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

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Pictured: (Top) Tommy Bahama’s Mahi Mahi Tacos are black in color overflowing with flavour, Photo courtesy of Tommy Bahama. (Below): The Packinghouse’s Black Basa Fish Sandwich is spicier than your average black fish sandwich.

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

Sticking to the theme of going back to the places I’ve loved, I chose two mainstays I haven’t been to in years: JR’s Old Packinghouse Café for a Saturday brunch of beer, and Tommy Bahama for an early Sunday dinner at Sangria. What I found was the story of two Sarasota.

In terms of clients, the joints cannot be spaced apart. The friendly Packinghouse staff relays loud inside jokes across the room to the park ranger spewing a cocktail of perfectly chilled beer. Meanwhile, Tommy Bahama welcomes tourists, some Longboat and Lido locals, and its share of preppy St. The waiter wears a T-shirt with his name on and knows his way around colorful adornments.

Each represents a piece of quintessential old Florida. There is a bit of unapologetic kitsch that makes them part of the whole experience of living in and visiting this area. They are the two halves of Sarasota – Carhartt and Khaki; Flo Grow and Fendi. Budweiser and Boogie.

Even on the playing field, I opted for black fish at both – the black basa sandwich at Packinghouse (complete with seasoning warning), and the blackened mahi mahi tacos at Tommy B’s. One was served in a red basket with pickles on the side, and the other on a crisp white rectangular plate. One paired with a cold local beer from Big Top, and the other with a somewhat refreshing red sangria.

Too close. Two worlds apart. different takes. different approaches. The result is the same: Stuffed, satisfied, and thankful to be back in Heaven.

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

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

Pictured: (Top) Tommy Bahama’s Mahi Mahi Tacos are black in color overflowing with flavour, Photo courtesy of Tommy Bahama. (Below): The Packinghouse’s Black Basa Fish Sandwich is spicier than your average black fish sandwich.

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