Tampa's Famous Grouper Sandwich

In the pantheon of sandwiches many have become pseudonyms with a town or region like the Philly Steak and the Kentucky Hot Brown.  Several cities have become famous for more than one sandwich like Chicago's Italian Beef and their particular spin on the hot dog.  Even here along the Third Coast we have grown accustomed to New Orleans' muffaletta and the various Po' Boy to be found in the Big Easy.  Not to be left out, Tampa has staked its claim as ground zero for Cuban pressed sandwiches.  But Tampa is also known for it's Grouper Sandwich.

Unlike the sandwiches of other areas that have a specific criteria that one must follow in order to call it an actual this or a genuine that, the Grouper Sandwich is not so particular.  It can come fried, grilled or blackened and even fried can come one of two ways - beer battered similar to English fish & chips or cornmeal battered the way most fried fish is prepared in the South (and consequently in Heaven as well).  The type of bread tends to vary slightly with the most popular being a soft bun like a hamburger bun.  Dressings can be as simple as just tarter sauce or as layered as lettuce, tomato and onion (with tarter sauce on the side).

The one element that is not up for interpretation is the Grouper.  It must be, above all else, actual Florida grouper and not one of the other fish that disreputable seafood processors try to masquerade as grouper like basa, Asian swai, sutchi or tra catfish. It also must be fresh - preferably same-day caught.  You see, the essence of the Grouper Sandwich is that it is not grandiose, rather it is peasant food at its best - simple, fresh.  And in being such a simple dish it is paramount that one must use the best ingredients possible.

There are many who berate the Grouper Sandwich as just a plain fish sandwich but it is clear that they have only sampled imitations.  No sandwich made with the freshest possible fish, homemade tarter sauce and fresh bread could ever be "just a plain fish sandwich."  If you taste a fish sandwich that meets this criteria and you still think of it as mundane then the problem may be that you are not a fish person.  Don't be embarrassed, lots of people are not fish people but I still treat them as if they were normal.

Now one thing that is up for debate is who has the best Grouper Sandwich in the Bay area.  Conventional wisdom says that multiple award winning Frenchy's Café in Clearwater Beach is the king of the Grouper Sandwich but it is far from an open and shut case.  Viable arguments have also been made for Dockside Dave's on Madeira Beach, the Hurricane in St. Pete Beach, Mott & Hester Deli in Tampa and Keegan's on Indian Rocks Beach.
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