An Interview with a Bradenton Area Food Expert
“I remember Bradenton back when there wasn’t a food scene downtown at all. There were just two bars and tumbleweeds after 5 o’clock,” recalls Chef Greg Campbell of Pier 22—a venerated downtown culinary institution for elegant waterfront dining, located at the end of a majestic wind-kissed pier that dates back to 1878 that’s lined with towering palms.Oh, how things have changed!Today, the Bradenton Area has transformed into a coastal culinary Mecca for foodies across the nation. “I’ve seen Bradenton evolve and develop over the past seventeen years to what it is today,” He continues, “It’s been quite the adventure.”
Crafting a trail
Chef Greg has been more than a witness to the change. He’s been a driving force of it in two important ways. The first wave of change came when the picturesque Pier 22 began to host weddings, capitalizing on the beautiful building and the Manatee River as natural backdrops.
After the wedding, the parties—often of 100 to 150 people or more—would spill out onto the streets looking for places where they could keep the celebration going. Local entrepreneurs and business operators saw a market hungering for more.
With more restaurants and bars opening in downtown Bradenton, visitors would stay in the hotels and start hanging out at the waterfront. “Because of what we did down here at the end of the pier with the weddings, it was feeding other businesses.” Chef describes. “The synergy was awesome.”
Seafood in the streets
Believe it or not, the Bradenton Area was not initially as widely known as the world-class seafood destination as it is today. The annual DeSoto Seafood Fest has helped change all that.
Today Seafood Fest is known across the state as one of Florida’s biggest and best—featuring live music, drink and (naturally) fresh-caught seafood from the area’s most well-known vendors.
Back then, the atmosphere was more like a small carnival. On his arrival, Chef Greg turned the fishiness up to an 11. He recalls having as many as 30-to-40 people behind the booth. “I had stone crab people bringing it up in buckets… Fresh oysters and grouper off the boat,” he describes. “We actually were carrying around whole fish through the crowd. It was a blast.”
“It really put the seafood scene in Bradenton on the map,” he adds.
The restaurant Greg has called home for the past 19 years. PIER 22 is a casual fine dining restaurant with inside and outside waterfront seating. Located on a pier that dates back to 1878. In addition to magnificent water views, historic ambiance and impeccable service, what makes PIER 22 so popular is a commitment to the highest-quality ingredients. Locally sourced produce, fish and meat are key to offering the best dining experience in this world-class restaurant. “This place is just such a gem, a historic 1926 building. So cool. So iconic,” Chef explains. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I’ve always dreamed of.’”
Chef’s other baby, GROVE is a fine-casual restaurant that specializes in a wide-ranging selection of house-made meals served in several distinct dining areas — giving guests a choice of cuisine and scene. The restaurant draws its name from the sown acres of great evergreen that have long provided an idyllic existence for those living and visiting the Lakewood Ranch area.
AP Bell Fish Company in Cortez
A.P. Bell Fish Company is one of the last original fish houses in Cortez, Florida. “People can go in and great local grouper right off the boat,” Chef notes. “It’s a great spot to go check out what’s coming out of local waters.”
Taking inspiration from the legendary and welcoming culinary hospitality found throughout France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, Chateau 13 invites you to try something with worldly flair. “A true fine dining location in downtown Bradenton,” says chef. “They’re absolutely killing it. They’re full every night.” Even if you’ve never heard of the dish before or aren’t sure how to pronounce one of the ingredients, you’ll love the experience.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier
Overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway on Anna Maria Island on the Historic Bridge Street Pier, Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Pier is a smaller version of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar family of restaurants. It’s fast-casual, so you order at the counter, help yourself to condiments, grab your beverage from the bar, and the friendly staff brings your food right to you.
Mattison’s Riverwalk Grille
Mattison’s is committed to using all-natural and sustainable ingredients. They source local produce and seafood and import the freshest products from around the world. The lamb, beef, poultry, and pork are all antibiotic, hormone-free, and are raised on small family farms, where they are pasture-fed and processed with the most humane practices.
Dakin Dairy Farms
No, it’s not a restaurant, but for the freshest local cheese and dairy, Dakin Dairy Farms is it. Chef Greg procures a lot of products from Dakin Dairy, but you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy it. Their 1,000-acre sustainable farm offers tours, birthday parties, calf feedings and a whole lot more. Stop by for a tour to see how a modern dairy farm works from top to bottom.