Nestled just across Gulf Boulevard from the sand and surf, Aqua Prime in Indian Rocks Beach offers great food, live music and attentive, and gracious service. Executive Chef Jason Vargo, and his sous chef Luke Subramaniam, have created a smoked fusion coastal cuisine focused on the freshest ingredients which can be responsibly sourced, and a work environment that respects the staff and treats them like family. Those core values result in one of the best guest experiences along the Gulf beaches.

All ingredients used are carefully curated, such as cage-free eggs and heirloom tomatoes. In-house spice blends create unique flavors for marinades, dry rubs, salad dressings and sauces. Only non-GMO sunflower oil is used for frying because, according to Vargo, “it’s healthier, more flavorful, and not as heavy or greasy like the soybean oil most places choose to use."

Aqua Prime prides itself on the strong, personal relationships with suppliers that run deeper than most local dining spots. That means they visit the ranches which raise the cattle. Treating livestock with respect, keeping their environment stress-free and feeding them a healthy and natural diet results in tender steaks that are beautifully marbled with great flavor. Their seafood suppliers are close friends too, so for dishes that feature local catch, the fish swimming in the Gulf before noon is served to guests that evening. 

This is a chef-driven restaurant, so Vargo and Subramaniam watch every detail and constantly look for ways to make their food and guest experience unlike any place else. A great example of this is the smoked brisket butter used to finish their steaks. Smoked brisket cap is rendered down and combined with one of their housemade spice blends and infused with butter. It melts down over the hot steak to create rich mouth-feel and signature flavor. Seriously!? Only obsessive chefs go to this level of detail to produce a unique and delicious enhancement like this. Hey Aqua Prime, can I get a pound of that to go?

A good start is the smoked brisket flatbread. It’s made with slow-smoked brisket, a red onion alfredo sauce, and topped with roasted garlic and arugula. You get a crispy base from the flatbread, with the creamy alfredo sauce followed by the crunch of the arugula and shaved parmesan. It’s layers of crispy, creamy, crunchy and just delicious. For seafood, try the pan-seared jumbo scallops dusted with turmeric and finished with a light coconut-curry sauce and chargrilled frisee. For something extra special try the Coulotte steak. Only three or four portions of this cut come from each cow so you rarely see on restaurant menus. It’s very tender and at Aqua Prime they pair it with a red chimichurri sauce made from parsley, garlic, olive oil and chipotle peppers. O-M-G in the I-R-B! The flavor of this steak is amazing and well worth the drive from anywhere in the Tampa Bay Area.

The angus carpaccio appetizer with grilled bread, capers, basil oil and shaved parmesan at Aqua Prime.

Aqua Prime is like the cashmere sweater of beachside restaurants; warm and comfortable, with a sophisticated feel that's perfect for all occasions. It has a great space that offers private dining for weddings and special events, two outside patios where diners can enjoy live music that is mostly jazz-inspired and acoustic. There's are two bars that draw weekend crowds thirsty for their signature cocktails and two relaxing patios, one that offers a complete menu of great food while the other is perfect for cocktails, cigars and small plates.

Aqua Prime is located at 213 Gulf Boulevard in Indian Rocks Beach, and is open every day for both lunch and dinner.

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All photos courtesy of author.