What’s Left of the Past: The Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar in Sarasota, Florida


Taking my dad to visit a local institution that has withstood the ravages of ferocious growth. Some things remain intact in my hometown…

It’s a different town. That’s all I can say when anyone asks me what I think of Sarasota today. When I grew up here, there were few buildings higher than two stories. It was affordable, or at least affordable enough that a family of four could come down and start over in a stilt house on a shell drive in a part of town so close to the water that retiring baby boomers are willing to shell out half their life savings to live there now. Going back is strange, particularly because I haven’t lived there for almost two decades. It’s not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just different.

When I go home, I go back for family. My 95 year-old grandmother who has more energy than I do. Stepbrothers and stepsisters who live in farm country far east of the interstate. And my folks, my dad and stepmother, who marvel at the rapid growth of the little town.

“Want to see the house?” my dad asked me. He was referring to the house I (mostly) grew up in, along with three siblings. A one story cottage in a place called Oyster Bay, which backed up against the fingers of Sarasota Bay.

“Sure,” I said. So we drove there and I recognized nothing.


The house where the house I grew up in used to be.

The home we had is gone, razed in the name of something bigger. Maybe better and maybe not. Who am I to say? It’s not like our lot was unique. On the stretch of street where my brother and I used to ride our bikes and play football with other kids from the neighborhood, only one of the original houses stood unchanged.

“If you blindfolded me, drove me around, and dropped me right here,” I told my dad, “I wouldn’t have any idea where I was.”

There was something strange about the new houses. They seemed to have no interest in fitting in, following the architecture of the old Florida homes that had been there for decades. They were also gigantic, IMG_0228far larger than any home I was used to, and I tried to imagine how many people might be living in them now. Was something that size only for two people?


And there was something else. Something strange I couldn’t put my finger on. Then my dad drove me to the next neighborhood and I saw a beautiful banyan next to an oak tree whose lowest hanging limb was suspended off the ground by a set of wooden planks the owner must have built themselves. That’s when it hit me.

“They dug up all the trees.”

My dad nodded. They’d dug up all the banyans and oaks, taken them down along with their accompanying Spanish Moss. Clear cut and uprooted everything on the property. And now they can build things like this:


It would be a better picture but, you know, there’s a gate.

I’m not a very nostalgic guy. I understand things change and I try to appreciate the moments I got to enjoy in places more than lamenting their loss. But this was jarring. There were immaculately manicured driveways and lots instead of old growth trees. There were imposing gates on every other property. Coming back to Sarasota is strange, but it’s still a beautiful place and I can still find my own ways of connecting to it.

But coming back to this neighborhood was like landing in an alternate history. I didn’t even feel sad, just baffled. Any memories I have of the place, or my childhood in it, gain absolutely no traction in this new geography. I don’t live here. I never lived here.

My dad and I decided to head to the Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar for lunch on the same day, and there’s something comforting there. It’s one of the few places left in my hometown that I have active memories of visiting. When I was a kid, we’d come here regularly. I even swam in this creek when I lived in a nearby neighborhood.

Then, two years after I left for college, they caught this guy in that same shallow water where I used to swim.


You should see the other guy.

That is a 1500 pound Great White Shark that, I can only assume, was down in the creek checking out local real estate trends. Everyone else retires here. Why not the shark? They hauled him out of the creek and hung him up like a warning sign in the Old West. This here’s how we deal with cattle rustlers round these parts. I came back from school and went to get lunch and there was the shark. He’s still there 17 years later.

The bar itself is largely unchanged. They still print the menus on old newspaper, and they still offer local favorites like grilled grouper sandwiches IMG_0222and Key Lime Pie. It’s a bit bigger than it used to be, and the prices have jumped. But overall it’s still a local hangout, a quiet little Old Florida joint popular with locals and those like me who need a reminder of some continuity in the town. You can still pull up on a boat and tie to the dock out back like my grandfather and I used to. This is comfort food in the truest sense of the term for me. I can’t remember a visit to Sarasota where I didn’t stop here for this.

