park owners were familiar with Woodson and Bell's background in the restaurant business. Bell is a fixture in Cortez, as the owner of both A.P. Bell Fish Company and Star Fish Company.

The majority of the seafood for the restaurant comes from Bell's seafood business.

Woodson spent many years as general manager for the Seafood Shack, located in downtown Cortez. Running a restaurant is new territory for his wife, who taught prekindergarten and then worked in housekeeping. Her husband gave her a heads up before they opened shop.

"He said, 'We'll be married to the business for a while,'" she said. "And we have been, but it's been fine. We put in a lot of long, hard hours but it's been great."

No regrets, she added.

It hasn't been a month yet since its doors opened, and Tide Tables already has regulars. Patrons are a blend of locals and snowbirds like John and Debbie Chalmers, a Canadian couple who live six months out of the year on Longboat Key. On Friday, 82-year-old John Chalmers had the Mahi tacos, which he described as "to die for." His wife tried the day's special - shrimp wrapped in bacon.

"We sat outside and watched the birds and the boats and the people -- it's all perfect," John Chalmers said.

That's just the outside.

The restaurant's interior is "Old Florida." Woodson and craftsmen Gar Lamourex and Richard Spears took old dock wood and turned it into the restaurant's tables.

"We made them so nobody has their backs to the water," said Woodson, who turned himself in his own seat to show what he meant.

The restaurant itself is painted in pastel yellow and pale aquamarine and its inside is lined with funky accents like wooden fish and miniature anchors. A topless mermaid hangs from the ceiling.

Out on the marina, Craig Nicks cut deep into a large grouper. The 52-year-old's job at the restaurant is to skin and debone fresh fish into 6 and 8-ounce portions for Tide Tables' cook. The scraps will usually go towards chowder.

"We don't waste anything," Nicks said.

As the restaurant's sole fish cutter, Nicks knows well the volume of fish pumped into the restaurant - Mahi Mahi and red grouper are just two seafood items currently on the menu. Since Tide Tables just opened, Nicks said the menu is limited. Red snapper and other items may come later.

"We just got to make sure we can keep up with what's going on right now," Nicks said, referring to the great demand by customers.

He isn't overwhelmed though.

"Bring it on, I want more," he said, adding that he can keep up with the workflow.

"I can cut them faster than they can eat them," he said with a chuckle.

A while later, Charles Ross walked slowly out of Tide Tables with three of his friends. The 78-year-old Connecticut native swung by to try a fish wrap. It was excellent, he said.

"My only complaint is that the quantity was too much," he said, a half-grin spreading across his face.

Amaris Castillo, Herald Law Enforcement/Island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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