There wasn’t any mystery for us. We both got the grilled grouper sandwich and a beer and shared a slice of Key Lime Pie. Old standbys on an old standby kind of day. We talked about the town. We talked about our history. We talked about what has changed in the growth. And, inevitably, we talked about what’s been lost. That’s a long story. It’s not always a sad one, but one can’t help but notice that it gets longer by the year.

I don’t go back to Sarasota for what’s been lost. I go back to see family, to feel the breeze off the Gulf, to feel some connection to who I was. No matter how many of the landmarks get plowed under in the meantime. It’s a reminder that we don’t need the landmarks to find our way to the past. But when we find one, it’s a relief. It’s a reminder of how close we are to the water we once swam in, and that maybe it was better if we didn’t know what was coming, or what kind of dangers might have been swimming around us the whole time.



The Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar is located at 5353 S. Tamiami Trail. They have a website here and a facebook page here. They are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week (10:30 close on the weekend).


90 thoughts on “What’s Left of the Past: The Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar in Sarasota, Florida

  1. Interesting post…I recently returned to the town where I’d gone to high school. The town was EXACTLY the same as when I’d gone to high school decades ago. My mom came with me. We drove past our old house. Someone had bought it and razed it, and put up something else!! If you get a chance sometime, please check out my blog If you get a chance, please visit my blog sometime.

    Liked by 9 people

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  3. “It’s a reminder of how close we are to the water we once swam in, and that maybe it was better if we didn’t know what was coming, or what kind of dangers might have been swimming around us the whole time.”

    Incredibly poignant and moving writing. I’m glad to have stumbled across it.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I can relate. I moved here to Sarasota when I was 8 in the early 60’s. I lived on Ohio Place, Nassau St, and Midnight Pass when I was growing up. I still call Sarasota a town – I can’t bring myself to think of it as a city. Lots of changes. We used to know the name of every neighborhood. I love to roam around on the old familiar roads and look for how things used to be, but I also appreciate most of the changes that offer us so much more to enjoy. Siesta Key is always a lure to me – out of season, of course!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Lovely, bittersweet piece . . . and how awful about the trees. Part of my novel is set in southwest Florida (Fort Myers/Naples-ish) and I can only imagine how that area looks to someone who lived there long ago. Or even not so long ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Anna. It was a great place to grow up. Ordinarily the development doesn’t bother me, but that sheer transformation of the old neighborhood was pretty unsettling.

      Congratulations on your book!


      • Thank you, Nick! Do you by any chance remember the Gulf and Bay Club on Siesta Key? It was a tony, Old Florida-style resort with beautiful grounds. I’m pretty sure a high-rise or two took its place, but it was a beautiful bit of local history.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds familiar, but I can’t recall ever going there before. I was usually headed straight to the beach when I hit Siesta Key. Or playing Little League Baseball on the fields right next to the beach. Don’t think I realized how special that was at the time.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. The neighborhood I grew up in is much the same way. The old houses torn down and mansions squeezed on lots too small to contain their girth. Grass yards have been replaced by asphalt drives. For lack of trees, houses shade other houses. Only a few of the original homes remain, and that’s only because their original owners still remain, defiant to the trend of removing the middle class. Soon they will pass on, and their houses will die with them. Even the streets have been renamed to bring continuity where community doesn’t exist. No one talks to anyone anymore.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Tough to see your hometown change, and i like the way you mixed the sadness and lament of seeing gated, impersonal, stale homes with the joy of eating in a familiar, comfortable, and relatively unchanged eatery. Amazing that food can always make us feel so at home. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In the short time I have lived here, there are many changes not so much for the good, in my opinion. Sarasota County’s most recent debacle, ruined Siesta Beach, no longer is it just a beach, parking nightmare, and trash strewing tourists, who just don’t care. The real problem in both the City and County, people with no vested interest in the community, are tearing down, building, with no regard to fiting in a neighborhood, every inch of a lot possible. Trees, the trees are the first victims!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. My grandparents live in the Bradenton area. Normally we go to a local beach in the Sarasota area. The water over there is nice and relaxing. Things may change in the area, but the memories will always remain.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Pots, Pans and Proverbs and commented:
    I too grew up on Florida’s west coast, Pinellas County to be exact. When I go home to visit, like you, it has changed drastically. When my family moved there from Pennsylvania, decades ago it was orange groves, mom and pop stores and a clear view of the beach. Oh well, everything changes. I just try to hold on to my lovely memories and go with the flow. La sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t grow up in Florida, but have vacationed there 7 times. I don’t think the Department of Tourism in Florida realize that we tourists miss the things that used to be there. Especially, the Orange trees, quirky little mid-century hotels, those giant Orange souvenir stores and much more. Just as folks that grew up there we enjoy the feelings that come with seeing sameness in a place. If too much keeps changing why bother to visit there. I can just as easily fly to a Caribbean Island and it is a lot cheaper. So stop paving over paradise please.


      • Yes Joan! When my family moved to FL from Pennsylvania in the early 1960’s. There were lots of Spanish style buildings, along with a lot of the 1960’s “modern”, buildings. And oh yes, the beach! You could see the beach as you drove along Gulf Blvd. Many times when I was growing up in Largo, FL residents would raise all kinds of a ruckus to stop development of the beach, it didn’t work, except for a lovely beach called Sand Key, between Largo and Clearwater. Not quite as rustic as it was, but still in tact without any condos on it!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I spent my early childhood rummaging around palmettos and dodging low hanging spanish moss perpetually shoeless and I can relate to the disappointment of the changes I see when I go back. I remember walking the beach and seeing nothing but trash where I used to find interesting shells and sometimes if I was lucky, a shark’s tooth. As you said there are far less trees, which really saddens me because making pretend forts in the forest

    Liked by 2 people

    • was one of my favorite activities. I’m glad you were able to find at least one comfortable place of familiarity, though. I can picture this restaurant so well, even though I’ve never been there. It reminds me of my favorite haunts where I grew up. Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I currently live and go to college here. It really is a beautiful place, and I know talking to my grandparents that it has indeed changed quite a bit over the years. You’re right though. Home isn’t a matter of landmarks.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am a resident of Florida and have been to Sarasota many times. I have a really good friend living on Lido Beach. She has been in Sarasota County over 25 years and sees such changes. Since I am a Eastern Coastal girl being raised on the Atlantic Ocean I have witnessed so much change to our beaches. Toll Booths added, cars off the beach by sunset. My High School is the only remaining beachside High School and is 107 years old and going strong. College Campuses as most change in Florida often with extensions. Sometimes it is just what you know and feel when you go home. I currently live 30 minutes from my hometown yet still on the Beach. It’ll change sure but too me it is home and always will be. Nice to read your post and stumble upon your site. Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I was born in Sarasota and have never moved house. I am only 18, and will be heading off to college in Boston within days. Reading this piece was rather odd for me; you describe Sarasota as being comparable to an “alternate timeline” of the place you remember growing up. Yet it’s been what I’ve known all my life; at my age, the even the term “Old Florida” seems antiquated, something of a distant, inaccessible history. To see someone who speaks of my hometown in my current time as a foreign entity is certainly a new perspective for me. It’s almost eerie.
    It makes me wonder what I will miss and reminisce when I visit my folks at home.
    They’re already developing all the land that was used previously for cattle. And they’ve taken away the beekeeper’s bees.
    Walt’s Fish Market has gone under countless renovations, but I feel their scrumptious, greasy food and just-caught fresh fish will never change.
    The Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar is probably my favorite place to get a fried grouper sandwich. Yet, if it weren’t for the huge shark people drive by every day… How would the increasingly variable Sarasota population know of the place’s significance?

    Thank you very much for this article.

    Liked by 2 people

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